The New Monasticism
A fresh crop of Christian communities is blossoming in blighted urban settings all over America.
September 2, 2005
"How can you worship a homeless Man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?" said the sign outside St. Edward's Cathedral in Philadelphia. Inside, a group of 40 homeless families were joined by students from Eastern University to protest the eviction of women and their children from the abandoned Kensington neighborhood church. In 1996, the story was all over the news as a community activist group and a crowd of Eastern students fought the eviction by living in the church, sleeping on pews, and worshiping each Sunday. Shane Claiborne and other students left Eastern's campus in St. Davids, drove the 20 miles into Philly, and unpacked their things in the nave.
At first, it was a shock to live among the homeless, Claiborne says. But face to face with poverty, stereotypes quickly broke down. During those fall days, as the stone building grew colder each night, the students began to rethink Gospel passages about the poor being blessed and doing "unto the least of these."
For some, learning to see the gospel through the eyes of the poor was like a second conversion. "I was born again
again," Claiborne says in his book The Irresistible Revolution (Zondervan, February 2006). Their eyes were opened to the Christian imperative to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and they saw that more important than handing out food or clothes was offering the love of Christ. In 1998, two years after the St. Edward's experience, Claiborne and six other students formed a community called the Simple Way and permanently moved into Kensington, just blocks from St. Edward's.
Today, the Simple Way, with its two houses on Potter Street, is one of the oldest of a new crop of Christian intentional communities. Formed often independently by mostly young, ...