The Benedict Option
Longing to lead more religious lives—and wary of the wider culture—a growing number of traditional Christians are creating their own small communities.
hen the first few monks arrived in Hulbert, Okla., in 1999, there wasn’t much around but tough soil, a creek and an old cabin where they slept as they began to build a Benedictine monastery in the Ozark foothills. Dozens of families from California, Texas and Kansas have since followed, drawn by the abbey’s traditional Latin Mass—conducted as it was more than 1,000 years ago—and by the desire to live in one of the few communities in the U.S. composed almost exclusively of traditional Catholics. There aren’t many jobs nearby. The nearest bank, grocery store and coffee shop are nearly an hour’s drive on country roads. Yet many residents choosing to live near Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey say it is worth the sacrifice. “Our goal in moving here was to form our children’s conscience and intellect in a particular way, without society taking that authority from us,” said Mark Wheeler, one of the first to settle on the outskirts of the monastery more than a decade ago.
The 100 or so people living here are part of a burgeoning movement among traditional Christians. Feeling besieged by secular society, they are taking refuge in communities like this one, clustered around churches and monasteries, where faith forms the backbone of daily life. Similar villages—some Roman Catholic, others Orthodox or Protestant—have sprung up in Alaska, Maryland, New York and elsewhere, drawing hundreds of families. As the proportion of Americans without any religious affiliation continues to grow, more Christians are considering where they can go to live out their faith more fully. It has been dubbed the “Benedict Option,” in homage to St. Benedict, who as a young man left the moral decay of ancient Rome to live in the wilderness.
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