web analytics

A Wild Burst of Fresh and Spirit-Fuelled Imagination

Religious Life

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby made the first of his three priorities for his ministry The renewal of prayer and the Religious Life.

On Friday the 28th of March, Justin Welby welcomed over a hundred members of a broad range of Anglican religious communities to Lambeth Palace to discuss the renewal of Religious Life within the Church.

The Archbishop said:

It is – or should be – impossible to imagine a church that flourishes without the flourishing of Religious communities as an integral part of the body of Christ.

It is – or should be – impossible because, it is our life in Religion, in contemplation, in prayer and community around a Rule and around worship, that makes us more than an NGO with loads of pointy roofed old buildings. Stanley Hauerwas in one of his sermons comments that the church should always be engaged in doing things that make no sense if God does not exist.

Life in Religion is the ultimate wager on the existence of God. Through it people subject themselves to discipline, to each other in Community, however difficult and odd each other is (and I suspect that you have an internal wry smile at how odd some people can be), and they subject themselves above all to prayer.

In the Rule of St Benedict the heart of the monastic life is obedience, an absence of grumbling, a commonality of goods, a balanced life of work, prayer and study, not in any sense because through these remarkably tough disciplines human beings become self referentially better, but because they are there to encourage each other in walking more and more deeply into the light that is Christ….

Throughout history the lived example of these truths, the engine room of renewal and conversion, has come from Religion, it has been the gift of the religious communities. I cannot easily find an example of a church that since the end of the Roman Empire has found renewal without there being flourishing religious communities.

We start with Benedict, of course, who set out to grow closer to Christ and incidentally saved civilisation, as a collateral benefit. We have Cluny; we have my favourite and great saints of the North-East of England, from the time of Cuthbert through the great communities in Durham, Lindisfarne. . . The communities of the North-East that, springing from life in Religion, converted Scandinavia and the whole of Germany and northern Europe, the overflow of grace that reached out across Europe.

And then you get to Francis at a time when the church across Europe was as corrupt as it has probably ever been. In England, we go along a few centuries, we come to the Methodists, who live not in communities in the same form but under a Rule, under a Method, and there again we saw the Great Awakening.

The Oxford Movement, again which led to an awakening of religious life and religious life led to an awakening of the church….

In February, at Archbishop Justin’s invitation, a group from the ecumenical religious community of Chemin Neuf moved into Lambeth Palace to undergird the life of prayer there.

Religious Life regularly has an ecumenical dimension (Taizé, the shared life of Camaldolese and The Order of the Holy Cross,…) even an inter-religious dimension…

image source

An Afterword

I began preparing this post before the Archbishop of Canterbury’s off-the-cuff radio broadcast. I would not want this post to be taken as misdirection. I affirm the positive of this encouragement of Religious Life. I join the call for the Archbishop of Canterbury to clarify his radio remarks if they do not express well what he intended to convey.

The Church Times summarised:

CHRISTIANS are being killed in Africa as a consequence of liberal attitudes towards homosexuality in the United States and Britain, the Archbishop of Canterbury suggested on Friday.

Rev. Tobias Haller said it well:

Emotional blackmail spreads once it is allowed to start. Welby is being blackmailed by those who not so subtly threaten to kill Christians if the “western world” becomes more tolerant to lgbt people. He then passes this along to the US and Britain, cooperating in the extortion.

People should not base their right actions on the possible wrong actions of others. This holds the doing of good hostage to those who do evil.

I think the secondary problem I have with Archbishop Welby’s off-the-cuff interview (the primary being the implicit emotional blackmail) is that while he cites forms of violence allegedly caused by reaction to American actions as well as homophobic assaults and indignities, he does not appear to see that it is fear of homosexuality that is at the root of both. The purported violence against the African Christians for being co-religionists with Americans or Canadians who are gay-friendly is just an expansion of the violence against Africans who are gay or lesbian, and stems from the same fears as the homophobia and violence that occurs in England and America, too.

But rather than connecting the dots, Welby simply places two things side by side, saying there is a need to “listen carefully” while apparently not hearing the painfully obvious connection in his own words. He seems to describe this as two separate problems instead of one; he is like a doctor who lists two symptoms without realizing there is an underlying disease at work. — and the answer or treatment (which he doesn’t fully approve) is the movement towards normalizing same-sex relationships, including marriage.

King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail would be good reading for him indeed. We do not turn back from Calvary, but go forward, sometimes with suffering.

The Very Rev Kelvin Holdsworth is also worth reading about this.

I do not really want to start a debate on this particular thread around the Archbishop’s confusion in ethics, but I cannot let a post about him at this particular time pretend that this isn’t a significant heat-generating statement that he has just made. I hope people will comment about Religious Life, not just about the Archbishop’s radio phone-in show.

Similar Posts:

10 thoughts on “A Wild Burst of Fresh and Spirit-Fuelled Imagination”

  1. Paul Anthony Preussler

    The development of religious life within Anglicanism, such as the new Moot community, is a good sign. Near where I live is a rather excellent traditional Anglican Benedictine monastery. These institutes of consecrated life also offer the solution to a range of social problems the Anglican Communion is suffering, if adhered to properly; ascetism is the cure for the diseases that inflict Christendom.

    By promoting asceticism: celibacy, fasting, and moderate consumption versus the conspicuous consumption and waste that characterizes our society, we can move Christendom as a whole away from the degenerate status it now exists. The Church, as a whole, can regain moral credibility, and stop losing ground to atheism.

    The inability of Christian leaders across most of the Western denominations in recent decades to control their passions and properly adhere to asceticism is what caused, for example, the disasters in the Roman Catholic church with paedophilia; I believe that hypocrisy on our part is the cause of the rise of militant atheism.

    Even those Christians who do not have a monastic vocation should actively commit to a more active life of ascetic prayer. Peter Owen Jones, who I suspect is closer to you than he is to me in terms of theological orientation, in the climax of his television series Extreme Pilgrim, spent three weeks in a hermitage above St. Anthony’s Monastery in Egypt. This is an encouraging example.

    One thing within Orthodoxy I reccommend, that I think could work very well within Anglicanism, is the practice of retiring to a monastery following a major life crises in order to recover. Anyone who suffers a spiritual crisis, such as, for example, being divorced by their spouse, or being bereaved, ought to have available to them the facilities provided by a spiritual retreat in a monastic setting.

    Given the liturgical focus of this blog, I would be rather interested if you could expound upon this article with additional articles on the liturgical implications of Welby’s address, which apply of course not just to asceticism, but also to private devotional practice.

    1. Thanks, Paul. There is a lot on this site about spiritual practice, lectio, carthusians, meditation, monasticism, and so forth. I encourage you to try the search box. Blessings.

  2. I love your blog and a simply Anglican Christian I struggle to find resources that speak to common folk like me. I’d appreciate it if you could cover something along the lines of Spirituality vs Religion as it seems to be the in thing these days for Christians to emphasize spirituality and sort of class religion as some kind of Anti Christ cultist behavior.

  3. It is very helpful to be reminded of Archbishop Welby’s initiatives in this area. I had not heard that line of Hauerwas’s, which strikes me as spot on. It reminded me immediately of the following passage from a book you and I both know well, Bosco:

    Once more Paddy O’Connell thought to himself, “If God exists, being a Carthusian makes sense, is rigorously coherent. If God does not exist, then I am a fool, a victim of a self-destroying illusion. Everything hangs on this question.” Then, taking a deep breath, he took hold of the bell rope of the Gatehouse of St. Hugh’s Charterhouse.

    [Nancy Klein Maguire, An Infinity of Little Hours: Five Young Men and Their Trial of Faith in the Western World’s Most Austere Monastic Order (New York: PublicAffairs, 2006), p. 9]

  4. I just found this today, and I am really touched by everything the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said throughout his address. “Life in Religion is the ultimate wager on the existence of God.” Wonderful thought! Peace and thanks for posting.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.