What would make a gifted, well-connected 29 year old choose to move into a Franciscan Friary and live in community with formerly homeless people? My friend Jonny has. Why?

The short answer is that he heard a diagnosis to his generation’s discontent and it struck home – to the extent that he moved into a community born out of need, not choice, as an experiment in intentional community. Jonny explained what drove him to do this.

The idea began in a lecture ‘Why do people in their 20s leave the church?’ Soul Survivor’s Mike Pilavachi explains how a culture of consumerism, individualism and entitlement is eating into the psyche of 20-somethings. [1] The freedom of individualism, expressed through independent living with no definitive commitment to people or place is a phony freedom. We believe it’s our right to have whatever we want, whenever we want, yet we find ourselves crippled by the fear of committing to the ‘wrong’ person/place/career.

In Postmodernity and Its Discontents, Zygmunt Bauman writes how “modern individuals are sentenced to a lifetime of choosing. And the art of choosing is mostly about avoiding one danger: that of missing an opportunity.”

People of faith are not immune. Not even ministers. Henri Nouwen’s In the name of Jesus, describes ‘The Compulsive Minister’. In a society described as a ‘shipwreck’, “a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul” [2]. Nouwen points to how horrendously secular our Christian lives can become, living our lives in such a “distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, or do are worth thinking, saying, or doing”.

So if that is the correct diagnosis – what is the prescription?

In an article [3] written for Christianity Today in 1981, Nouwen presents two disciplines through which we can “we try to remove-slowly, gently, yet persistently-the many obstacles which prevent us from listening to God’s voice within us” – the discipline of solitude and the discipline of community.

And that’s why Jonny has moved into a Friary. Through immersing himself within the rhythm of the Daily Office (morning, evening and night prayer) and sharing life alongside a number of formerly homeless residents, Jonny’s hope is to become more and more attuned to hearing God’s voice in intentional solitude and in communal life.

2 months in, how is it going?

Jonny says,

‘My initial experience of the Daily Office was that I found it incredibly difficult to stop my mind from wandering. It was then that I read how one of the early Christian writers described the first stage of solitary prayer as “the experience of a man who, after years of living with open doors, suddenly decides to shut them. The visitors who used to come and enter his home start pounding on his doors, wondering why they are not allowed to enter. Only when they realise that they are not welcome do they gradually stop coming.” [4] It’s been a steady and gradual process, but I’ve slowly started to notice that the rhythm of stopping and centring myself on God, has begun to build an awareness and familiarity with the presence of God into the rest of my day. The rest of my day started to become infused with a sense of the sacred, of God. The clear division between what is sacred and what is secular turns into a blurry edge. This – in and of itself – has been a real answer to prayer.

This article is a shortened version of a theological reflection Jonny wrote to explore his time at Helping Hands. If you would like the full version email me and I will forward you the long version – sally@royaldocks.org

[1]Christians urged to mentor consumerist generation of believers”, accessed 25th January 2017, http://www.christiantoday.com/article/christians.urged.to.mentor.consumerist.generation.of.believers/24244.htm

[2] Henri J. M.  Nouwen, The Way of the Heart

[3 and 4} “Henri J. M. Nouwen, An Invitation to the Spiritual Life”, accessed 13th February 2017, http://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/1981/summer/81l3053.html