Anglican Religious Life 2014-15 - Book Review

Canterbury Press £7.99    (978-1-84825-464-0)  

As Fr Nicolas Stebbing of the Community of the Resurrection points out, the question is still asked “Are there nuns and monks in the Anglican Church?”. This by no means meagre publication gives the unequivocal answer “Yes there are”. It is the biennial opportunity to take stock of the state of Anglican Religious and to gain a glimpse into a world which Archbishop George Carey once described as “the best kept secret in the Church of England”.

The bulk of the book details those traditional celibate Religious Orders and Communities, of which there are almost 90, although Communities with autonomous houses, such as the Society of St Margaret, are awarded separate entries for each. First time readers might be confused by the juxtaposition of UK and Overseas Communities but it would prove difficult to separate the two as some Orders are located both here and abroad. In any event one of the four indexes lists the Communities by location (the other indexes list the Dedication or Patron Saints, Community Wares and Services (e.g. Altar bread, candles, church linen etc) and a helpful listing by Community initials).

Each main directory entry gives a brief overview of the Community and, in many cases, the names of the professed, as well as information about Companions, Associates, times of the Daily Offices and guest and retreat facilities. Often shown is the name of the Bishop Visitor and given the involvement of many of our senior clerics in this role it is perhaps surprising that we do not hear more from them about the Anglican Religious Life.

Also included in the main section is a full page devoted to the Single Consecrated Life, unfortunately separated by 121 pages from an interesting article by the Bishop of Monmouth on this particular calling. The previous publication notes 26 “SCLs” in full or Temporary Vows; that number has now risen to 31 plus a further 13 active seekers.

“Dispersed Celibate Communities” - in fact just the Oratory of the Good Shepherd - has its own section, as do “Acknowledged Communities”, whose members do not necessarily take Religious vows: the Church Army makes its inaugural appearance in this section and it is here the Ashrams are to be found. The section headed “Some other Communities” includes those confusingly described as “not Anglican in ecclesiastical allegiance but which are in communion with Anglicans”.

The whole publication is, however, much more than just a directory and helpful guide to picking retreat locations, for it includes a number of articles, some written from the heart, photographs, an obituary section and a glossary for those not familiar with the nomenclature of the Religious.

As a snapshot, a barometer, of Anglican Religious Life much can be gleaned from the contents. For example, it reveals that there are 1,872 celibate Religious in the Anglican Communion (no statistics are available for some Orders, so this number is a minimum). It is also apparent that Communities are embracing technology; much reduced from previous editions are the “most convenient time to telephone” entries - in their place are website and e-mail addresses. The book also reflects a trend emerging in the USA of dispersed people (vowed, unvowed, celibate, married, partnered) who feel called to live in community. There are other nuggets too, for example details of the “Living Alongside” experience offered by some Communities.

Overall, the contents belie the oft made suggestion that most Communities are simply ageing and shrinking. Whilst this may be true, the pages are peppered with information as to the numbers of Novices and Postulants, particularly - but by no means exclusively - amongst the overseas Communities.

With a Foreward by Bishop Dominic Walker, prayers for the Communities and Vocations and news of the latest happenings in the world of the Anglican Religious this book is a must for anybody remotely interested in these powerhouses of prayer and hospitality.

© Richard Farquharson, Maulden, Bedfordshire September 2013