Modern Monasticism: What does community living look like in the 21st Century?

Jonty Herman is spending one working week in every two living on a farm, seeking to create space for God in his day-to-day.

London. It's the city of dreams - the cultural capital of the world - a hub of social and cultural activities. But soaring rent prices, long-working hours and increasing commutes leaves many a millennial with a reality of London living that is fast-paced and relentless. Work-filled weeks are interjected with people-filled weekends and the cycle continues. Life is full.

But is it satisfying?

With our heavily scheduled lives, God can become just another relationship to fix in the diary. He gets every Sunday evening, 6-8pm. Then we have to get home, pack our lunches, and start our weeks over.

What if there was another way to live? A more fulfilling way? And what if this way did not require us to do more, but do less - creating space for God to move? "Impossible", comes the shout, at least while living in London. Space and time are things few of us can afford. Maybe not.

I met Jonty Herman 20 minutes out of town in a village before walking across several fields to the farm he now calls his second home. Exploring what it would look like to do less for God, Jonty has committed to spending one working-week in every two up at Latimer Minster - a worshipping community in Buckinghamshire. He spends the rest of his time living in his flat in Hoxton.

Frog Orr-Ewing, the Rector at the minster is creating a living, worshipping, growing community there. The idea is to create space for God to move - to explore monastic rhythms of life and what living in a worshipping community looks like. To allow God out of his Sunday evening box.

Jonty wanted in. The only problem was that he also ran a business with clients in London and admitted he wasn't ready to retire from the city full-time.

"So the idea came about of living part of the time on the farm and part of the time in London, and when I'm here I will pay for my accommodation through labour on the farm," he said.

"I stay on the farm in a shepherd's hut, one working week out of every two and pay the farm through labour, which is therapeutic in itself - connecting with the land and doing something very active, and getting to do it with great people and being part of the community here.

"I rent my room out when I'm not there.

"So, effectively, I've halved my rent, which immediately takes away a huge amount of pressure financially. At the same time I get to live more cheaply on the farm - so eat food I've grown."

Latimer Minster is both a working farm and a worshipping community, developing a daily rhythm of prayer and worship. There is a huge yellow tent, which hosts the Sunday congregation, amid fields of sheep, orchards and orchids.


Rather than living according to the dictates of city expectations, which demand we get a career that enables us to become increasingly comfortable, get on the property ladder and climb it, what if we lived in a way that enabled God to be God?

"Our primary paradigm for success as UK Christians is a structure based on materialism," said Jonty.

"We, as Christians, are not sufficiently delineated from this culture.

"Church is a shadow of what it could be because we do it within the existing structures that the world has laid out for us. We have obediently kept these expensive church walls and kept our routine of Sunday morning worship.

"There is a limit to authenticity. The Sunday services desire to be authentic - and that is a wonderful thing - but it is limited to Sundays. If we can do worship music so well, what about politics, family and education? The reality is that we are existing in every sphere of society, so that authenticity can stretch to every sphere."

Rather than just a God who is interested in the spiritual reality, God is a God who is interested in the realities of life.

"I fully believe in the creator God and the incarnate God and the God who comes down from his throne to earth, and not just a God who takes us up to some abstract reality. I believe in a restoring God who comes to his people, who pursues his people no matter how far they fall."

The prevalent culture has birthed both a boxed-in church and warn out Christians bound by the "survival mentality" so prevalent in London.

"I had been trying to do something to get out of this for a long time, but I have finally given in and acknowledge that it's not through doing stuff that I am going to change things. Rather, it is through creating space," he told me.

"For an activist-type person, that's a hard pill to swallow. Naturally I want to work harder and longer, but I have realised that's not the answer."

The move into a more monastic rhythm of life is not a rejection of action - or working hard - but a re-ordering of sorts, allowing God to set the pace.

"I've come to realise that the most important thing in life is relationships and relationships don't exist upon a foundation of ideology or action, but good ideology and action come out of a bed of good relationships," he said.

"I'm hoping that others will join me, so that we can build the space and culture together in which all people can thrive and we can be like the lungs that bring inspiration and life to the city."