The Benedict Option
Building The Benedict Option: A Query
Rod Dreher -- Dec 10, 2019
I want to put something out there to sympathetic readers of this blog and The Benedict Option. If this is not you, then don’t comment on this thread. I have been contacted by a reader who is seeking serious advice.
The reader is a conservative Anglican (he’s Episcopalian, but as a theological conservative, considers himself Anglican). He has a large parcel of land that he would like to use to develop a community of like-minded, theologically conservative Christian families, who will commit themselves to building what I would call a Benedict Option community — that is, a place where people who share Christian orthodoxy can build each other up, and raise families together. Ideally, he would like to place a monastery on that land as well.
The problem he has — and it’s a big one — is that he doesn’t know how to do it, or if it’s possible, given the division among churches. He is aware that the Anglican churches, as a body, are in a very weak position regarding orthodoxy, at least in the United States. But he does not like the idea of a Catholic or Orthodox monastery on the land, because non-Catholics and non-Orthodox would not be able to enter into the full liturgical life of the monastic community (by which he means, take Communion). And, of course Orthodox Christians could not receive communion at a non-Orthodox church, nor could Catholics receive communion at a non-Catholic church.
That is a fact that is not going to change in our lifetimes, if ever.
I ended up speaking by phone this morning to the reader. We agreed that it is a fact of church life that the churches best equipped to endure this new Dark Age are those who are more committed to particularity — which is to say, exclusivity. The reader is very conservative, theologically, and said he is against false ecumenism, and false irenicism — that is, he doesn’t believe Christians should water down their beliefs for the sake of unity. And yet, he understandably would not want to give his land over to building a community that would exclude Christians like him from communion.
I told him that I don’t see a way around this problem, but that that could simply be my own lack of imagination. I know for a fact that I would love to live in a neighborhood of small-o orthodox Christians who were eager to live more communally. We have seen in our nondenominational classical Christian school that small-o orthodox Christians have much in common, and can work together well in building up a community. But a school has a limited mandate; it’s not the same thing as a neighborhood.
If there is to be a chapel or monastery on the property, it will inevitably have to exclude others. No Catholic monastery will turn away worshipers, nor would an Orthodox monastery. Except at the communion chalice. This is the sad reality of our brokenness as Christians, but that’s just how it is. It’s not hard to imagine resentment growing over that within this ideal community. And what would happen if people who moved into that neighborhood as believers in one particular Christian tradition began to convert to the form instantiated by the monastery? Wouldn’t that potentially cause deep strife, and a sense of isolation and even siege among the others?
You see the practical problems here. My reader is not at all hostile to Orthodox Christians or Catholics, and would welcome the chance to live among them. But he rightly worries that the inability to share the communion chalice would create fault lines in the community that could cause it to break apart.
Still, I think it would be a tragedy to let the perfect be the enemy of the good enough.
I offered to him to post about this on my blog, to see if any readers have good advice, especially from experience within this kind of community, if any exist. I know the Alleluia Community in Georgia is predominantly Catholic, and came out of the charismatic renewal in the 1970s, but has a significant number of Protestants living in it. Maybe some of you Alleluia folks can help my reader think through this issue. How do y’all do it?
Here, from the Alleluia Community’s website, are the principles that bind them together:
So maybe the obstacle that my reader correctly identifies is big, but possible to overcome. I don’t know. What do you think?
I do know this, though: we small-o orthodox Christians need to be putting our heads together and being creative minorities, and thinking of ways we might go through the fog together. Just because this is a really knotty problem doesn’t mean that it can’t be solved.