A Benedict Option Community — In the Ozarks
I’ve written many times in endorsement of Rod Dreher’s book The Benedict Option. It’s a great read, and I highly recommend it. So does Archbishop Charles Chaput. The book is geared mostly toward Evangelicals, as Catholics (especially traditionally-minded Catholics) already possess many of the characteristics Dreher suggests are necessary to persevere in the current crisis, and soon collapse, of our civilization. If you haven’t read this book yet, here’s what you should do. Buy a paperback copy now, read it, share the concept with fellow Catholics, then loan the book to one of your Evangelical friends. They need it badly!
I’ll give you a brief synopsis, which Dreher covers in so much more detail. I won’t do it justice here, but I’ll hopefully dispel some misconceptions. The Benedict Option that Dreher advocates is NOT a retreat into the hills, or even a retreat from society. He even says so in the forward of the recent reprint. In his own words…
Many of The Benedict Option‘s critics accuse me of urging Christians to head for the hills. It’s not true. While I do call for a strategic withdraw — a limited kind of culture-war Dunkirk operation to gain the church militant a space in which to regroup, retrain, and reengage in the long struggle — the Benedict Option is not a call to escapism and inaction. Rather, it’s a call to deeper attention to spiritual discipline and building resilient Christian community, both for our own sake and for the life of the world that Christ calls us to serve.
— Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option, Forward, Page xvii
I have actually read The Benedict Option. It’s fantastic! I find it humorous, really, that the biggest critics of Dreher’s book sound like people who have never actually read it. In their criticism I hear something he never said to do, and then, almost like comedy, his very critics turn around and advocate their own prescription for our ailing society, which sounds an awful lot like Dreher’s book — The Benedict Option. Some of these critics are Traditional Catholics. Usually, in the next breath, they will disparage Dreher because he left the Catholic Church for Eastern Orthodoxy. I can’t help but detect a hint of jealousy in these comments. It’s almost as if they can’t stand that a non-Catholic came up with such a Catholic plan for rebuilding our civilization from the ground up. Do these same men not realize that maybe, just maybe, the type of Catholicism Dreher was exposed to as a new convert was not the right type? Could it be that maybe Dreher got a little too much of the pastels and felt banners, social justice warriors, sex-abuse scandals, homosexual predation, zero episcopal accountability and the “it’s okay to be gay” kind of Catholicism? If that’s the case, can they not understand his visceral reaction to that? As a convert to Catholicism myself, I kind of have a little sympathy for the guy. Neither one of us got what we signed up for when we joined the modern Catholic Church. I went my way and he went his. I don’t agree with his solution to the problem, but at the same time, I can’t fault him for his aversion to Modernism. I’ve been there. I get it.
Dreher was raised a Methodist, converted to Catholicism in 1993, and then left the Catholic Church for Eastern Orthodoxy in 2006 after his warnings about the gay subculture, or Lavender Mafia, in the Catholic hierarchy fell on deaf ears. I hope he comes back to the Catholic Church someday. I pray he does. But we are not going to attract him back home by calling him a “schismatic” and disparaging everything he says just because he’s not “one of us” anymore. His book is a masterpiece, and it’s exactly what Western Christianity needs right now. I’m giving Dreher credit where credit is due, because he’s earned it. As for his critics, I suggest they actually READ THE BOOK before they publicly criticize it.
Far from The Benedict Option advocating isolationism, the message of the book is a reorientation not a retreat. It’s a new way of thinking about how we go about doing religion, which is really just an old Medieval and European way of doing it. For Catholics, The Benedict Option would look like this. We would carefully evaluate established Catholic parishes that meet The Benedict Option criteria of…
- liturgically traditional,
- doctrinally orthodox,
- morally fearless, and
- community oriented.
In today’s Catholic world, overrun by Liberal Modernism, this narrows our selection down a bit. Then, once such a parish is found in a place we can get to, we go “all in.” We move as close to it as possible, and put it within walking distance if we can. If not, we put it within a 10-minute driving distance. We do whatever we have to do; change our job, school, and address to make this happen if necessary. Then we go “all in” with that parish. We plunge ourselves into regular mass attendance. We get involved in the ministries and activities thereof. Most importantly, we put our money where our mouth is. Protestants have no problem writing big checks to their evangelical megachurches. We Catholics need to start doing the same, just as soon as we find a parish worth doing that for. Donations need to be regular and generous. We should set up our banks accounts to automatically send checks to our parish when we get paid. Most banks will do this for free (mine does). After we’ve plunged in, head first, we begin working on building our families up with the gospel traditions we find in these parishes, and we start integrating our home devotions with our parish traditions. Finally, we begin working on transforming our communities around these parishes, by working there (or nearby), and/or starting our own businesses there, and/or supporting other Catholic businesses in this immediate community. We help the local police department in any way we can, establishing neighborhood watches, and doing what the police recommend to keep our community safe. We get in good with the City Hall by making the neighborhood around our parish beautiful and volunteering to clean up streets, city parks and such. We become bold with the gospel, in inviting others to join our parish, and slowly we create a small oasis of hope where the Christian faith thrives once again, while our civilization collapses around us. As time passes, people will see what we’ve done, and they’ll want to be like us. That’s how the movement spreads. Within a couple centuries, Christendom can be rebuilt this way, but it really is going to take at least that long. Christians have got to start learning how to play the long-game. The devil and his agents know how to play it. We Christians need to play it this way too — the long game. That’s The Benedict Option.
I would like to tell you about one example here in the Ozark Mountains of Southwest Missouri. In the City of Republic, just southwest of Springfield, there exists a new parish-community called St. George Catholic Church. It’s a typical Ordinariate parish that’s seen a tremendous amount of growth. (To learn more about the Ordinariate, and if it’s right for you, click here.) St. George is situated as the one and only Catholic parish in the entire City of Republic, which means it’s the only Catholic presence in town. This makes it ideal for The Benedict Option. The parish is liturgically traditional, doctrinally orthodox, morally fearless, and community oriented. It’s relatively small right now, but it’s growing fast, Its long-term goal is to get big — very big — and become a Benedict Option oasis in Southwest Missouri. That’s not to compete with other parishes in the region, but rather to compliment them, for there are many other good parishes nearby. The purpose of St. George is to attract people from around the country, who may not be so lucky as to live in such a good area as this. Truth be told, many parishes in Southwest Missouri could easily become Benedict Option parishes, and I suspect that in time, a number of them will.
Currently, St. George consists of a lot of homeschooling families. In the long-run (long-game here) the parish hopes to create a homeschool academy, with two-days a week of Catholic school experience (Mondays and Wednesdays) and three days a week of homeschooling experience (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays). This gets the kids back home with their parents (where they belong), because parents are the primary educators. The role of the Church is to support parents (subsidiarity), not take their jobs (as primary educators) away from them. In the long-term, a traditional Catholic high school would be in the works with the usual five-day week expectations, sports, music, science labs, etc. However, the emphasis of the high school would not be sports, business or academia. The emphasis would be in Catholic religion and Anglican patrimony. In other words, the emphasis would be in faith and culture. To fulfill this dream, St. George needs educators, particularly Catholic parents and grandparents, with a background in education, willing to assist in the development and formation of this dream. Initially, we’ll need to start a homeschool cooperative, which will be later followed by a K-8 homeschool academy, eventually followed by a fully-functional Catholic High School. The idea would be a ten-year plan, starting with homeschool co-op volunteers in 2020 and groundbreaking the high-school building (along with our new parish church) no later than 2030. Is it doable? With God, all things are possible for those who believe, and we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us (Mark 9:23; Philippians 4:13). Yes, it is doable. Yes, it is realistic.
Are you a trained educator? Are you a teacher? St. George needs you! Can you teach music? Are you willing to learn and teach traditional English hymns, and the Church’s traditional music of plainchant, Gregorian chant, and Anglican chant? St. George needs you! Are you willing to learn and teach Anglican (traditional English) art, history and culture? St. George needs you! Can you teach drama and Shakespeare? St. George needs you! Do you have experience in school management? St. George needs you? Yes, St. George is small right now, but it’s growing faster than we expected, and we have some very big plans for the future. We can’t do it alone though. We need people who are called to become members of the St. George’s Benedict Option in Republic, Missouri. Is that for you and your family? Let’s see…
The City of Republic is situated just southwest of Springfield, Missouri. The city is suburban in nature, but still has about five to eight miles of farmland between Springfield and Republic. The city has a population of about 16,000 and straddles two counties (Greene and Christian). Being a suburban environment, it consists of mostly houses, with a main strip (Highway 60) that hosts most of the main commerce such as grocery stores, shopping centers, businesses, medical clinics and restaurants. Republic has both high-end luxury homes, and low-end starter homes, along with everything in-between. It also has a small-ranch district called Brookline Village, consisting of small ranches and farms between five to twenty acres. Just about everything a family needs can be found in this little city. Outside the city, on the north, south and east sides, there is nothing but farmland and wooded forests. So rural life is not that far away (10 minutes) for anyone interested in that. None of the small towns around Republic show significant signs of growth. Only cities immediately connected to Springfield have significant growth and development.
The City of Springfield is a mid-sized metropolitan with a population of about 160,000 and is the third-largest city in Missouri. Known as the “Queen City of the Ozarks” it’s the largest city in the Ozark Mountains and the birthplace of Route 66. The city can boast of three large universities, Civil War monuments and battlefields, and a history of being the first city to nationally televise country music on a regular basis. Springfield is also the home of Bass Pro Shops and Wonders of Wildlife Museum. The city hosts two major medical centers with large hospitals. It has its own airport and an advanced parks and recreation network with greenways connecting many of them. A small lake provides recreation for fishing an kayaking. It’s position to the City of Republic is symbiotic. Republic (along with Nixa, Ozark and Rogersville) provides a nice bedroom-community for suburban commuters to Springfield, while Springfield provides a nice stream of steady income and growth to Republic.
The Ozark Mountains are an outcropping of the Appalachian mountain ranges. These consist of large hills of limestone positioned on the west side of the Mississippi River. Springfield and Republic are on the western end of this plateau. The Ozarks span three states: Missouri, Arkansas and Oklahoma. They’re home to wooded forests, lakes, rivers, streams and creeks. The usual wildlife consists of eagles, owls, deer, foxes and coyotes. These are plentiful and seen everywhere. There are wolves and bears in the Ozarks, but you could easily go your entire life without ever seeing one, except in captivity at the Springfield zoo or wildlife museum. Caves are plentiful in the Ozarks, and a good number of them have been outfitted for easy touring. Fantastic Caverns in Springfield actually has a drive-through tour so even the old and handicapped have a chance to see the inside of a cave.
The State of Missouri has some of the best homeschooling laws in the nation, providing an oversight-free environment for homeschooling parents. Regulations consist of meeting a specific number of education hours, and keeping private records. There is no mandatory reporting of these things, however, so it’s an “on your honor” type of system. As long as there are no signs of neglect or abuse that might trigger some other kind of Family Service investigation, homeschoolers have nothing to worry about. A lot of homeschoolers in Missouri live “off the grid” so to speak, in that the local public school district isn’t even aware of their existence. The state also has two alternatives to traditional universities. The first is Ozark Technical College (OTC) which has multiple community collage campuses spanning the Ozarks region. They currently offer associate degrees but are now expanding into bachelor degrees. Admission is guaranteed, and tuition is low, but placement tests are required for all homeschoolers. Most families just have their kids do the ACT or SAT beforehand and that takes care of everything. The other alternative is College of the Ozarks, which is an Evangelical-based, four-year college that allows qualified students to work their way through college tuition free. This college is located in Hollister, Missouri, which is about an hour south of the Republic/Springfield area, near Branson, Missouri. Yes, there is a Catholic Church in Branson, so Catholic students can still meet their Sunday obligation.
Missouri also has some of the most reasonable gun laws in the county, where anyone without a criminal record is allowed to concealed-carry a handgun without a permit or license. So if you feel you want a little extra protection when out with your family, you can legally carry a handgun in a concealed way without a permit, just so long as you don’t have any kind of criminal or significant psychiatric history. Missouri also has an open carry law, which allows you to display a handgun on your hip or leg if you so desire. Missouri also has a “Castle Law” which allows the use of lethal force whenever somebody breaks into your home or car. What I’m giving you here are basic overviews. I’m not an expert in these matters.
Please see the exact laws on handguns, self-defense and homeschooling to get a complete picture of how it all works. The bottom line is this. Missouri is a red state. It’s very conservative and oriented toward Christian values and raising families. Missouri focuses on religious freedom, parental rights, and self defense. If you’re a traditional Catholic family living in one of those Liberal blue states, particularly a big city in one of those Liberal blue states, Missouri might seem like the “promised land” to you. The Ozarks might seem like a little slice of paradise in that promised land. Look into it and decide for yourself.
St. George Catholic Church has helped other families relocate to the Republic area from places as far away as Chicago, Illinois and Dallas, Texas. If you’re ready to move here, and you’ve already got some form of employment or income lined up, make sure you call or write St. George and let the church office know. The parish might be able to help you with some important connections to make the moving transition easier.
We have big plans, but we need good people to help make them happen. We’re looking for dedicated Catholics who understand the concept of The Benedict Option (so that means read the book), and who are willing to build a Catholic oasis here using the Anglican Patrimony (read more here). This means some sacrifices will have to be made for the short-term, and we’re looking for those people willing to sacrifice some of their time and treasure. We’re playing the long-game at St. George. We’re looking at a ten-year plan just to get us to our launching point for city-wide renewal, but to get there we need people willing to go “all in” to help us build our Catholic community, our homeschool academy and ultimately our high school and new parish building. It’s up to you. Take some time and really pray about it. Is God calling you to move to Republic, Missouri? Is God calling you to put everything you’ve got into a Benedict Option community like St. George? Only God knows. Petition him in prayer. See if he’ll let you in on his plans.