In a time where we are being asked to keep our distance from one another, it might seem odd to be setting up a new community. On the other hand, this period of isolation, accompanied by the shutdown of normal church activities, has given us some space to begin to reflect on the kind of church that might be possible or desirable when we are able to gather together again.
The lockdowns of the past year have also revealed to us an inconvenient truth: that we are exhausted, physically and emotionally, to be sure, but also spiritually. The plethora of activities we have undertaken in, and through, and for the Church, though well-intentioned, have drained us of spiritual resources, and there have not been enough places where we might be spiritually renewed and refreshed.
This applies to clergy and laity alike, where too many of us feel like donkeys who have been overloaded with responsibilities and expect to carry them without complaint. This donkey culture has assumed that a ready supply of willing beasts of burden can be found among church members, so that the responsibilities can be shared. What we discover, however, is that fewer and fewer donkeys are available, and those who are left are overwhelmed.
On the positive side, there has been a ‘bubbling up’ of new spiritual life within the British mainline Churches. For the last couple of decades, a movement known as the ‘New Monasticism’ has been emerging in different places drawing together new disciples along with well-established church members in small groups and communities. In Britain, the most significant of these have appeared within the Church of England, but this is definitely an ecumenical movement of the Spirit we are witnessing in our time.
The Companions of Barnabas is a response to the call to spiritual renewal, one that sits within, and draws upon, the Methodist-Wesleyan tradition. Dr Roger Walton, past President of the Conference, has led the thinking on a distinctively ‘Methodist Way of Life’. Initiating and facilitating discussions in different parts of the Connexion, Roger has been calling us back to our roots, reminding us of Methodism’s genesis as a spiritual renewal movement within 18th century Anglicanism. A Methodist Way of Life is an exciting resource and one that we hope will shape our own development as a community.
This booklet is written for those who are interested in learning more about our origins and are considering becoming more involved.
What is the New Monasticism?
The idea of ‘monasticism’ probably needs some unpacking for those of us from church traditions unused to Religious Orders.
The term ‘New Monasticism’ is taken from the writings of the German martyr, Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer who died in a concentration camp for his opposition to the Nazis. In a letter in 1935 he wrote:
“The restoration of the church will surely come only from a new kind of monasticism which will have nothing in common with the old but a life of uncompromising adherence to the Sermon on the Mount in imitation of Christ”
Ian Mobsby, a pioneer of the New Monasticism in the Church of England, has described his experience thus:
“And so, in our everyday clothes, we make these commitments to one another, to our church as a form of spiritual community, and to a new way of living an ancient way of life in a radically different context.
At the start of the 21st century the Church and the Christian faith face a major change in culture. Many parts of the post-industrial western world are increasingly post-Church, post-Christian, post-secular, post Christendom, post-foundationalist and post -modern. ‘Spiritual, not religious’ is the fastest growing religious identification. People seeking new solutions to the spiritual and existential questions they face, and they are not finding answers in traditional churches. This is not all negative. The fact that people are seeking spirituality in an increasingly post-secular culture is an opportunity for the church to respond in innovative mission, to build new forms of church.
This is at its heart, a re-engagement with the call to mission and more precisely, the loving intentions of God who seeks for all things to be restored into right with the Trinity. This is the core practice of which Monastics and Friars have given obedience – to love God, love yourself and love others.
New Monasticism is not about a romantic escape to beautiful and privileged places in the countryside in response to the problems of the world, but rather a radical commitment to stay with and re-engage in mission, seeking the Kingdom of God in places where God can feel absent.”
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has been at the forefront of the New Monasticism within the mainstream Protestant churches in the US. Writing in 1998, he proposed four characteristics for the new monasticism, that it will be:
marked by a recovery of the telos of this world” revealed in Jesus, and aimed at the healing of fragmentation, bringing the whole of life under the lordship of Christ.
It will be aimed at the “whole people of God” who live and work in all kinds of contexts, and not create a distinction between those with sacred and secular vocations.
It will be disciplined, but by a recovery of old monastic rules, but by the joyful discipline achieved by a small group of disciples practicing mutual exhortation, correction, and reconciliation; and
It will be “undergirded by deep theological reflection and commitment,” by which the church may recover its life and witness in the world.
The figure of Barnabas is an important leader in the Early Church. He was a close worker of Paul in his missionary work around the Mediterranean, ministering to new Christian communities in various parts of the Roman Empire.
The name ’Barnabas’ itself is a nickname which literally means “son of encouragement”, given to him in Acts 4, and so significant was his ministry that he earned the title of Apostle, despite not being one of the Twelve. He is still revered as patron saint in the Orthodox Church of Cyprus.
Barnabas for us, is a model of the kind of ministry we seek to embody, one that is collaborative, mission-focussed and has encouragement at its heart. We seek to be true Companions – those who we share bread, physically and spiritually – and to encourage others in discipleship and ministry.
The Companions of Barnabas is not seeking to be a new denomination or breakaway church. Rather its aim is to support those fully engaged in ministry and church life, especially those in the Methodist and Wesleyan traditions.
Certain emphases guide our life and work:
Prayer & Worship All that we seek to do is rooted in prayer and worship for each of us together. In a community that is dispersed, expressions of unity will be focussed in common forms of prayer and a commitment to pray for a fellow Companion.
The Ministry of All When we speak of ministry, it is not limited to the activities of the clergy. The Companions of Barnabas affirm that the ministry of Christ is shared with the whole Church and every member of it. At our baptism, we are called into that ministry and share that vocation.
Collaborative Ministry In affirming the calling of the baptized, we will express this in visible forms shared leadership and decision-making.
Embodied Justice The Companions of Barnabas is a community that is committed to justice in all forms, to solidarity with all who are victimized or marginalized, and in intentional inclusion in our language and worship. We will seek to embody our commitments in the way we appoint our leaders, make decisions, use our resources and exercise our ministries.
Missio Dei In a church that has entered a prolonged period of existential crisis, the urge to embrace the “missiology of the headless chicken” is almost overwhelming. The term “Missio Dei” is a reminder – even a rebuke - to the Church that the initiative rests with God and that we will not be saved by good ideas or frantic activity alone!
To quote missiologist Stephen Bevans, SVD:
It is not that the Church has a mission; more that mission has a church.
The Companions of Barnabas embraces, with deep humility, the task of discerning where God is already at work and waiting for the invitation to join in.
Where to begin?
The first step we took was trying to gather those people together who might be interested in forming a community. Invitations to a Facebook group and a website were sent out and the response was encouraging.
Next, we asked those who had indicated an interest in the group to sign up to a mailing list and to go on a Prayer Cycle, allowing others to pray for them. We now have over a 100 people on our mailing list.
Since May 2020, we have been gathering online in different ways – for a chat, prayer, more formal business and some discussion. The uncertainties of lockdown have meant that maintaining any rhythm or pattern has been difficult, and we are deeply aware that it is always more difficult to sustain a community among those who are yet to meet in person. Despite this, our conversations have been incredibly fruitful and allowed us to develop our thinking and planning. Late in 2020, we produced a short introductory booklet to send to our supporters and invite them to consider becoming more involved.
As a new missional community, endeavouring to be Spirit-led, we are inviting individuals into a space that has not yet been fully designed or filled, and asking them to ‘co-create with us. We seek to be in a community , but we are not yet sure what that will look like. We seek to learn from the wisdom of others in providing some framework for the space:
Although Methodism grew out of the Anglican tradition, most Methodists are not familiar with the tradition of collective daily office. Nevertheless, most Christian communities old and new have found that some form of common prayer bonds them together especially when for the most part members are dispersed.
1. How do we express companionship through prayer and worship?
2. What forms of prayer do we feel called to?
3. How can this community support our own prayer life?
A Methodist Way of Life has reminded us that we are rooted in forms of Christian discipleship based around a rule of life and mutual accountability. This is more than self-improvement, but a practical way of holiness developed so that anyone can deepen their discipleship.
1. How do you feel about the whole idea of a rule of life and is it something you have developed before?
2. What tools and resources in the past have you used to reflect on your Christian life?
Along with encouraging Methodists to develop their discipleship in very practical ways, John Wesley was adamant that progress in the Christian life could only be made in company with others. His famous dictum: ‘The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion’, points us to a fundamental Wesleyan principle of discipleship, namely, that we are called to watch over one another in love. In developing small groups such as Band Meetings, John Wesley pointed to a form of church based on mutual support and accountability.
It is within those small groups, based around the idea of shared leadership and a deep mutuality, John Wesley expected real spiritual growth to happen. In the modern setting we are reclaiming that Wesleyan heritage in the idea of a Companion Circle. Like the Band Meeting, the circle is intended to be a safe place where companions can support and encourage one another and together discern the call of God on their lives.
1. What has been your experience of being part of a small group meeting for spiritual encouragement and accountability?
2. Who would you want to be part of your circle: friends or colleagues you know well, people who share an aspect of your identity like gender, sexuality, or ethnicity, folk who like close to you, for a random group of people you may not know well?
At various times in the Church’s history, reformers have been raised up by God to bring transformation: Anthony introduced the idea of the monastic life; Hilda brought together the Celtic and Roman churches within these islands; Jan Hus sought to restore communion in its fullness to the laity. Martin Luther and John Calvin in different ways pioneered and developed aspects of the Reformation, transforming church government, worship, and the reading of Scripture.
John Wesley and the early Methodists were not about reforming church doctrine or church order, but nothing less than the transformation of the Christian life. For them, a Gospel that was only manifest in religious buildings or theological formulations was a dead gospel. The reality of the Incarnation calls for the message of Jesus to be embodied in each Christian disciple to bring transformation to every aspect of their life, personal, ecclesial and societal.
The fourth element is about how we live out our commitments and values in our daily life, through work and ministry in our local church circuit, and in our homes, relationships, workplaces and communities.
1. What do you think membership of the Companions of Barnabas would bring to your Christian life?
2. How do you express your Christian vocation in the church and beyond, and how might this community help and support you?
3. How do you understand the Companions of Barnabas as a missional community and what shape do you think it should take?
Throughout Lent and Eastertide, we will be exploring together the meaning of membership, with a view to preparing ourselves to make formal commitments as Companions or Associates at a Dedication Service in June 2020. We are inviting you to reflect on whether God is calling you to join the Companions of Barnabas.
Those wishing to explore a call to membership should make their intention known by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lent (17th February to 27th March)
During the season of Lent, each Candidate is encouraged to complete the Exploring Companionship Form, outlining their sense of calling to Companionship, and outlining the gifts and contribution they intend to bring to the wider community.
Those exploring their calling are also invited to pair up and commit to meet to share their sense of call, discuss some of the recommended readings provided and encourage one another in the writing of a personal rule or rhythm of life.
Holy Week (28th March to 3rd April)
By the end of Lent, we hope that each Candidate will have a clearer sense of whether they wish to proceed to the next stage of discernment. During Holy Week there will be an opportunity to talk through developments will others.
Eastertide (11th April to 23rd May)
For those ready to move to the next stage, we will form Companion Circles to meet on a number of occasions during Eastertide. The focus of our meetings will be mutual support and encouragement, and to reflect on committing to the Common Pattern of Life. There will also be some time to work through the Order for the Dedication Service.
St Barnabas Weekend (11th to 13th June 2021)
Plans are currently being made for a hybrid form of Gathering & General Chapter but will revert to completely online if needed. During this time, those whose calling has been affirmed will formally make their commitments to the Community and be admitted as Companions and Associates.