Chapter 3Back in September when I was visiting with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove at the new monastic community Rutba House, I had a few questions I wanted to ask. The first one I asked was this, "How do you resolve the authority issue?"
1As often as anything important is to be done in the monastery, the abbot shall call the whole community together and himself explain what the business is; 2and after hearing the advice of the brothers, let him ponder it and follow what he judges the wiser course.
Many new monastic and intentional communities are passionately anti-authority and anti-hierarchy. Many are anarchist. Consequently, their decision-making tends to be democratic and egalitarian. Which is all to the good, but it does create a suite of problems when the community is deadlocked or if members are engaging in behaviors that violate the covenant of the community. Jonathan's answer wasn't very specific, he recognized the problem and spoke about giftedness. If time would have permitted I'd have liked to have explored in a little more detail.
Classic monastic communities are very hierarchical. But in Benedict's Rule we see an attempt to find a middle way. The abbot is in charge but shouldn't be autocratic and dictatorial. When facing difficult decisions the abbot should solicit the advice of the brothers and ponder it. New monastic communities don't have abbots, but we see in Chapter 3 of the Rule something that should look familiar to these more egalitarian Christian communities.