Middleway Urban Monastery, A Place for the Spiritual but Not Religious

Picture of the new Middleway Urban Monastery building in Bryan, TX.

In 2019, a Pew Research Institute study on religion in America opened the eyes of an ecumenical group of about 25 spiritual directors in the Bryan-College Station area.

The study revealed that more than 100 million Americans reported that they do not feel a connection with a religion, yet at the same time, the majority of this population also reported believing in God or praying regularly. They just do not want “church.”

Sometimes these people are referred to as “spiritual but not religious”, and sometimes they are called the “nones and dones” because they either have no church or they are done with church. 

Some of the spiritual directors also dug into the county-by-county data and found that the religiously unaffiliated in Brazos County account for about 135,000 people—more than half the county’s population. Those kinds of statistics are similar throughout most counties or areas in the nation, which accounts for more than 100 million religiously unaffiliated people.

Most think of Bryan-College Station as a big church town, but a look around on Sunday mornings will point to a lot of neighbors, perhaps family members, who are not getting up and going to church. That was happening prior to the pandemic and might even be more so in post-vaccination time.

How could spiritual direction help?

Spiritual directors are trained to “listen with a holy ear” without judgment and without trying to fix someone.  

With that in mind, a seed fell on fertile ground. Some of the local spiritual directors put their idea of a ministry for people who are “spiritual but not religious” together with their knowledge of what monasteries and retreat spaces can offer a person and formed Middleway Urban Monastery in 2020. 

What makes it a monastery?

“Monastery” comes from the Greek word which means to live alone. Middleway will not have people living there. Rather, Middleway, is about forming a community of people so they can find the living God in themselves alone, while being in community with others doing the same. And it is specifically for people who feel spiritual but not religious or who have given up and are “done” with church for whatever reason. Many who do attend church will also find it a place to continue to enrich and form their spiritual life. 

Middleway was chosen as its name because it comes from the ancient term “via media,” which basically means “by way of the middle” or “everything in moderation” and it had been known in most cultures since ancient times. The Anglican church was the first to use the term for religious purposes when it formed during the Reformation. So “via media” was modernized as Middleway. 

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Middleway began virtually in June 2020 with a Facebook group offering various prayer types and styles supplemented by a website and Zoom events. A weekly newsletter quickly grew to 100 subscribers.

The new physical place is a quiet space to explore God on one’s own time with a library, an art area, outdoor space, prayer spaces, a worship area, spiritual direction rooms, and classrooms where retreats and spiritual formation can be led. FIND – School for Spiritual Direction and Formation also is now housed there. The monastery has a rhythm of prayer three times a day and commits to a Guide for Life. It is a space designated specifically for spiritual formation all the time.  

Middleway Urban Monastery’s mission is to provide space for those seeking hope, comfort and peace as they explore ways of experiencing God’s love.

In April 2021, Middleway Urban Monastery, received a $150,000, 3-year Strategic Mission Grant and will open the doors on a leased facility. Ultimately, the goal for the center is to become a non-profit and to their own facility. It is 100 percent volunteer operated. Five co-founders are the first Guiding Council, under which there are several “circles of stewards” arranged around talents such as spiritual direction, hospitality, reception, administration, art, gardening, worship, technology, library, cleaning, and future/sustained growth.

On October 16, 2021, Middleway Urban Monastery had its first gathering with FIND – School for Spiritual Direction and Formation students and faculty. The center is planning to officially open on November 2 and be blessed on November 6.

Middleway’s Guide for Life is a commitment to:

  • Conversion of Life: Living our life as if it were a conversation with God, in a commitment to personal spiritual disciplines.
  • Humility: Living our life in perspective, in a commitment to assess and honor one’s own gifts and those of others
  • Hospitality: Living our life in service of others, in a commitment to welcome guests in love and a spirit of prayer.
  • Prayer: Practicing a spiritual discipline that includes daily prayer.
  • Ecumenism: Honoring all expressions of Christian faith and respecting in Jesus’ name all persons of other religions and faiths.

Guiding Council members: Kathleen Phillips and Amy Thompson, both of St. Andrew’s, Bryan; the Rev. Rich Nelson, Canterbury, College Station; Aneya Elbert, St. Thomas, College Station; Heidi Campbell, St. Francis, College Station; and the Rev. Daryl Hay, St. Andrew’s, ex officio.

More information can be found at www.middlewayurbanmonastery.org

Contact: info@middlewayurbanmonastery.org

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