November 2001

In this issue

Ewell Cistercians

Aelred on Community Challenges

Tim on Pictures from the East

Tomatoes Our Web Presence


Community Challenges

The Tractarian movement of the nineteenth century espoused the rebirth of community life. At that time it seemed axiomatic that to recover community life would be proof that the Church of England was recovering her 'catholic heritage'. In every way the century of growth from 1850 to 1950 was both astonishing and heroic. It is true that many of these communities were also influenced by the ritual movement of the late nineteenth century. To that extent they were very much apart from the majority of Anglicans, however much the active works of mercy might be admired. A postulant entering into one of these communities was faced with the challenge of a Victorian attitude to life lived by rules and of worship organised along ritual lines. But the attraction was the corporate vision and support of sisters and brothers in a richly sustaining life of prayer and work. Less acceptable in the Church of England, for some time to come, was the growth of the purely monastic communities who did not exercise any active work outside the community - the so called 'enclosed' nuns. But even that changed by 1950 and the Church of England seemed to have absorbed much of the 'fire' generated by catholic practices in worship. The communities of today represent a more general and typical Anglican ethos in faith and worship. The recently published book, Anglican Religious Communities, Canterbury Press, 2001, gives a detailed picture of the extraordinary variety and courage of Anglican communities spread throughout Asia and Africa as well as in the West and in America. It was in the late 1960s that the change came. Many religious communities found that their raison d'Ítre in active work soon evaporated when more of the responsibility for the poor and homeless was undertaken by the state, leaving them in a sort of limbo. But that was only the beginning. It was a time of greater change in Western Europe, triggering a crisis of faith. By the end of the century many communities had shrunk to a shadow of their former glory and others had to accept the end of their existence. Together with the whole church today we are faced with challenges going far beyond those of the nineteenth century. For our contemporaries it is no longer so important to hold to Tradition either of life or of worship. Undoubtedly we shall still learn from the historical traditions but the challenge appears to be that we should take more seriously the call of Christ to follow with him in the way of the gospel. That means we need to recover what 'gospel' means and to let it be reflected in the worship, structures and work of our communities. New Testament studies in the past half century enable us to see more clearly that Jesus, in his life, death and vindication by the Father brought into being the new age of God's covenanted love. Paul insists that this is so and that in Christ Jesus we are all sons of God, through faith; and that in the Spirit we can cry, 'Abba! Father!' To become aware of the immediacy of this relationship with the Lord, as the motivation both of worship and discipleship, is to be surprised by joy!

When the history of the Anglican Communion in the twentieth century comes to be written, perhaps one of the most astonishing stories will be the spread of the religious communities right across the world up to the late 1950s. From the small beginnings a century earlier with sisters nursing cholera victims in Devonport and Father Benson initiating the first community of mission priests in Oxford a whole new spectrum of life was added to the Church of England. The time was ripe in the late 19th century and early 20th century for active communities who sought to fill the gaps in nursing and education and help for the poor and unemployed .

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