New Monasticism in the Garden at Melleray Farmstead

A Garden for the New MonasticismLet there be a garden for the New Monasticism at Melleray Farmstead, the cottage industrial home of Piedmont Pine Coffins.

Before I get to the New Monasticism, however, here are some borrowings from the Old. We’re not old monks here — we’re a young family — but we do echo some old ways.

The official farm name is Our Lady of Melleray Farmstead. That’s typical of a monastery: “Our Lady” in homage to Mary, mother of Jesus, plus a place name. We could have called ourselves Our Lady of Bear Creek for the muddy stream that is the western boundary of our parcel.

Melleray used to be a French Benedictine monastery. From that foundation came offspring in Ireland and Iowa that continue as going concerns to this day. I visited these last two and have taken inspiration from them and others as I set up our Piedmont compound of three tiny houses (the monkishly named Kells, Melleray, and Athos cabins) plus some barns and sheds with my father seven years ago. We saw ourselves as two old monks manqué, each with his own cell. The third cabin was to be refectory and chapel as one.

Each quadrant of our monastic garden has a patron to guard it. So, on the west, we have Brendan’s Gate with his quadrant to the right, and then, following south, Benedict’s Gate, Basil’s Gate, and, in a nod to eastern traditions, Buddha’s Gate. At the moment only Brendan’s quadrant is under cultivation. Benedict’s Gate leads to the sheep manger and chickens.

Hospitality is the mark of a monastery, New Monasticism or Old. “The solicitude of the monks,” boasted a tourist map to Athos, the famed monastic republic I visited 25 years ago in northern Greece, “even the most elderly, towards visitors, is moving.” At Athos, when visitors arrived, there was always a brother waiting with a plate of loukoumi and a tray of ouzo shots. That’s better than a foot-washing, if you ask me.

Monks’ hospitality — an essay about it — apparently even won one man I know of $100,000 .

The subject of August Turak’s prizewinning essay, Brother John — I worked under him for six weeks in the summer of 1998 at Mepkin Abbey in South Carolina. Brother John was the kindly crew chief monk who organized daily chores. In those days I was on retreat and wanted to be a Trappist.

Now, down to the present moment and to a garden of new monasticism. This spring we started a new project, The Garden at Melleray Farmstead. Three days a week, teams from the youth group at St. Julia Church are coming as volunteers to raise vegetables and funds. The produce will be sold at church on Sundays. Some will also be given free to families in need.

For our new monasticism garden project we take special encouragement from certain scriptural anchors:

  • hospitality shown by Jesus to outcasts
  • New Testament economics of sharing and redistribution
  • brothers and sisters working together in harmony
  • the search for God in the wastelands and abandoned places
  • our role as stewards of God’s creation

Many thanks to the authors of Common Prayer and their stirring catalog of the so-called Twelve Marks of the New Monasticism. Those authors are Enuma Okoro, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, and Shane Claiborne. I took a lot of the list above from Common Prayer.

We are just on the edge of spring in the Piedmont. Pastures are greening now and sheep are thankful. The plum trees at Kells cabin are showing off for the pollinators. Overwintered garlic looks great and the asparagus is nigh to spearing through. So far our first garden teams have renovated beds, put in potatoes by St. Patrick’s Day, and planted snap peas.

Here’s a prayer that we sow and reap the beloved community as well.