The Moot monastic community (featured on expressions: the dvd – 2) offers hospitality and welcome in the heart of the City of London to 'questers' or 'spiritual seekers'. Vanessa Elston, one of the community's core team responsible for developing mission and evangelism, describes its work.
As a monastic community we are seeking to deepen the ways we encounter God, ourselves and others in community, spiritual formation and mission.
Our worship draws deeply on the sacramental and contemplative traditions, bringing together the ancient-future dimensions of the faith. We aspire to a common rhythm of life that expresses our commitment to living sustainably, holistically and justly. We also explore spiritual practices, postures and virtues as means to the transformation and inner liberation required to live out our Christian vocation.
Hospitality and welcome are part of our rhythm of life; they represent a significant strand in the monastic tradition and have a long biblical and Christian tradition of practice that best describes how we are called to engage with the 'other', our 'neighbour', the 'stranger' – particularly those who may lack resources to support themselves.
Through our presence in the City, we regularly meet those who are increasingly dissatisfied with the assumptions and lifestyle offered by secular modernity. Many are looking for resources to support their quest for meaning, spiritual experience and practice but are not turning to the traditional church to do this. Our society is increasingly post secular and open to exploring the spiritual dimension of life but the Church has been slow to effectively engage with this shift in the culture. As a result we have been experimenting with two forms of welcome and hospitality on offer to those who are looking for more to their lives, but are resistant to traditional forms of church and evangelism.
On Wednesday evenings at St Mary Woolnoth's Church, opposite Bank Tube station and the Bank of England, you will see banners on the railing offering 'Free Meditation' to those who are 'stressed in the city'. Inside the church a group of 15-20 people meets every week to be led through a series of relaxation exercises into a 20 minute silent meditation, following the sacred word approach of the Benedictine Monk John Main. We are encouraged not to worry if our minds seem to leap about like monkeys at first, but to keep drawing ourselves back to our 'anchor word' or 'image'.
This method is to help us still our minds, so that we can begin to get beyond the surface clutter and distraction that prevents us from encountering ourselves at a deeper level and going beyond ourselves to encounter the divine. After the meditation we reflect on how our stress levels have, or have not, been lowered and there is an opportunity to share thoughts, reflections and questions on the process. In this way, those who are spiritual questers experience stillness and transformation. As a result some become regular visitors who are now in a process of opening up to Christian spirituality.
Twice a month on a Wednesday evening, in a large pub near St Mary’s, city workers share a drink or meal while a group of people meet in a back room for what we call a ‘Serum discussion’ based on one of the bigger questions around life, God and spirituality. The group starts with an icebreaker in which everyone introduces themselves and then there is a short 3 to 5 minute thought-provoking discussion starter which ends with a question.
We then split up into smaller groups where the conversation is facilitated so that everyone participates on the same level, feels listened to and respected. The ground rules of Serum are explained so that the goal is not 'to win the argument', or 'get the right answer to the question' but is about mutual learning. If you listened in to one of these groups you would become aware how this approach can take the discussion beyond an intellectual debate about ideas into something far more personal involving heartfelt searching and consideration. It is amazing how honest and open people can be with others they have never met before.
You would also notice how this approach works best when the Christian presence and voice is in the minority and how people find it much easier to listen when they no longer feel threatened by an atmosphere of dominance or control. A trainee ordinand described Serum as ‘unique in his experience’ in that the church was hosting an event where it was not asking people to move towards it but providing a genuine space of mutual encounter and dialogue.
In these ways Moot is seeking to engage with those who may be a long way from traditional forms of church but are searching for ultimate reality through spiritual experience and finding safe spaces where beliefs and perceptions can be explored and discussed in a non-threatening and non-argumentative environment. The meditation group has been meeting for over a year while the Serum discussion groups are a newer venture – both are attended by a majority of non-Mooters.
One of the challenges of living in a big city is sustaining and growing community and Moot is no different in this respect. We have big ambitions for a small community and are looking for new participants to help us develop our programme of spiritual and missional events in the heart of the City of London.