St Benedict in the Marketplace

About ten years ago, BBC2 broadcasted a short series called the ‘The Monastery’.  Six men lived in a monastery for a month, adopting the same discipline as the monks.  The monastery was Worth Abbey and the Abbot Father Christopher Jamieson (I believe he still is).  The programmes had quite an impact at the time and Jamieson said many business people contacted him seeking spiritual guidance.  Not all of them were Christians and many had not previously heard of St Benedict, who first wrote the rule that governs Worth Abbey many centuries ago.

There have been other similar programmes since and Jamieson published a book, Finding Sanctuary.  It had a secular imprint because Jamieson wrote it for everyone, not just believers.  It sold out during the first week of publication.  I think that was in 2006, the edition available from Amazon is dated 2008.  (I’ve pasted in a link to the book, in case you’re interested but I am not reviewing the book in this post.)

I am returning to Theonomics, the book I started to review last Friday, when I commented on one short passage from the book.  Today, I shall review one chapter from the book and next week finish by reviewing the whole book.

Chapter 3 on page 37 is “A Framework for Flourishing” by Alan Hargrave.  This chapter is about the Rule of St Benedict and its relevance to business.

Think about religious communities as models of ideal communities.  They are not ideal communities, far from it but places where their members make a conscious effort to live in community.  Benedictine communities follow a rule developed by St Benedict where the community members make three vows.  These vows are not poverty chastity and obedience but obedience stability and transformation (Conversatio Morum).

Here is my take on these three vows; we can all consider them when building local marketplaces.


Obedience is not what you might think.  The Latin root of the word means to listen.  The obedient person pays attention and acts accordingly or appropriately.  So, the opposite of obedience is not disobedience but absurdity, acting without reason.

There are those who cannot read the signs of the times and so act inappropriately, not even in their own long-term interests.  Climate change deniers spring to mind.  It seems no evidence will convince them.

I recently wrote a post about Prayer in the Marketplace, wherein I suggested prayer is paying attention.  Obedience is not doing what you’re told but paying attention and acting appropriately.


It’s where your feet are.  That is the important thing to remember.  This vow is about choosing a neighbourhood and commiting to it.  Your chosen neighbourhood is not better than anywhere else because all places are worth  commitment from those who live there.

Our neighbourhoods are desperate for people who commit to them on the behalf of others, who seek sustainable approaches to the issues of their chosen places.  Community depends upon incarnation, the real presence of those who live there.


Scholars tell us Conversatio Morum is difficult to translate.  A close literal meaning is conversion of life but as such it implies an individualistic focus on self-improvement.

Perhaps it is better thought of as a commitment to conversion of life in general, for everyone.  The important thing is an opportunity for everyone to meet their potential;  removal of constraints on human development, such as poverty.

The Radical Agora, marketplaces at the heart of revitalised neighbourhoods, places where community happens, is one way of visualising how conversion of neighbourhood life might look.

The point is the Radical Agora cannot happen if this vision of transformation is all we have.  We need obedience and stability too.

Do you think Benedict speaks to our communities today?  If you have a view, please share it in the comments.

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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