We see develop rather quickly in the Church within the New Testament people, often ‘virgins and widows,’ who are ‘set apart’ for what we might call ‘full time ministry.’ (The terms are anachronistic to be sure, but just roll with me) So we see from a very early point a ‘mixed economy’ of forms of life in the Church. Some work and produce and give, and some ‘mend tents’ while still doing such ‘full time ministry,’ but is has always been deemed necessary to have a group of people dedicated to the life of the Church who are fully dependent on her life, but who alone can give a fuller expression to her life. We would be incomplete without the virgins and widows. The development of monasticism and the incredible importance of the religous throughout our history only testify all the more to this.
Though not quite as prominent as it once was (or so it seems to me anyway), it is not at all uncommon to see a Roman Catholic parish system, including schools and ministry to the poor, supported by small groups of monks and/or nuns (heck we could even include the celibate priesthood here).
Yet, despite this decline, there has been developing since at least the Jesus People Movement, communities of Protestants who in rough ways approximate this mixed economy of life. Anglicanism too has a small but not unimportant religious life – though we might pray for this to grow all the more. Among the developments has been the flowering of “new monasticism” and “intentional communities.”
If, as I have said, the fullness of the Church’s life requires a group of people set apart from “working life,” then I wonder if we ought to be trying to test whether new monastic and intentional communities could serve an analogous function as the religous within our parish structures. Maybe there would be only a few single parishes that could support such a group, but would it not be possible to imagine a relatively close group of parishes contribute together to support such a community for the sake of their own life? I don’t see why not. In fact I think this could be quite life-giving.
There are more than a few logistical questions that arise, but I have some ideas, and I imagine many others have some too. This is a topic I’d love to explore more here. So let’s tentatively consider this an ‘introductory’ post that could flower into more. These also could see some strong overlap with my continuing reflections on seminaries.