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Strengthening One Another: A Contemporary Appropriation of the Chapter of Faults (and Affirmations)

by Evan B. Howard

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This is a reflection (historical and practical) regarding the traditional monastic practice of the “Chapter of Faults” (and affirmations) and how it might be beneficially practiced today.

I am thrilled at the development of–and have been consequently concerned for the health of–the many new religious communities springing up. It is a joy to witness the emergence of courageous communities of Christian believers dedicated to living out the Gospel in fresh ways either in the midst of the world’s neediest populations or in other creative expressions. I have long dreamed of a revival of “religious life” (the technical term for monks and nuns and such) in which people would give themselves to a life of Gospel community, simplicity, holiness, and service in the power of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps the first signs of such a revival are showing themselves today.

Consequently, I am concerned for the health of these communities. Such tender souls, with such large hopes and expectations, coming together from such different backgrounds, to accomplish such wonderful things. And yet we are all such difficult people! How can we maintain sufficient harmony, unity, and stability to enable the kinds of investments required to become an authentic force of change in the world? Yes, I believe in the ministry of the Holy Spirit, but just as I employ means of grace to facilitate the work of the Spirit in my personal life, I wonder if there are means of grace that might be employed to facilitate the Spirit’s work of healing, building up, and maturing us as local communities of new religious.

I am also aware that a number of historic religious Orders (such as Benedictines, Franciscans, Jesuits and the like) have persevered through many conflicts over many centuries. While the witness of such groups has shined brighter in some seasons more than others, I find traditional religious communities worthy of closer exploration, especially by young evangelical Protestants. There is, I think, much for us to learn therein, even if we do not find ourselves “signing on.” What means of grace have helped these communities to maintain their ministries over time?

It was with such interests and concerns in mind that I discovered the Chapter of Faults […]