One of the most popular television shows, and one of my personal favorites, is Friends. While the show is filled with quick humor and absolutely ingenious creative writing, I think Friends was so popular—and continues to be so even 20 years after its airtime— because it depicts a potential for friendship that no average American has, but is desperately longing for. This potential is not found in merely having friendships, but rather in the quality and quantity spent with those friendships. Being with each other is at the top of Rachel, Phoebe, Monica, Chandler, Joey, and Ross’s priority lists. The friends on Friends spend every waking hour together.
Is it possible for us to do the same?
The thing about spiritual friendship is it was written in the context of a monastic community. These monks literally spent every waking hour together. If they weren’t together, then they were either praying or sleeping. The intensity of these relationships were unmatched—and that’s simply from how much time they spent together. Throw in the mutual love of Christ that St. Aelred talks about, then no wonder these friendships are described as the greatest joy we could have on this earth.
There are simply no modern-day examples of monasteries that can produce such a community of spiritual friendship. The closest we can get, though, can often be found in mission trips, summer camps, and college life, whether it were a Christian university or a fellowship house. These are communities that were constantly ministering and worshiping alongside each other while simultaneously doing life together every single day.
The greatest summers of my life were when I worked for SpringHill Day Camps. SpringHill is one of the nation’s largest Christian camps organization, with two overnight camp locations in Evert, Michigan and Seymour, Indiana, and Day Camp programs spread throughout the midwest. I had the honor and pleasure of working on the Day Camps teams during the summers of 2012, 2013, and 2015 in a variety of capacities. The goal of Day Camps was to take the SpringHill overnight experience, pack it in a trailer, and take it to churches for a 9:00am-4:00pm day camp experience.
We were pretty much a traveling circus for Jesus.
But these summers were the greatest summers of my life not just because of the amazing ministry we did, but the friendships that came out of them. We ministered to kids together. We sang Repeat-After-Me songs and dressed up in ridiculous costumes together. We prayed, we worshiped, we wrote encouragement notes to one another. We came up with inside-jokes and played kan-jam every free afternoon we got. We stayed in host families every night, road tripped across the state to the next camp site, and were in constant communication even during our evenings and weekends off. By the end of 10 weeks together, we became the best of friends. To this day, I have yet to label most of my other friendships to the same caliber as these camp friendships.
It was spiritual friendship to the T.
These friendships happened because we were in constant community with one another. Day in and day out. And unfortunately, this kind of a scenario happens only for a very particular demographic during 10-12 weeks of the summer. Thinking that a consistent community like those from camps and missions trips and dorm rooms could be a norm for everyday life just seems so… unconventional. Incomprehensible. Impossible.
But could it be possible…. to start a New Monastery? A home filled with friends who worship together, disciple one another, minister to those in their workplaces, and invite them into this community? Could the body we call the local church also be those that we live with on the daily? Is it possible to have a network of these “new monastic communities” spread across several homes with regular gatherings of everyone involved, spontaneously and strategically? Could these communities even be found in entire apartment complexes, where people could both have their own individual space, but the church they worship in is also the people they do life with, creating primal opportunities for spiritual friends to disciple one another, worship together, and do ministry? Could a curriculum even be produced that guides and shapes and forms everyone across all the communities?
I’m just dreaming. But if a secular TV show can have that kind of community, then why can’t the church?
We just gotta break apart those American cultural norms, am I right?