If you are interested in the religious life yourself, or are advising others on vocations, we hope the information on this page will be interesting and useful.
- Discernment – is this the path for you?
- Work – what do we do?
- Vows – why?
- Rule of Life – what’s this for?
- Associates – so I can live outside a Community?
- Stages of the Journey – I’m seriously thinking about pursuing this!
How do I know if God is calling me to a life in Community? What kind of Community could I be called to and how do I know which one?
It often begins with the heart, a desire, an inner nudge and growing attraction and longing to respond to God’s love. A growing desire for prayer and service within the context of a life lived with others, a seeking after the deep adventure of prayer and commitment.
The picture of harbour lights comes to mind. To enter safely into some harbours there was a system of three lights. Once the lights were lined up it was safe to proceed.
In life those lights can be listening to our heart, reading the scriptures and seeking sound advice from people with experience who we can trust. So heart, scripture and “church” need to be in alignment. As with voyages it is not always plain sailing and once safely in the harbour we actually need to set sail, lose sight of the land, to let go!
Part of the process of discernment is to collect facts and information. Sometimes circumstances and encounters lead to a particular Community or the desire to find out more.
The Internet is a rich source of information. There are also many books about different Christian Communities, their history, life and vision and Christian Community life in general.
It is good to visit one or more Communities to get a feel of what it is all about. Spending some time apart in retreat can help to clarify our mind and heart.
Prayer is the key to it all!
What do we do all day?
Each Community is different but there are two main ways of life.
Contemplative Communities spend more time in prayer, and most of their work is within the monastery or convent. If they have a guest house, it is likely to be away from their enclosed living space and they may need to supplement their income by other means such as selling religious items or crafts or running a printing press. Their members also carry out work in the house and garden, many have kitchen gardens.
Active Communities tend to have fewer prayer services in order to work for others. Nonetheless, prayer is at the heart of their work.
Many Communities have space for guests and some members are able to offer spiritual direction, helping others in their relationship with God and with the world. The different works of these Communities covers a wide range of activities from local involvement in parishes, food banks, voluntary work, prison ministry, running nursing homes, being a resource for neighbours, and providing a safe place for people to meet to supporting asylum seekers. Some members are paid for the work they do, Community members have to pay electricity bills and buy food and clothes just like everyone else!
Some Communities are a mixture of both of the above and many have both lay and ordained members.
For all, work and prayer are woven together in their lives.
Why take religious vows?
Today many people like to keep their options open, to be flexible, and to be able to reinvent themselves. They don’t like to be restricted. There can be a fear of being trapped by commitment.
Taking religious vows means that certain options are being closed off. The vows set your life in a particular direction to be followed until death.
Members of Religious Communities believe that God calls us to take such vows because there are some worthwhile things that only come to full fruition through the commitment and dedication of a lifetime.
Vows anchor us in the way of discipleship that we have chosen. They are a support in difficult times – and there will be difficult times.
They are a solemn promise to which we are constantly called back, a reminder to live our life in Christ to the full.
The traditional religious vows are poverty, chastity and obedience. Communities based on the ancient rule of St Benedict take vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life, and some more modern expressions of Community take different vows.
Poverty – a life of simplicity where possessions are held in common.
Chastity – a celibate life in which the freedom from many normal family responsibilities opens up other possibilities of service.
Obedience – enables an ordered and accountable life, within an organic Community whose members can do greater things together than they could on their own.
Rule of Life
A Rule of Life is a way of keeping the focus on God.
Members of Religious Communities have rules of life which set out their daily patterns of living. The most famous is probably the Rule of St Benedict.
“[W]e intend to establish a school of the Lord’s service. In drawing up its regulations, we hope to lay down nothing that is harsh or burdensome. The good of all concerned, however, may prompt us to a little strictness in order to amend faults and to safeguard love.”
— Prologue to Rule of St Benedict,
tr Abbot Stuart Burns, Mucknell Abbey
However, a monastic rule is not just set of rules; it is a pointer to living the Gospel in community and the every day. Though many are hundreds of years old, the spiritual values, wisdom and discretion they contain still show us the path of life.
Some people outside Religious Communities also choose to follow a rule of life. You may like to try this as part of your thinking about vocation.
A rule can be a very simple, like spending a quiet 10 minutes every day or reading the Bible each morning or it may be longer. It can cover many aspects of your life such as prayer, fasting, going to church, reading, care of the environment, how you use your money, how you use your spare time, going on retreat and taking rest.
It needs to be sensible and manageable to fit your lifestyle. Don’t set yourself up to fail. It’s best to start simply; it’s about making space for God in your life, not constructing tramlines to live your life by.
It’s a good idea to check it out with someone else to see that it’s not over the top. Every few months, take a raincheck. Is this working for me, for God?
Stages of the Journey
First things first …
If you want to join a Community, you need to be in sound health, both physically and psychologically, single with no dependent children and a full member of a church in the Anglican Communion. Some Communities have upper age limits.
Step One …
If you’re thinking of joining a Community, get in touch with the Novice Guardian and arrange to stay with the Brothers or Sisters. It’s really necessary to find out if this way of life with this Community is where God is calling you.
Step two ….
If you think this is the right Community then you need to make a formal application in consultation with the Novice Guardian. If you’re accepted, you become an aspirant.
The rest …
There are differences between the Communities, but broadly speaking you would after a short period become a novice, and spend the next three years or so learning, working, living and praying with the community.
Some Communities offer the possibility of living and praying alongside the Community for 2-12 months before you would ask to become a novice.
All the time, it’s a case of finding out if this is the place God wants you to be and whether you are the right person for this Community. If it’s right then you’ll take vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, committing your life to the Community, to the Church and to God, for a few years to start with, then again for the rest of your life.
Associates are men and women from all walks of life who want to have a close link with the life and work of a Religious Community.
Most Anglican Communities have Associates, and although the name may differ between Communities – Tertiaries, Oblates, Companions, etc – the general idea is the same.
Associates follow a simple rule, which is meant to be an aid (rather than a burden) to living the Christian life, and echoes the spirit of the Community. This personal rule covers such things as prayer, attendance at Holy Communion, spiritual reading and stewardship of time and money. Associates share in the life of the Community through prayer, retreats and personal contact.
Membership is open to men and women, married or single, clergy or lay people. Associates are usually members of the Anglican church, but may be members of other Christian denominations.
To become an Associate of a Community, first contact a Sister or Brother of a particular Community and discuss the matter. Communities would wish to start building up a relationship with the person concerned before considering admission as an Associate.
Information about individual Communities is in the Anglican Religious Communities Year Book, published by Canterbury Press.
Alternatively, contact us and we can put you in touch with a Community.