Rules of Life and Covenants

Successful communities have found it beneficial to lay out expectations in a communal rule. Despite the name, a rule of life is not simply a collection of rules which bind members like a legal code. The word “rule” comes from the Latin word regula, and refers to a standard or norm. Communal rules articulate a community’s vision for their life together: what they aspire to be and what sorts of things they will do in order to get there.

Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 is a good example of a kind of “rule” for the disciples, and this text has been taken as a core for later rules.

Perhaps the most influential communal rule was the Rule of Benedict of Nursia written in the sixth century AD. Benedict used several pre-existing communal texts to craft a rule for his community in northern Italy. Benedict’s rule eventually became the basis for western monasticism, one of the most stable and enduring institutions in human history. The rule is characterized by its moderation. Benedict tried to find the right balance between worship and action, work and rest, feasting and fasting.

Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s paraphrase of the rule is a wonderful starting point for any community contemplating their own rule of life.

Like Benedict in the sixth century, contemporary Christian communities begin with pre-existing rules. Other ancient rules which continue to inspire modern communities include the Rule of Augustine (c. 400 AD) and the Rule of Francis (c. 1221 AD). Many communities in the Nurturing Communities Network have developed their own rules suitable for their mission and context. A sampling of these rules - which are quite diverse, can be found below.


Examples of Covenants and Rules of Life

Rule of the Lotus House

Foundations of Our Faith and Calling (Bruderhof)

Books:

The Rule of St. Benedict: A Contemporary Paraphrase, paraphrased by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Paraclete Press, 2016).

Living into Community: Cultivating Practices that Sustain Us, an introduction to ideas and practices of community life (Eerdmans, 2012).

Websites:

"Old Monastic Wisdom for New Monastic People" is a website of Evan Howard, a teacher and spiritual director who has gathered extensive resources on the topic.