Foreword to the Anglican Religious Life Year Book, 2016-17 (10th edition)

by Most Revd Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

Life in Religion is the ultimate wager on the existence of God. The church should always be engaged in doing things that make no sense if God does not exist.

This is the reason why I hold the Religious life in the highest esteem. Through the commonality of goods, the life of obedience and above all the commitment to shape life around the opus dei (that is, prayer), the monastic life models for all Christians what it means to live fully and abundantly, with and for Christ. In my own Christian living, I am very grateful to have discovered the Rule of St Benedict, which has probably shaped me more than any other text besides the Bible.

Without prayer, the Church is in danger of being indistinguishable from any other NGO. It is through the action of praying that the Church demonstrates it is no mere organisation for ‘doing good’ (as one prominent political leader put it to me recently) – but the channel of God and God’s action. The self-giving of prayer opens the doors to eternity, for us and for all those around who care to see and hear the call and light of Christ through that very self-giving.

As Karl Barth put it, ‘Prayer is the most intimate and effective form of Christian action… all other work comes far behind it… and is doing the will of God only to the extent that it derives from prayer. The greatest Christian busyness is only idleness if the proper work [of prayer] is not done’ (Church Dogmatics III.3).

When appointed as Archbishop of Canterbury, I committed to seek a renewal of prayer and Religious life as my first priority for the Church. This is because of my conviction that if any renewal is to happen in the wider Church, it will not be the result of better structures or more gifted leaders. It will follow because there are disciples who follow Jesus with all their being, setting the gospel fully into practice, laying down their lives in prayer and in action – such as the kind of disciples who are consecrated to God through Religious vows. Religion has provided the engine room of conversion and renewal throughout the history of the Church. It is hard to find an example of renewal anywhere in God’s Church since the end of the Roman Empire that has not been preceded and accompanied by a renewal of prayer, usually within flourishing Religious communities.

In my own encounters with Religious communities, usually from times of retreat, I have experienced a palpable combination of vulnerability and joy that is a hugely powerful witness to Jesus Christ. Such witness is counter-cultural for the world and prophetic for the church – and a visible sign of the greatness and goodness of God. Blessed be God! And blessed be all those represented in the pages of this Year Book.