Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Religious Life and the Revival of the Church

I came across an excellent blog post today from an Episcopal priest (Fr. Robert Hendrickson) which says what I have been trying to say from the inception of this blog, albeit from a Lutheran perspective. Here are some of the key statements, relating to the renewal of the Church via a reinvigorated diaconate and neo-monastic movement:

First, he explains the issue and the goal: "[T]here are many, many people looking to have their faith be not something apart from the rest of their life or a distraction amidst a panoply of distractions. They are seeking a way for their faith to form their life and for their life to matter in the deepest ways possible.....  It seems to me that we might be entering a cultural moment in which we should consider the Religious life (monastic vocations) and the diaconate as the ideal means to form leaders equipped to engage the realities of contemporary society..... I firmly believe that intentional Religious Communities and a robust Diaconate are key to the rejuvenation of a vibrant Christian presence all across the country. The need is for missionary communities of prayer, service, and sacrificial giving."

Next, Fr. Hendrickson sets forth why a robust religious life is needed for the renewal of the Church: "This work begins with daily prayer and the Sacraments – but the churches that serve as the heart of this kind of disciplined approach to engaging the Holy would not be the final destination but the launching point for those trained and equipped to be the presence of Christ for those they meet and serve. I imagine local Churches serving as a sort of mother ship where people are fed and trained for missionary service...... These deacons would serve at the heart of local communities of those taking religious vows. Whether full-time, professed monastics or part of neo-monastic communities we should also be looking for those in our communities who are yearning for a deeper connection to other faithful people and are longing for their faith to ground their approach to work, relationship, and service. These kinds of communities could then become the heart of congregations longing for connection to the communities around them but fearful or unsure of taking the next step."

And then, he states his conclusion: "Ultimately, it will be these servant-leaders who are creatively making Christ known in the communities around us who will re-center the Church and draw others to come and see."

(The rest of the article can be read here -

I agree 100% with Fr. Hendrickson's recommendations.  The perplexing thing for me, as a part of the ELCA, is that I am not quite sure how we can fit those recommendations into our existing paradigm for ministry.  As for the diaconate, our existing diaconal ministries are somewhat jumbled between three different lay orders (Diaconal Ministers, Associates in Ministry, and Deaconesses - I understand that there is a movement afoot to reform this, but I am not sure when this might take place, or what the result will be). But, at least we have an existing diaconal ministry which can be reformed and used to further the revival of the Church. 

As to the religious life, though, as I have long lamented, Lutherans have a long way to go.  Yes, there are some Lutheran religious communities around the world, which I have tried to promote ( There are also other movements which offer intriguing possibilities for the restoration of the religious life in American Lutheranism, such as the Order of Lutheran Franciscans (, but as of yet, these movements are not widely known among rank-and-file Lutherans. 

Those of us in Lutheranism who believe that a renewal of the religious life will be an important part of proclaiming the Gospel in a post-Christendom world are swimming against the tide of nearly 500 years of sentiment which is wary of (if not outright antagonistic to) the religious life.  Unlike Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans (at least since the 19th Century Oxford Movement), intentional communities of daily prayer are outside of the framework of reference of what institutional Lutheranism thinks "church" should look like. 

I am often reminded of how many Lutherans are unfamiliar with daily corporate prayer and the religious life when I am on Twitter, where I try to promote those things through my personal account (@PastorJayDenne) and through praying some of the daily offices via @Virtual_Abbey.  While some fellow Lutherans (both clergy and laity) follow and interact with those accounts, sometimes it seems as if I interact more with Catholics, Orthodox, and Anglicans than with Lutherans.  I saw a glaring example of this the other day, when I noticed that at the Virtual Abbey, Archbishop Kurtz (of the Archdiocese of Louisville, and the President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) "retweeted" my morning prayers, but I have yet to see any Lutheran bishops follow or respond. (A caveat - my own Synod Bishop has been highly supportive, but I don't see him much on Twitter).

Does this mean that I am tilting at proverbial windmills a la Don Quixote?  Only time (and the Holy Spirit, of course) will tell.  But, I will keep trying, as I firmly believe in what Fr. Hendrickson said:

"We need passionate and powerful advocates for Christ in the communities around us – we need deacons and lay religious equipped for holy living. They can be, in our communities, the kinds of Christians that people never knew existed whose concern is not institutional maintenance or Church membership but is a faith lived so eloquently and authentically that their very being is evangelical.....They could be an inspiration for the congregation’s deepening sense of their own vocation as evangelists and servants." 

1 comment:

  1. Everything you have mentioned in this post is already in place in the Catholic Church, and I see it on a daily basis in the Archdiocese of Miami.

    What are you waiting for? C'mon in. The water's fine.