My book, ‘Totally Devoted, the challenge of new monasticism’ will be published in September. In the run up, I’m going to publish a few short extracts for your reading pleasure, the first (edited) extract looks at a moment from the beginning of the story of ‘new monasticism’ as we understand it today.
Here we go back to the relatively recent past of the 1930s, and although the broader story goes back much further, this is a significant point in the story we’re still writing today.
The year is 1938, and a small boat sails through choppy seas to a rugged island off the west coast of Scotland.
On board are a strange assortment of men. Some are unemployed Glaswegian dockers, made penniless by the scourge of the Great Depression. Others are Church of Scotland ministers, newly ordained, and preparing for a life in the service of God.
Among them is another man, a baronet by birth, a romantic by nature, and a visionary spiritual leader by profession. The Revd George Fielden MacLeod is on his way to the Island of Iona, a place steeped in history, to perform a God-given task. The legacy of that journey is what we are reflecting upon now, the birth and growth of a diverse movement of a new monasticism in the United Kingdom.
MacLeod’s vision and passion for social justice and spiritual renewal were inspired at least in part by the horrors he had witnessed in the First World War of 1914–18…
…Three years and some months prior to this significant sea crossing, a 29-year-old bespectacled German man, an academic and a theologian, as well as being, like MacLeod, a pacifist from a distinguished background, sat at a desk during a visit to London, reflecting prophetically on the horrors he could see in the future of his home nation.
Having lost an elder brother to the horrific violence of the previous war, he had no wish to see his nation descend once again into the nightmare of death and destruction. Alone at his desk, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote to his surviving brother, Karl Friedrich, that it was his belief that it would take an ‘uncompromising attitude’ of a life lived following Jesus as set out in the Sermon on the Mount, to change the way that the country and indeed the world was headed. This would be, he felt, a ‘sort of new monasticism.’