A few inspirallers have been talking about intentional community for a while, and as a result we’ve decided to do some serious research into what that might look like. So this Saturday we’re heading down to Geelong to hang out with some of the members of the Holy Transfiguration community. One of only two Baptist monasteries in the world, Breakwater are a rare and beautiful expression of Christian community. We’re wanting to learn about how their journey of integrity towards deeper community, but also to forge links between their group and ours. And I wanted to draw attention to this amazing group right here, where people who would ordinarily not come across a group such as this would have the chance to be as affected by them as I am being.
The Holy Transfiguration Monastery
Breakwater, Victoria, Australia
by Paul R. Dekar
Holy Transfiguration Monastery is a center of renewal in Breakwater, a working-class neighborhood of Geelong, a city of 200,000 on the west of Port Phillip Bay, in the state of Victoria in Australia. A compelling adaptation of historic Christian monastic traditions to contemporary life, the community is unique in that it continues the life and witness of a 135-year old Baptist congregation while drawing on classic sources of Christian monasticism.
Holy Transfiguration Monastery began in the early 1970s, a period when many Christians around the world re-appraised economic, political, and religious structures. Graeme Littleton and Steven Shipman met during a monastic formation program at The Community of the Glorious Ascension, an Anglican monastery in England. They came to share the vision out of which Holy Transfiguration Community emerged. Littleton and Shipman studied the Rule of Benedict, Orthodox sources, and a number of models of communal life, including Ephrata, an Anabaptist experiment that began in the eighteenth century in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
As the community grew, members developed a Resolve, the practices by which they live as follows:
* Being perfectly assured of your salvation, with your whole life proclaim your gratitude.
* Reject nothing, consecrate everything.
* Be the good of love, for God, for neighbor, for all creation.
* Judge no one, not even yourself.
* Love beauty.
* Maintain inner silence in all things.
* Show hospitality, err only on the side of generosity.
* Speak truth to power, especially power without love.
* Let your only experience of evil be in suffering, not its creation.
* For us there is only the trying, the rest is none of our business.
The community has over thirty members who live in the Cloister or nearby. Members observe traditional monastic commitments to hospitality, obedience, stability, and a balanced life of prayer and work. Celibacy is not an obligation. While several members have chosen a celibate life, married couples also live in the Cloister. Families live in houses, while the celibate sisters and brothers live in single-sex households. Members support themselves through ordinary work. In accord with Acts 2:45 and Acts 4:34, twelve live under the common purse, while members of the Greater Community tithe.
Holy Transfiguration Monastery members observe times of silence, stillness, and solitude. The daily rhythm of prayer focuses on some aspect of the life of Jesus: Mondays, incarnation; Tuesdays, baptism; Wednesdays, transfiguration; Thursdays, the last supper. On Friday, members observe Taizé-like prayers around the cross. On Saturday evening a Sabbath service announces the Resurrection. Sunday is a literal day of rest.
While on the grounds members generally wear habits or, at the Eucharist, white baptismal albs. They extend an invitation to any baptized person to do the same. A communal meal shared by many visitors follows the Eucharist. The liturgical and prayer forms of the community are intentionally contemplative and reflective. Singing plays a great part in all the liturgies. The community follows the Christian year and has developed significant liturgies unique to Advent, Epiphany, Lent, Ascension, Pentecost, Transfiguration, Holy Cross, and Christ Pantokrator, with the One who holds all opposites together in creative tension as the focus of reflection, Easter is a season for renewal of one’s baptismal vows.
Holy Transfiguration Monastery members observe times of silence, stillness, and solitude.
Members have written prayers and liturgies that are ancient and contemporary, meditative, and dynamic, reflective and socially attuned. Holy Transfiguration Monastery has attracted to its membership several master crafts persons and artists. The icons, vestments, architecture, stained glass, and other artistic features embody monastic values of simplicity and holiness. Backed by a well-articulated theology, members offer their gifts to God in gratitude.
Members seek to respect the beauty of creation. With three buildings set aside for worship specifically, nearly a dozen houses, gardens, and a guesthouse, the property encompasses two acres. Once a garbage heap, the Cloister is now a protected bird sanctuary. Members have also been actors in local campaigns to maintain ecological balance in Breakwater through efforts to preserve the habitat along the Barwon River nearby.
The Breakwater community attracts members from many denominations, including the Anglican, Baptist, Catholic, and Uniting churches of Australia. Among its advisors are representatives of other monasteries in Australia, including the Benedictine Abbey of St. Mark in Camperdown, and the Cistercian Tarrawarra Abbey in the Yarra River valley.
Holy Transfiguration has maintained a Skete in Melbourne, where the monastery strongly influenced a number of congregations. Communities in Perth in Western Australia, in the United Kingdom, and in the United States are exploring ways to twin or otherwise identify with Holy Transfiguration.
And make that Brunswick too.