Foreword to the Anglican Religious Life Year Book, 2012-13 (8th edition)

by Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford

Alnmouth Friary; room 15; bliss. That was where I used to go on retreat when I was in the north of England. It was a superb place with its panoramic view of sea, sky and cliff top. Then there was the space, the worship, the acts of grace (a tot of whiskey arriving late one evening, left by a generous guest but surplus to Community requirements). To a weary bishop it was a glimpse of the hospitable heart of God.

Obviously there are many different styles of religious life, but there is only one God calling us irresistibly to transformation. This Year Book celebrates that richness and that potential for renewal.

Moreover, our Religious Communities act as reminders of the depth and complexity of faith. In an age of ‘coin-operated’ religion where ‘outcomes’ are valued more highly than wisdom, our Communities are signs of contradiction in a self-absorbed (not to say self-opinionated) culture. Their counter-cultural life demands of their brothers and sisters self-knowledge, discipline and clarity of purpose if they are to sustain their trajectory towards God.

The rest of us need not only their constant intercession but also their desire to return the loving gaze of God. In this they model the purpose of creation, which is precisely to live and flourish in that gaze of divine Love. No wonder we need our Religious Communities: they go before us as spiritual adventurers.

From the vantage point of a place on the Advisory Group on the Relations of Bishops and Religious Communities, and being a Visitor to a number of those Communities, I particularly welcome the explorations going on between traditional Religious Communities with all their accumulated experience and wisdom, and the new religious communities which are springing up energetically and looking for guidance. Most of these new communities are not sufficiently mature yet to find a place in the Year Book, but they are bubbling up just below the surface. God is always at work renewing his Church: we are simply called to ‘catch the wave’ of the Spirit and hang to our surf-board!

What is never negotiable, however, is the primary vocation of Religious Communities to live in the gaze of God and to experience for and with the rest of us the blistering caress of God’s love.

How lost we would be without you. Thank you for staying close to the fire.