Acknowledged community

Communities that allow for married members and where there are ‘seasonal vows and promises’ may apply to the Advisory Council to be ‘acknowledged’ communities. This acknowledgement follows a process of discernment. This distinguishes them from communities that require a vow of celibacy and usually an eventual life commitment, which are ‘recognised’ communities of the Church.

‘Active’ communities

These are communities that have ministries and outreach in society as a whole, as distinct from those who live a more prayer-focused life in a monastery or convent. Members of ‘active’ communities also have a rhythm and schedule of prayer in their lives and so some prefer the term ‘mixed’ life to ‘active’.

Advisory Council

A body set up by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to be a source of advice and voluntary oversight of the Religious communities of the Church of England. The Archbishops appoint four bishops to the Council, one of whom serves as chair, and the recognised communities elect other members. The Council may also co-opt a few further members who have particular skills or knowledge to be of assistance. The ecumenical dimension of Religious life is usually represented by a Religious from the Roman Catholic Church also being a member. The Council publishes a Handbook of guidance for communities.


A person who is accepted by a community to live ‘alongside’ its members for a specified period and who then participate in the life and work of the community. This may or may not lead to the ‘alongsider’ seeking entry to the community’s novitiate.


A person who hopes to become a Religious and has been in touch with a particular community, but has not yet begun to live with them.


The commitment to remain unmarried and to refrain from sexual relationships. It is part of the vow of chastity traditionally taken by Religious. Chastity is a commitment to sexual integrity, a term applicable to fidelity in marriage as well as to celibacy in Religious Life.


The council or meeting of Religious to deliberate and make decisions about the community. In some orders, this may consist of all the professed members of the community; in others, the Chapter is a group of members elected by the community as a whole to be their representatives.


The ceremony in which a postulant of a community formally becomes a novice, and begins the period of formation in the mind, work and spirit of the community. It follows the initial stage of being a postulant when the prospective member first lives alongside the community. The clothing or novicing ceremony is characterised by the Religious ‘receiving’ the habit, or common attire, of the community.


A Religious whose life is concentrated on prayer inside the monastery or convent rather than on social work or ministry outside the house. Some communities were founded with the specific intention of leading a contemplative lifestyle together. Others may have a single member or small group living such a vocation within a larger community oriented to outside work.


This term is applied to Religious who stay within a particular convent or monastery – the ‘enclosure’ – to pursue more effectively a life of prayer. They would usually only leave the enclosure for medical treatment or other exceptional reasons. This rule is intended to help the enclosed Religious be more easily protected from the distractions and attentions of the outside world.


The eremitic Religious is one who lives the life of a hermit, that is, largely on his or her own. Hermits usually live singly, but may live in an eremitic community, where they meet together for prayer on some occasions during each day.

Evangelical Counsels

A collective name for the three vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.


The distinctive clothing of a community. In some communities, the habit is worn at all times, in others only at certain times or for certain activities. In some communities, the habit is rarely worn, except perhaps for formal occasions.


A member of a community who is in the formation stage of the Religious Life, when she or he learns the mind, work and spirit of the particular community whilst living among its members.


Someone associated closely with a community, but who will be living a modified form of the Rule, which allows him or her to live outside the Religious house. Oblates are so-called because they make an oblation (or offering) of obedience to the community instead of taking the profession vows. In some communities, oblates remain celibate, in others they are allowed to be married. A few oblates live within a community house and then they are usually termed intern(al) oblates. The term oblate is more usually associated with Benedictine communities.

Office/Daily Office/Divine Office

The round of liturgical services of prayer and worship, which mark the rhythm of the daily routine in Religious Life. Religious communities may use the services laid down by the Church or may have their own particular Office book. The Offices may be called Morning, Midday, Evening and Night Prayer, or may be referred to by traditional names, such as Matins, Lauds, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers and Compline.


Someone who is in the first stage of living the Religious life. The postulancy usually begins when the aspirant begins to live in community and ends when he or she becomes a novice and ‘receives the habit’. Postulants sometimes wear a distinctive dress or else may wear secular clothes. In some communities, this phase of joining a community is covered by living as an ‘alongsider’ for a specific period.


The ceremony at which a Religious makes promises (or vows) to live the Religious Life with integrity and fidelity to the Rule. The profession of these vows may be for a limited period or for life. The usual pattern is to make a ‘first’ or simple profession in which the vows are made to the community. After three or more years a Life Profession may be made, which is to the Church and so the vows are usually received by a bishop. In the Anglican Communion, Life Professed Religious can usually be secularized only by the Archbishop or Presiding Bishop of a Province.

Recognised community

Communities that require a vow of celibacy and usually an eventual life commitment are ‘recognised communities’ of the Church. Any new community with these requirements undergoes a period of discernment under the guidance of the Advisory Council. This ‘recognised’ status is distinct from ‘acknowledged communities’, who do not usually require celibacy and whose vows may be ‘seasonal’.

Religious (as in ‘a Religious’)

The general term for a person living the Religious life.


The written text containing the principles and values by which the members of a community try to live. The Rule is not simply a set of regulations, although it may contain such, but is an attempt to capture the spirit and charism of a community in written form. Some communities follow traditional Rules, such as those of St Benedict or St Augustine, others have written their own.

Tertiary/Third Order

This term is usually associated with Franciscan communities, but is used by others too. A Third Order is made up of tertiaries, people who take vows, but modified so that they are able to live in their own homes and have their own jobs. They may also marry and have children. They have a Rule of Life and are linked to other tertiaries through regular meetings. In the Franciscan family, the Third Order complements both the First Order of celibate friars and sisters and the Second Order of contemplative Religious.


The promises made by a Religious at profession. In recognised communities, they may be poverty, chastity and obedience, known as the Evangelical Counsels. In some recognised communities, they are obedience, stability and conversion of life (the Benedictine form). In some new or acknowledged communities, ‘seasonal vows’ or promises are taken, which vary from community to community.