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What Is the Benedict Option, and Why Might It Be Coming to Your Neighborhood?

Ruklay Pousajja/Shutterstock

John Burger - published on 05/11/16

One of the residents there, Andrew Pudewa, is hosting a conference about the Benedict Option this month, and Dreher will be speaking. Promotional material for the conference, The Idea of a Village: Seeking the Restoration of Christian Culture, is instructive:
In the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire, Christians gathered around the communities of religious in monasteries of the Benedictine tradition for spiritual succor and stability. Likewise, many of today’s Christians, discouraged by the corruption of our own declining empire, desire a similar spiritual support. Some of these families have informally settled around Clear Creek Abbey, a thriving monastery of Benedictine monks, and are, in the words of Abbot Philip Anderson, O.S.B., seeking “to recommence the business of building a just and healthy form of social life, from the ground up.” While some have heard of this idea as “the Benedict Option,” it might more simply be thought of as the pursuit of sanity in a world gone crazy.

“Formally speaking, there are no ‘primary organizers’ of the community that is forming, little by little, around our abbey,” Father Anderson said in an interview. “From the beginning, we monks wanted to avoid planning a lay community, allowing, rather, that to happen naturally, organically, if it would.”

Father Anderson said that there are 37 households living near the abbey now. Pudewa and his wife and family have been there since 2009. They always sought out places that fostered a sense of community and had lived in several places around the country and abroad, including some experimental communities.

“When we came to visit it looked like this could meet all of our requisites—a Christian community, rural, a relatively safer part of the country, conservative, and a place where it’s easy to grow a business and thrive,” he said. “What I would kind of see as our village idea, in a way, isn’t to just escape the ugliness of worldliness—because you can’t really ever escape that, no matter how far out you go—but it is to cultivate a life of peace and faith and community that can nurture people who may then go out into the world and do things.”

What brings everyone together? For Pudewa, it’s the abbey, which is clearly the focal point and source of spiritual strength.

“Without the monastery, there would be no reason to be here because this is the land of ticks and chiggers and cottonmouths and copperheads and brutally hot summers and storms and tornadoes,” he said. “One thing every family seems to go through is trials and tribulations. You move out here and you will be tested.”

Pudewa, founder and director of the Institute for Excellence in Writing, said that a lot of prospective residents are drawn by the abbey’s orthodoxy and rigorous adherence to liturgical norms. “There’s never going to be anything goofy at the monastery,” he said. “The abbot, the hierarchy, the total dedication of the monks to the monastic life and holiness and the Benedictine rule and work and prayer—that’s the example that in a lay person’s way we wish we could emulate.”

For Pudewa’s neighbor, Michael Lawless, an engineering consultant for medical device companies, the prospect of recovering an agrarian way of life was a major attraction.

“If you go off to work, your family never sees you in that work environment,” Lawless said. “The family life and professional life are fully separated by a commute.”

So the Lawless family, which bought 220 acres in the area  and is raising cattle, hopes that what is now a “homesteading project” will eventually grow into an income-generating farm.

Lawless also sees the abbey as vital to the community.

“Many people have attempted to create Christian communities, Catholic communities,” he said. “And most have failed. By having an unorganized community around a monastery, the monastery creates stability.”

A community of a different sort, which Dreher also upholds as a kind of Benedictine Option model, is the Anselm Society, a project of Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Collaborating with other churches in the area, Anselm sponsors public education and supports artists, all in hopes of engendering a “renaissance of the Christian imagination.”

“Over and over, we see that the biggest problem in even the healthiest churches here, where kids are being raised well in the faith, is that the rhythms of kids’ lives are not being shaped by anything related to Church,” said executive director Brian Brown. “They’re being shaped by the rat race, by the constant pressure to get the kid into college, whatever it may be. We have ‘liturgies’ that are formed by checking our smartphone for Facebook every hour, that are far more formative than the liturgy of our religion that’s supposed to be the center of our lives.”

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