Marie Monsen: Mother of the Chinese House Movement and Celibate Pioneer

MarieMonsen1 Marie Monsen: Mother of the Chinese House Movement and Celibate PioneerMy friend, Trevor Saxby, has just written an account of the life of Marie Monsen (1878-1962), a missionary in China, who, in order to serve God better, remained a lifelong celibate. Marie is little known in the west but many Chinese Christians have the greatest respect for her and she is known as one of the mothers of the Chinese house church movement.

To read more about her, follow the link:

“Single Mission: Thriving as a Single Person …” Book Review

singlemission 186x300 “Single Mission: Thriving as a Single Person ... Book Review“Single Mission: Thriving as a single person in cross-cultural ministry” by Dr Debbie Hawker and Rev Tim Herbert. Published 2013.

 Book review by Heather Lovell, Birmingham, UK. Heather lives in Christian community and has been a Christian celibate for 28 years.

This book is about what I feel is a missing link in the wider church: the subject of finding God’s calling to the married or single state.  It is primarily written for those who feel called to or are already doing missionary work around the world and specifically deals with cross-cultural issues faced by women (although plenty of men have contributed to the book too).

When I received this book completely unexpectedly at Christmas 2013 from my sister, Debbie Hawker, no-one could have been more surprised … I am one of the two single people to whom the book is dedicated (see frontpiece) and I had no idea it was even being compiled!

After a few pages the book had me laughing and crying in equal measure and, though it is a book that can be ‘dipped into’, you will find it very hard to put down!

‘Single Mission’ contains the stories of over 30 men and women who, having been led to do mission work abroad, then seek God regarding their status. It goes on to relate how God led them into celibacy, committed singleness (i.e. “for a time”) or, in some cases, to marriage. The book focuses on how the choices they made as a result of God’s leading affect them in the culture God has already called them into.

The stories includes divorcees, people who have lost loved ones, some who have come out of difficult situations (with or without children) and above all men and women who are willing to take risks for the kingdom of God!

In each case they have found peace and a deeper knowledge of being led by God. Especially meaningful to me was the tale of two widows who lost spouses through sudden death and gradual terminal illness. These brave women were not only able to start again; they found Jesus calling them to a new adventure. However, all the stories in this book are intimate and moving.

In the second part of the book, be prepared to face up to thorny issues where sexuality, gender and pornography addictions (to name but a few!) are tackled head-on but in a manner that is both confidential and helpful.

My favourite part has to be one containing the testimony of Debbie, my married sister – of how God has helped her to be thankful for the most basic things in life such as cleaning teeth (!) as well as the most difficult and scariest to deal with (death of a loved one).

I found the book enlightening and convicting. To quote an old celibate and saint, Julian of Norwich, “the greatest honour we can give Almighty God is to live gladly through the knowledge of His love” and that about sums the book up for me, too.

Copies are available from, at $11.95 US per copy. For purchases in the UK contact:    eBook version is available through Amazon.


Community, Celibacy and Mission in Milton Keynes

Jenny (36) a Christian celibate, shares a small house in Milton Keynes, UK, with

Jenny and co 300x227 Community, Celibacy and Mission in Milton Keynes

Jenny (far right) and the Milton Keynes crew

six others: Andy and Sandra, (with baby Amy, 18 months) and single guys, Gideon and Matt. All, apart from Amy, are in their 20s or 30s.

Last year Jenny and her five friends set out on a new venture, sent out by parent household, Living Stones, set in rural Northamptonshire. Jenny said, “I feel I’m part of a new thing God is doing!” She tells their story:

“For several years we had all been part of a large community set-up, ‘Living Stones’ and, although living together in the countryside, we were quite evangelistic. For a long time, the leader of our household, Andy had been evangelising in Milton Keynes and was quite fruitful. We all decided to join him in the outreach there and this involved taking part in local-led community events such as fun days held on local council estates. All of us had a hunger to do and were inspired to do something near where people were and had a need.

“In the spring of 2013, we were altogether one Tuesday night and Gideon said, ‘Why don’t we all move down to Milton Keynes?’

“I’d wanted for a time to live and move among people; I felt I’d be so much more accessible there. In fact, we all wanted something to throw ourselves into and were enthusiastic about the idea. We talked with our senior pastor and he had no problem with the idea; indeed, we were given free rein and felt very trusted. Everything happened quickly and, by the end of August, we had rented a house in Simpson, an old village mentioned in the Domesday Book and now part of Milton Keynes; the nearby council estate is a short walk under the subway.

Jenny Hathaway1 Community, Celibacy and Mission in Milton Keynes“Besides the six of us living in our house, people from Living Stones and Milton Keynes are also part of our household. We thought we’d start small; we may have to rent a second house as others join us.

“There’s a lot of freedom and flexibility in a small scene; a few of us can get a vision or idea, and test it out ;  we quickly see what works and what doesn’t and, if it’s not working, we can swiftly move onto something else – there’s no baggage attached. On Saturdays we reach out to people on local estates or do late-night evangelism in the city centre but, if we are all tired, we don’t go. We make sure our Saturday night gatherings are child friendly.  We call our way of life ‘freestyle’ – we don’t have lots of plans; we just want to listen to God and do what He inspires us to do.

“In our house, we’re friends; we want to do good to one another; we know each other’s weaknesses and look out for each other; there’s a real family feel around. In a small scene like ours we need everyone on board. We regularly pray together and we find unity is so important! We have to get on; we can’t afford not to.

“We want to be accessible to people, a place where they can come and find rest, a stepping stone between them and God. I believe that everyone in life is on a journey; we may meet people once on their journey and never see them again and that’s fine. For others, we want to lead them into the fullness of what God has to offer them.

“The advantages of living in a small town house, are that people can relate to it; it’s more accessible; people can walk in and easily feel they belong.

“I think it’s good to be involved in the local community in as many ways as you can – then reach as many people as you can! I’ve found one of the best ways to meet people is to get involved. For instance, I go to a Zumba class on Saturday mornings and when I need to buy something I try to shop locally and usually end up chatting to the lady on the checkout who I’ve made friends with.  We get known; people get to know God (in us). They see God cares because we care. My aim in living here is to make as many friends as possible, to see first-hand people’s lives changed as they find God and to be there for people.

“We find people friendly In Milton Keynes and find that many have some sort of faith already. Very few people are anti-Christian although we once had our car ‘keyed’ and the word ‘MUG ’ written on the bonnet.

“I’ve been a committed celibate for 11 years now and my vision is to be available to people; for instance, without family ties, I’m free to go out late at night; I’m involved with people with real needs and I’m totally available to help. As a celibate, I feel I can stay for the duration, not up and go because I’m getting married.  I want to go deeper into God and find out what are the things on His heart, to learn not to move too quickly but listen to what He’s saying; I want Him to move first; then me.”



St Lawrence: Treasures, Pearls and Precious Stones

Tintoretto 300x196 St Lawrence: Treasures, Pearls and Precious Stones

Martyrdom of St Lawrence – Tintorett

“These poor people are the treasure of the church! To these I can add pearls and precious stones – the widows and celibates – the church’s crown by which it pleases Christ. The church has no other riches.”

Lawrence, third century church deacon, speaking to a Roman high official who demanded the church’s riches for the Emperor.

Lawrence was born in Spain and, as a young Christian, shone so much in his devotion to Jesus that he was chosen by the future pope, Xystus, to be his disciple.

When Xystus became Pope he appointed Lawrence to serve as Archdeacon of the Roman church. In this position he had to look after the church’s treasury and make sure that poor people in the city were fed. At this time the church in Rome looked after 1500 poor people as well as widows and celibates.

The Emperor Valerian determined at this time to stamp out Christianity and in the year 257AD ordered all the leaders of the church to be killed – including Pope Xystus. Lawrence was heart-broken and, seeing his spiritual father being led away, he, too, longed for martyrdom. As he wept saying, “Father, where are you going without your son?” the Pope replied “I do not leave you, my son. You shall follow me in three days – but a greater trial and more glorious victory are waiting for you!”

Xystus told Lawrence to quickly get rid of all the church’s wealth for the Emperor was sure to want it. Searching the highways and streets of Rome, Lawrence found the poor, the widows and the orphans with whom he was so familiar and gave them the church’s money. He even sold the sacred vessels to increase the sum given to them.

Shortly after he had done this, the city prefect came to him, asking him to hand over all the church’s money and treasures, just as he had been warned.

“The church is indeed rich; the emperor has no treasure equal to it! Just allow me to set things in order and make an inventory!” Lawrence said, knowing what he must do.

Lawrence hurriedly went to the highways and streets of Rome and, on the third day after his encounter with the prefect, came back bringing the poor, the lame, the blind and the lepers and sat them in rows before the church. Then he went to the prefect and invited him to come and see the treasure of the church.

Seeing the city prefect’s great displeasure he said, “What is the matter? These poor people are the treasure of the church! To these I can add pearls and precious stones – the widows and celibates – the church’s crown by which it pleases Christ. The church has no other riches. Make use then of these for the benefit of Rome, the Emperor and yourself!”

Lawrence then proceeded to tell the horrified prefect that he must turn from his sin and give money to the poor!

The city prefect was furious and ordered Lawrence’s immediate death, a terrible one by slow burning, to match his defiance. As he died, His face radiated extraordinary light and he prayed for Rome’s inhabitants to turn to Jesus. Seeing all this, several high-ranking officials were converted on the spot.

The pope had been right. Within three days Lawrence had endured a greater trial and had died as a martyr. In life, in death, he had showed the people of Rome who are the real treasures of the church.

Hilda of Whitby: Celibate Pioneer

hilda 2 Hilda of Whitby: Celibate Pioneer

Hilda of Whitby

Aidan, seventh century missionary to the north of England and a man ‘before his time,’ selected certain women for key positions in the expanding Celtic church.  One of these was Hilda of Whitby (614-680 A.D.).

Aidan arrived in England in 635 A.D. at the invitation of King Oswald of Northumbria and founded a monastery which was to be a mission and training centre for men on the island of Lindisfarne.  Aidan’s vision, however, stretched wider than this.

Around the year 647 the Anglo-Saxon historian, Bede, writes that Aidan, hearing of a woman called Hilda who was shortly intending to depart to France to join a convent for celibate women, saw her  leadership potential and persuaded her to stay in England.

Hilda came from a family of  aristocrats and her great uncle was the powerful King Edwin of the Northumbrians. The times were troubled, however and while she was still  young, her father, Hereric, was banished from the royal court. At this time, her mother, Breguswith,  had a dream that her husband was suddenly taken away and, though she searched  for him, no trace of him could be found. Then suddenly, in the midst of her search, she found a  precious necklace under her garment; as she gazed closely at it, it  spread  a great blaze of light, filling Britain with its splendour. Shortly after she found out her husband had been poisoned and she was left to bring up the young Hilda.

Edwin was a heathen king and, several years before Aidan came to England, another missionary, Paulinus, had arrived at Edwin’s court and the powerful king was converted. Hilda, thirteen at the time, was also converted and baptised. However, the times were stormy  and when she was only nineteen, Edwin was killed in battle and the new-found faith was driven underground.

We know little about Hilda’s life from when she was nineteen to thirty-three. Then we hear of her living in East Anglia and planning to sail to France to become a nun.

whitby abbey Hilda of Whitby: Celibate Pioneer

Whitby Abbey

Aidan was an opportunist. Having persuaded Hilda to stay he acquired some land for her on the north of the River Wear where she lived a communal life with a small band of companions. After a year or so Aidan made her abbess of a double (mixed- sex) monastery at Hartlepool. With the characteristic energy, industry and visionary zeal which was to mark her life she began establishing a Rule of Life and Bede records that Aidan and ‘other devout men’ visited her frequently to instruct and help her and they loved her heartily for her wisdom and devotion.

So successful was Hilda that after several years a greater task was assigned to her. She was commissioned, this time by King Oswy of Northumberland, to go to Whitby to either establish or set in order an existing monastery (Bede was unclear about this). She set up the same Rule of Life as at Hartlepool, teaching, Bede tells us, those in her care to concentrate on justice, goodness and the strength of chastity (including celibacy) – and, most important, to live steadfastly in peace and love.

Whitby Abbey quickly gained a reputation as a place of spiritual vitality  and  Hilda vigorously insisted that it should be based on the lines of the early church where none was rich and no one was in need for they had all things in common.

Hilda was present at the Synod of Whitby in 664 which was called to resolve differences between the Celtic and Roman church in England. The Synod of Whitby established Roman rather than Celtic practices for Northumbria churches. Although Hilda preferred the Celtic customs, she used her influence to ensure the synod’s decision was favourably accepted.

Bede writes that all who knew Hilda’s used to call her ‘mother’ because of her outstanding ‘devotion and grace’. Indeed her great wisdom became so renowned that not only ordinary people but kings and princes trekked to Whitby for her counsel and many in the land came to faith through her far-reaching influence. As Aidan had trained her, she trained others well, helping both men and women find their place in the rapidly expanding church. Several of England’s most influential church leaders of that time were trained under her.

Towards the end of her life Hilda, although afflicted by a very painful disease, showed the same unremitting vision and determination that marked her earlier life. In the year of her death she founded a monastery at Hackness and, about to die, she summoned the sisters of the Abbey and urged them to live at peace with each other and all men’ and ‘even while she was still exhorting them, she joyfully saw death approach’.

As Bede writes, “This dream (of her mother’s) was truly fulfilled in her daughter Hilda; for her life was an example of the works of light, blessed not only to herself but to many who desired to live uprightly..’

Hilda was succeeded in her role by two more abbesses at Whitby – Eanfled and Elfleda.

*Double monasteries were common in eighth century England. In 787AD the Second Council of Nice forbade them.

Desert Bloom: Loss, God’s Love and Celibacy

desert in bloom 300x187 Desert Bloom: Loss, Gods Love and CelibacyI wrote this poem re celibacy after my parents passed away. It is written to be performed but, hey, I’m sure it can bear just to be read! Alison Moore.

(Alison Moore lives in the UK and has been a committed Christian celibate since 2006.)


 When I take you to the desert place

And lay you bare

Of every comfort and imagination.


When I call you out amidst

The thorns and stings

Of life’s most bleak foundation.


And, sighing over you;

The wind’s sharp breath

Weeps full around again

With long forgotten consternation.

191 1 300x225 Desert Bloom: Loss, Gods Love and Celibacy

Then I will meet you there:

Across the deeps of loss, and anger,

And exasperation.


And I will bring to you

A desert bloom

Love’s one simple consolation.

So beautiful, so sleek, so perfect

In it’s giving


That – your heart will stir again

And long once more

For life’s beloved conversation.


For previous blog by Alison:

Sadhu Sundar Singh, A Leopard and a Call to Celibacy

SadhuSundarSingh Sadhu Sundar Singh, A Leopard and a Call to Celibacy In a recent meeting for Christian celibates held in Northants, UK, Pete Walsma spoke of how he, as a young man, had been deeply moved by the following incident from the life of Sadhu Sundar Singh (1889 – 1929) and felt God say that the Sadhu’s powerful anointing was linked with his gift of celibacy. Needless to say, in time Pete himself  chose to be a committed celibate.

It was a beautiful night. The stars were shining brightly; a light wind rustled the leaves of the trees. For a few moments I watched the silent figure of the Sadhu. Then my eyes were attracted by something moving on his right. An animal was coming towards him. As I got nearer I saw it was a leopard. Choked with fear, I stood motionless near the window, unable to call. Just then the Sadhu turned his face towards the animal and help out his hand. As though it had been a dog, the leopard lay down and stretched out its head to be stroked.

It was a strange unbelievable scene, and I can never forget it. A short time afterwards the Sadhu returned and was soon asleep, but I lay awake wondering what gave that man such power over wild animals. ‘Sundar Singh’ by A.J. Appasamy.

Sadhu Sundar Singh was born in 1889 in northern India. He was the youngest child of a wealthy aristocratic Sikh family and, as a  boy, his mother taught him from  the Sikh and Hindu scriptures. From an early age Sundar Singh was possessed with a desperate desire to find God although, when encountering Christian missionaries,  he reacted sharply against their message.

At fifteen, Sundar Singh faced a deep crisis. He said goodbye to his father, planning  to kill himself on a nearby railway track – such was his intense desire to find God in the afterlife. Then, in his small room, he begged God to reveal Himself before the train came. Suddenly a great light and a cloud appeared, and within it he saw the face of Jesus. “Why do you persecute me?” Jesus said. “Remember that I gave My life for you upon the Cross.” Sundar Singh fell down and worshipped. From now on he would follow Christ.

Pressured by his family to renounce his new faith, Sundar Singh left home and was baptized in an English church. However, from the beginning he determined not to adopt western Christianity but to be a Sadhu in true Indian style. (A Sadhu is a Hindu who forsakes all the pleasures of this life and devotes himself fully to his religion.)

5240.leopard 300x200 Sadhu Sundar Singh, A Leopard and a Call to Celibacy A month after his baptism, Sundar Singh donned the yellow linen robe that celibate Indian Sadhus wore and set out to preach the gospel, carrying nothing but a New Testament. From now on he would have no permanent home and no income.”I am not worthy to follow in the steps of my Lord,” he said, “but like Him, I want no home, no possessions. Like Him I will belong to the road, sharing the suffering of my people, eating with those who will give me shelter, and telling all people of the love of God.’

Of his celibate lifestyle Sundar Singh said, “My real marriage is with Christ. I do not say that marriage is not good for others. But if I am already bound to Christ, how can I marry another?”

Sadhu Sundar Singh wandered around India and onto Afghanistan and Kashmir preaching the gospel. Like the Franciscans of old, he  cared for the sick and dying. Sundar Singh later went on to visit many countries including Ceylon, Burma, Singapore, Japan, and China and eventually England and America. Sometimes he expressed his sadness at the way the Christian message had got watered down in the countries  thought to be the guardians of Christianity.

Often persecuted, sometimes imprisoned, even receiving the sentence of death and enduring the hardness of the bitter Himalayan weather, Sundar Singh preached Christ everywhere he went.

In April 1929, Sundar Singh set off once more for Tibet despite ill-health; he was never seen again. How he died is a mystery. Yet, his legacy remains, not only in his native India but in the worldwide church, where he is regarded as one of the supreme examples in modern times of someone who has embraced a radical Christian lifestyle under-girded by a commitment to celibacy.

Celibacy: The Joy Of Being Set Apart for God And For The Poor: Sue Withers

Sue withers 4 191x300 Celibacy: The Joy Of Being Set Apart for God And For The Poor: Sue Withers

Sue Withers

A Cafe Near Oxford Street

More than 30 years ago I recoiled from the busyness as I travelled to a secluded Christian retreat through the centre of London.

And now I’m sitting in a cafe one minute from Oxford Street with two men from different countries.

My home and my work are five minutes away.

Who would have thought that this reserved, country-loving English girl would end up on an adventure like this…

I call it the adventure of following God into celibacy.

Sometimes it is hard to divide up my life into safe compartments.

I opened my heart to God and to the poor, and I find the passion of these commitments has impelled me forwards when my sense of personal comfort and security wanted to take me backwards.

For me celibacy is the means to an end: giving me time and emotional space to adopt the poor and to serve the broken.

It is also the joy of walking with a generous and faithful God and learning how this bounty can spill into our lives even at the toughest moments.

Sue Withers 3 300x225 Celibacy: The Joy Of Being Set Apart for God And For The Poor: Sue WithersIt has led me to do things I never planned to do: moving to London, learning to teach and making friends with homeless men.

And it has also taken me to a cafe near Oxford Street where I am helping my disabled friend to learn English and tell me of his frustrated dreams.

Celibacy: the joy of being set apart for God and for the poor.Sue withers 2 300x168 Celibacy: The Joy Of Being Set Apart for God And For The Poor: Sue Withers

I Am Yours – For Good

wilf I Am Yours   For GoodWilf Copping, the author of the following poem, was born in Chesterfield, England in 1954. He became a Christian  in 1974 and made a commitment to celibacy in 1980. He lives in Christian community – ‘House of Living Stones’ in Northants.



Whether I am great or I am small

Serving just a few or all

If I am chosen or forgotten

Up on the top or at the bottom

I am yours.


Whether or not I see the hand

Making me whatever kind of man

Regarded as a wise man or a fool

Whether life is kind or it is cruel

I am yours.


I am yours in the darkness of my room

When only a woman’s warmth would do

For you are more than wife to me

Far more than family,

I am yours in the sunshine of your love

But give me grace so I do not move

For in the summer I so easily forget

The sun on whom my heart is set


When I am fighting in the war

Or just listening at your door

Lifting up my sword or my ear

Whatever it is I am here

I am yours.


In the storms of love

In the fire and the flood

My friends, my God

I am yours for good.


Wilf has another poem on this blog:





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