by Rt Revd David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, Chair of the Advisory Council of the Church of England
In over thirty years of ordained ministry within the Church of England, I have almost invariably followed the maxim of being ready to accept an invitation, but never volunteering. My work on the Advisory Council for Relations between Bishops and Religious Communities, usually known as the Advisory Council for short, is the one exception. When I heard, around twelve years ago, that one of its episcopal members had left, I wrote a letter asking to be considered for the vacancy. I’ve never for a moment regretted that departure from custom and practice. Working with Religious Orders in an era of immense change is both fascinating and uplifting. The contents of this Yearbook, especially were one to compare it with a predecessor of no more than a decade ago, show that the Holy Spirit is up to something remarkable. What is now commonly referred to as New Monasticism was, back then, unheard of in English Anglican circles. Now, much of the work of the Advisory Council is related to how we help such communities come to birth and grow healthy and strong.
The details of communities, old and new, share a common home within the pages of this Year Book. It’s a symbolic juxtaposition that reflects the way new and traditional forms of Religious Life are finding common ground in the wider Church. The practice of pairing up emerging communities with experienced religious has both enabled hard won wisdom to be passed on and built up bonds of friendship and support that are precious to all. From these individual engagements has arisen a pattern of occasional larger gatherings where both can come together as we seek the will of God. Such events are becoming both more frequent and of longer duration; a sign that the sharing of worship, fellowship and purposeful conversation is highly valued and fruitful.
New communities that are coming to birth are different because of this engagement with their older brothers and sisters. And the more longstanding communities are emerging from these encounters different too, more confident of their own place and distinctiveness, as well as what they share. And, I would suggest, more ready to embark on new ventures, such as the growing groups of “alongsiders” to be found. Finally, my guess is that some of those who begin the exploration of community in a New Monastic setting will eventually find themselves on a different page of this Year Book. But that will be a story for a future edition.