Religious life “lives at heart of the Church.”  The earliest monastics retreated to the desert to get away from the noise of city life and to listen to the heartbeat of God.  Today, monastic life  no longer looks like that of these early ascetics, but rather includes expressions of many different volumes—silent, loud and everywhere in between.  A group of people in Austin, some of whom are Episcopal clergy, have come together around a shared desire to be connected to a monastic community—a community that is stable, rooted in prayer and community and lives a life of authentic discipleship—but not be a core member of it.  We share a need for these persons specially called to monastic life and have been discerning what a thriving monastic presence in Austin, a city with no monks or nuns for hundreds of miles, could look like. The way has proved unclear.

Around the Episcopal Church, the wider Anglican Communion and the Church at large, new expressions of this ancient way of living in Christian community have surfaced.  In Southwest Virginia, St. Aidan’s has emerged as a new year-long program for young adults.  The Sisters of St. John the Baptist in Toronto, Canada, have opened their convent to young women to explore the deep spiritual rhythm of monastic life for one year, and the Community of St. Anselm out of Lambeth Palace has inspired a number of young adults to discern further a call to monastic life.  Today there are forms of monastic life that include married people living alongside those vowed to a life of celibacy.  There are dispersed communities held together by a common rule, though not geographically united, and “new monastic” ways of living popping up in cities all over the country.

The Conference of Anglican Religious in the Americas (CAROA) offers by way of description: “The vowed life of poverty/simplicity, chastity/celibacy, and obedience frees us from the strictures of our culture: love of money and wealth, status, and power.” Thus, “the call and challenge comes to Religious Communities to become instruments of peace, to partake in the ministry of reconciliation by prayer and service, both in the Church and throughout the world.”  In Austin, we have found the common conviction that we need those committed to a life of prayer and community, but they also need us—who are more easily swept up in the everyday noise of the world.  The relationship goes two ways between Religious Life and the rest of the Church and meets somewhere in this ministry to the world at the intersection of prayer and service. The Holy Spirit is moving and calling many nearer, in traditional and new ways, to “living at the heart of the church.”

This General Convention, at least six resolutions explore a hope to renew, refresh, and re-resource discernment and ministry in the Episcopal Church.  They seek to equip a more diverse clergy body to serve the different needs of Episcopal congregations. None of the resolutions, however, mention vocations to monastic life in their traditional or new expressions. How can we, as the Episcopal Church, support and uplift those who “live at the heart of the church” while encouraging new vocations, not just to ordained ministry, but to Religious Life as well?

Centuries ago monastics retreated to the desert to get away from city life. Now, many are going into the city to serve and to bring the gift of Christ’s presence made manifest in the unique way people of prayer can share it. The need for Religious life has not gone away, but the exchange between Communities and the rest of the church and the world may look different than it once did. As we explore the varied shapes of ministry and evangelism this General Convention, let us not overlook our Brothers and Sisters who “live at the heart of the church” as we work together to share the love of Christ with our world.

Join others interested in the conversation about Religious Life on Friday, July 6th at 9:00a at St David’s Church. More information available here:  Traditional and New. Panel and discussion moderated by CAROA president Sr Faith Margaret, CHS.

Posted by Eileen O'Brien