Subversive or Supportive – Pt.3 (Domesticating the Disturbance)

If Bonhoeffers vision of the ‘restoration of the church through a new type of monasticism’ was to be realised then steps needed to be taken that set things going both at local and national levels. To that end, in 2004 I sent a letter to Archbishop Rowan Williams with a request for some advice and some thoughts on how we might move forward in doing just that… [last blog]

It has taken sometime to retrieve the letter that was sent to Archbishop Rowan. This is it. It speaks for itself.


Fr. John T. Skinner
St. John’s Place
Langton Hill
Hamilton HM13
441 292 6802

Lent 2004

Dear ++Rowan

We almost met over two years ago when John Lee introduced us via my CV and you offered me a job in Wales. I ended up in Bermuda, and will end my contract here in May.

In another life, I am the founder of the Northumbria Community, joint editor and complier of Celtic Daily Prayer and Celtic Night Prayer. For my sins, I introduced Bonhoeffer’s “new monasticism” back into mainstream thinking, and have spent the last twenty years creating images, metaphors and ideas that give meaning and substance to this alternative way of living as a Christian in our ever changing world.

In 1998 I left Northumbria, and the Community, for Europe, specifically Turkey. Since then I have been developing the Émigré Communion, a body of individuals, churches, communities and associations who share a common vision to contribute to the

“renewal of the Church through a new type of monasticism”.

In July of this year we open our first Centre, in Selçuk (Ephesus) Turkey.
Several others are planned in Europe and the Turkic World.

For the last two years we have been having informal discussions with Dr. Wooding of Lampeter University under the banner of our daughter charity Monos- a society for the continuation of monastic culture.

In 2005, Monos in partnership with Lampeter will host a conference on New Monasticism. We are also seeking to develop an accredited Certificate/Diploma Course with a curriculum that has at its heart, monastic themes, but also covers emerging paradigms.

Our concern is that New Monasticism is rooted in the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church and a genuine expression the ‘first fruits of the kingdom’ and not become a ‘post-modern theatrical company!’

Émigré and myself are currently facing a dilemma and this is the reason I am writing to you.

Autocephalous Movement

Last Year, I was approached by Bishop’s from the autocephalous movement. They were familiar with Celtic Daily Prayer and my work on New Monasticism.

I was asked to consider if Émigré would become an Independent Jurisdiction within the movement, and myself a Bishop.

I dismissed this suggestion immediately, having always maintained both in the Northumbria Community and Émigré that members stayed true to their Church affiliations and that New Monasticism was not an alternative Church. I firmly believe that alternative movements must run parallel with the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. (This has not been easy. Only 20 years ago I was censored by an Archdeacon in Northumbria, asked not to attend the local church, and warned of arrest if I impersonated an Anglican Clergyman. It was only the humility and courage of Bishop Alec Graham who apologized to me several years later, authorized Eucharist ministry at the Community house, that brought me home.)

However, recent events within Émigré have led to a serious discussion with the Covenant Community that affiliation with the autocephalous movement may be a step that we need to take.

First: In recent months I have been approached by two leaders within the House Church Movement, asking about ordination and affiliation within Émigré. They are seeking association with the Ancient Church and Her Creeds. Such an affiliation would mean entry of several interconnected churches.

Second: Central to my own understanding of monasticism, the Church and Her Mission is the Eucharist. New Monastic communities need Priests, men and women who are authorized to hold the ancient truth in their hands that “God is with us”, connecting us with the past and the future.

Third… Some time ago you kindly saw Chris Haggerstone who was seeking guidance, with regard his vocation. Chris has been my “deacon” for over twenty years! He was an early pioneer of the Northumbria Community, and is a Trustee of Émigré. Chris’s DDO has just suggested he meet his Bishop, for recommendation to ABBM. He has a dilemma. He feels very clearly he has a vocation to Priesthood, but feels the context of his vocation is within a Monastic Community. His DDO has the same discernment. However, Chris would like to work that out within Émigré, and after a visit to Turkey, in our new house.

Disclosure of that to his DDO will no doubt end his current journey to his vocation. We need Priests.

Archbishop backs guerrilla tactics in war on secularism

I wept when I read this report in the Times in January. Twenty one Years ago I sat with Bishop David Jenkins and I discussed with him Jacques Ellul and the Post Christian Society. I outlined a new movement, Secular Monasticism, running parallel alongside the Church, looking at alternative ways of Christian living, ministry and mission. We talked about new religious movements that would fill the void caused by the privatization of Christianity. I was full of hope, anticipating his support. He said to me, that the Church was not ready for this, and the only way he could help was to encourage me to stay in the desert until the time was right.

There are words that slip into the vocabulary of popular culture almost unnoticed: secularisation.. new age.. new physics.. postmodernity.. long before they reach our lips they have made a journey through the recesses of human understanding the power and force of their meaning has already transformed or swept away former perceptions.
We imagine we can dialogue, find common ground; only then do we awaken and find the ground has moved from beneath our feet.. our house has fallen…we are internal émigrés.

John Skinner

My concern in the Christian community, is the misconception, that having caught up with the cultural changes created by previous paradigms we now have a “handle” on the whole thing. This creates an inertia in our true need for metanoia, to have the courage to take steps that initiate the profound reconstruction of the Church in all its forms to participate confessionaly in the emerging culture.

I confided in a former Church Warden that I planned to contact you, and what I would say. He is a very traditional, middle church communicant. I wanted to test his reaction.

He said he was once the Chairman of a substantial insurance company. The natural disasters in the ‘80s coupled by paradigm shifts in the insurance business left his corporation reeling and in need of significant reconstruction. An evaluation of corporate culture suggested that significant change would take a considerable period of time. Long established policies, procedures and executive resistance to change left the corporation too slow to respond to new market forces. Without change the company would breakdown.

He decided a different tactic. He created a Treaty Partnership with small companies, whose small infrastructure left them able to move quickly in the new market. In return for sharing the risks, the smaller companies benefited from the corporate connection with the bigger company. Eventually the corporate culture of the bigger company due to the interaction with the federation of smaller

companies began to evolve and grow, and eventually emerged in the market with a new identity.

“It seems to me” He said “that the church has to make a similar journey”

He suggested I speak to you, something I was already planning to do.

In the Émigré Community we are now in a very painful dialogue trying to find away forward.

The autocephalous connection would give a link, no matter how fragile or enigmatic, to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. It would provide an answer to some of the challenges we are currently facing. Without that link to the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, the alternative movement will position itself in privatized religion, taking part in a conversation that has already ended, and more alarming, not even be aware of it.

I am an Anglican. You are my Father Bishop. I have maintained throughout my ministry that we must maintain Canonical Obedience to those the Lord has placed over us, no matter how painful or difficult our journey together, or it all just falls down.

In the dialogue within my community, I have expressed my concern in damaging that relationship.
It has been suggested that we put forward one of our senior people for entry into the autocephalous movement. This would mean we remain a communion who has within its ranks a bishop in the Autocephalous Communion, as well as other types of Christian leaders.

Is there no small step the Anglican Communion can take that would help us to reconcile some of these difficulties? Can we not show leadership and initiative in helping Émigré and those like us to walk closely with the Church, while sharing the risks in our new culture?
Is there no way we can help people like Chris, or the house church ministers who very clearly have vocations, but who just can’t translate them into the traditional mould?
Is there no way we can form alliances with smaller communities and communions who are awake to the present crisis, and are sincerely seeking alternative ways of Christian living that will contribute to the renewal and reconstruction of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. Not unlike my Church Warden’s Treaty Partnership.

Forgive me ++ Rowan. Your time is precious. Thank you if you got this far.

I am back in the same place I was twenty years ago speaking to Bishop David. This time, I hope I am a little more articulate, and in the Northumbria Community, and the Émigré Communion I have something to point too to give a little glimpse of what I meant.

I am afraid you will say “Back to the Desert”, or worse dismiss me as a post-modern wacko. I have taken the risk.

Any response at all you can give would be sincerely and greatly appreciated.

The Lord Bless You Dear Archbishop Rowan.
We pray for you daily in my Parish in Bermuda.
These are difficult yet exciting days.
May God give you courage to follow your heart.

Fr. John Skinner


Comment The Archbishop sent me an informal reply through one of his aids. He said he was sympathetic to the comments made in my letter but felt he was unable to support an initiative like this at this particular moment. However, and it may be coincidental, the following year saw the launch of Fresh Expressions, a movement within the Anglican Communion whose aims and objectives seem rather close to those I first proposed to Bishop Jenkins in 1985… and in this letter to Archbishop Rowan:

‘Twenty one Years ago I sat with Bishop David Jenkins and I discussed with him Jacques Ellul and the Post Christian Society. I outlined a new movement, Secular Monasticism, running parallel alongside the Church, looking at alternative ways of Christian living, ministry and mission.’

Coincidence or not, there was one significant difference between my proposal and what has become Fresh Expressions – location. I suggested a movement that was located ‘parallel’ to the Church, autonomous but interdependent, rather than authorized and therefore supervised by the Church. As one Anglican Priest commented in a recent email to me: ‘In Fresh Expressions there is a real danger that new monasticism will be domesticated by the very institution it may well be meant to rescue.’