New Studies (and Stories) in Urban Monasticism
“I felt at a loss as to how to proceed,” the intern recalled. Her assignment was to take two bag lunches downtown, to share with someone in need of lunch or company — in short, to make a new friend. “I noted the questioning stares” from passers-by in the downtown mall, she continued. “I was feeling their questions of, ‘are you associated to him somehow?’ And I felt a bit angry. Angry that they would judge this guy because he was a ‘have not,’ that somehow he was nothing because he didn’t have what they did.
“It was interesting to sit there. It was warm. There was sunlight from above coming down, and a plant bringing life. I didn’t mind it so much. But thinking about spending day after day with this as my life, it made me a bit sad for my new friend…I could see it being pretty awful.
“I decided to eat my lunch and offered food again to my friend. He said he only ate supper, that his body was used to it, that he’d been doing it for years already. Only had coffee for breakfast. It’s pretty amazing what the body can grow accustomed to. In a way, this guy probably knows more about fasting than I do.
“I wasn’t sure how much of myself to share… which later made me realize if I didn’t share anything about me, why should he feel comfortable sharing anything with me? I looked at my life through different eyes, and in some ways it made me sad. I couldn’t relate because I put up walls,” the intern realized. But in the end, she admitted, “I was blessed by the little bit he let me in, the things he chose to share. I hope I blessed him by my company, by my offer of friendship, brief as it may have been.”
This is just one of the stories emerging in the Urban Monastic Internship, facilitated by the Greater Ontario House of Prayer. Jill Weber, Director of GOHOP, says that the Internship began with discerning a need for “training opportunities for people who were not in a position to attend university or Bible college, but who wanted to explore themes of radical hospitality, urban mission, and God’s heart for cities in a pragmatic way” and a local context. The training happens “not in a classroom but a living room, eating and learning together,” Jill explains.
The Internship program consists of reading books that are proving foundational for the intersections of urban ministry and monastic disciplines. Interns also take on practical assignments (such as the one above) based on their reading, share weekly reflections in an online forum, meet with a spiritual director on a rotating basis, and meet together for bi-monthly dinner conversations with local practitioners. At one dinner, says Jill, a Catholic spiritual director led a contemplative prayer exercise. And in a showcase of the spiritual practice of creativity, one intern baked a cake with hand-carved chocolate roses, while others shared paintings, quilts, and even a custom-designed running shoe. This eating and sharing together models what Jill calls “a radical sense of community,” with the goal of “developing disciples of Jesus who live with prayerful, loving, missional intention in their cities – whether in Hamilton or elsewhere.”
The interns themselves come from several different denominational walks of life, and over the course of the program, they hear from still more voices, from Quakers to Pentecostals to Anabaptists. For Jill, the most surprising blessing is the volume of participants: she had hoped for four interns, ended up with 17, and already has 10 more on a waiting list for next year. The overwhelming response has her searching for collaborative ways to shape a possible second- and third-year experience, using three-month modules to dig deeper into topics such as intentional community-building, justice, and spiritual disciplines. As this year’s interns are eager to strengthen the community they have established among themselves, Jill looks forward to cohorts moving through each year of the internship together, and she’s planning weeklong “urban monastic intensive” units for July, in which participants will be immersed in communal eating and living and help to host GOHOP’s prayer truck and other ministries. She also notes that the present group has experienced the same values that they are studying: she had planned to take an offering that would offset the cost of books for future interns, but an anonymous donation covered that cost almost immediately.
For more about the Urban Monastic Internship, you can e-mail Jill at email@example.com or you can talk to her in person at this year’s TrueCity conference.