by Most Revd Frank Griswold, Presiding Bishop of ECUSA
A contemporary monastic writer has observed that Religious Life at its core is a quest for reality. This brings to mind St. Augustine’s declaration that we are real only insofar as we exist in God’s order, and God’s order exists in us. The life and disciplines of a Religious community are therefore ordered to an ever-increasing conformation to reality as it is revealed in Christ, and worked in us by the Spirit.
While some with a limited knowledge of Religious Life might view it as an escape from the rigors of real life, the opposite is in fact the truth: the very structures and disciplines that comprise this response to the gospel oblige those who embrace it to face their humanity in all of its fierce immediacy. They must give room to Jesus’ declaration that everything that is hidden will be brought out into the light in order to be caught up into God’s work of reconciling all things to himself in Christ.
Life in Christ, which is ours in baptism, as experienced in Religious communities can serve as an exemplar for other persons of faith. This life in Christ is a process of continuing unfoldment ordered by the Spirit of truth. As such, it is an existence of discovery and growth rooted in the paschal mystery of the Lord’s death and resurrection. It is also a life with and for others, even when pursued alone in a hermitage, because it is grounded in prayer: and prayer, by its very nature, “ones” us to God and to one another.
From Nicholas Ferrar’s establishment of communal life at Little Gidding in the 17th century, through the recovery of formally vowed Religious Life in the 19th century and into our own day, Religious communities in the Anglican Communion have provided and continue to provide a witness to the demands of the gospel that challenge us all. Those who embrace vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, and the Benedictine variants of conversion of life and stability – which is a commitment to stay in place and accept the fact that the sisters and brothers God provides in community are for our salvation – have much to teach all the baptized. Their very lives bring them to a deep knowing of the paradox of self-denial that opens the way to self-discovery, and self-limitation that becomes freedom.
It is therefore with deep gratitude to all who have embraced this way of life that I commend this third edition of the Anglican Religious Communities Year Book. After the manner of the wise householder described by our Lord in the gospel, may our Religious communities – in all their rich variety – continue to bring out of the storehouse of their prayer, common life and ministry, things both new and old to strengthen and sustain us as we seek to live in fidelity to the demands of the gospel.