The Ancient Concept of Church as Abbey
The concept we’re building our church around is the old Celtic Christian abbey — a center for worship, refuge, hospitality, learning, art, and community. The ancient abbey embraced its neighbors in adjoining towns and countryside as its parish, and served the needs of the community. The Celtic abbeys were not closed monastic compounds that excluded the outside world; rather, they were open to travelers, neighbors, inquirers, and those seeking help. Every person they encountered did not show up for worship on Sundays, but the witness of the abbey impacted the community it served every day of the week.
I’ve written about the church as abbey for a few years now. I believe it is the future of the church in the 21st century. The church as abbey idea can work in any size congregation, large or small. The real advantage is that old, existing — even dying — congregations can become abbeys. Our church is 157-years-old this year, and we are making the transition without disrupting the traditions of our church that have meaning for many long-term members.
Interestingly, a similar concept has emerged and it identifies as The New Parish movement. Check out what churches who identify with that idea are doing. It simply affirms my conviction, and they probably have a better name than “abbey church.”
I hope all this gives you some idea of what we are doing in our small congregation and why we are doing it. Stop in often, because things change quickly in our small town! The powerpoint of the church-as-abbey concept that I presented at NOC2008 is available here.