Pastoral Care and Anglican Franciscan Friars

First published in Gillian Evans (editor), A History of Pastoral Care, Cassell, London, 2000 ISBN: 9780225668407

Anglican Religious in the service of the poor

In September 1897, James Adderley resigned his position as superior of the Society of the Divine Compassion (SDC), the Franciscan community which he had founded within the Church of England only a few years earlier. He did so because of a split within the small SDC as to the way forward for the community, an argument about how best to serve the poor. It was a division not over values or goals but over how best to achieve them. This dispute within SDC, and its dramatic consequence, might be viewed as a comparatively minor event among a small group of friars, of little importance beyond the chronology of the revival of Religious Life among nineteenth-century Anglicans. Yet, the arguments within SDC were an example of a much wider debate as to how best Religious could serve the poor. It was a debate that continued for many years in the various branches of Anglican Franciscanism, with implications for Religious Life in a wider sense. These arguments and their consequences, therefore, have a greater significance than merely their immediate impact. They shed light on the development of models of pastoral care within Anglican Religious Life as a whole.

Pastoral care had been at the heart of the founding of communities in the Church of England from the 1840s onwards. Indeed, the suspicion that all things monastic were ‘Papist’, and therefore inimical to the health of religion in Britain, was so widespread and deep-rooted that a revival of Religious Life had to have pastoral care as its public justification if it were to gain even tacit acceptance. The idea of a community life, lived under vows, as a good of itself within the Church had little claim then on the minds or hearts of most Anglicans. As a result, the founding of recognized cloistered contemplative communities had to wait until the end of the century. However, the idea of sisters who cared for the poor and the sick was less alarming, mainly because it appeared one way of addressing the serious social problems with which the Church was faced. It is unsurprising therefore that many of the foundations of Anglican women’s communities were initiated by parish priests, particularly in urban areas, who saw the need for sisterhoods to work among their parishioners, much as late twentieth century parishes might want ‘pastoral assistants’. The sisters could be presented as local groups of ‘parish workers’ serving particular social needs in their area.

This perceived need was one response to the consequences of the Industrial Revolution and the rapid growth in population in early nineteenth-century Britain, which had brought a new and visible urban poverty on a scale previously unimagined. Not only did this provide a moral challenge to Christians but a growing class of economically deprived and suffering people was also a political threat. The value of the palliative care given to the sick and needy amongst the poor by Anglican sisters blunted the voices of those who saw their formation as a departure from Protestant norms. Gradually, the incidents of sisters being jeered at and attacked subsided, and hostility was replaced by respect for their achievements.

Most of these communities had been based on a particular parish or district, or else around the ministry of an institution, such as a hospital or school. They mostly remained within the power structures of the Church and under the control and guidance of the clergy. When, later in the century, sisterhoods tried to work more independently, outside the immediate jurisdiction of a Bishop Visitor or the local parish clergy, there was controversy. Religious sisters were accepted as servants of the clergy, but came under pressure and disapprobation when the call to Religious Life pushed their communities into initiating projects and ministries outside male clerical authority. The clerical control also encouraged different communities to have little to do with each other, and they jealously guarded their own particular traditions and apostolates. In some cases, this pattern evolved into rivalries. Contact between sisterhoods was minimal.

For men called to Religious Life, the difficulties were equally restrictive. Priests were under the direct authority of their bishops and it was well-nigh impossible for them to pursue ministries to the poor outside parochial structures. From the very beginning of the Society of the Divine Compassion, this was the heart of the problem for James Adderley. The son of a Conservative MP, later a peer, Adderley was an example of a privileged young man who developed a conscience about the lower classes of society on whom his family’s wealth was ultimately dependent. He was not a socialist in a party-political sense, but part of the then fashionable ‘Christian socialism’, much of which was at root a paternalistic liberalism. Leading churchmen such as Bishop Westcott of Durham, following the theology of F D Maurice, believed in co-operation and ‘brotherhood’ between the classes. Yet, in practice, such men did not wish to threaten the status quo and overthrow the class structure of society. They wanted to create a unity between classes, where people looked after – and out – for each other, whilst tacitly accepting the social stratification maintained by a liberal capitalist economic system.

Adderley, however, went further than many of his Christian socialist contemporaries in wishing to live more literally alongside the poor. He saw the Religious Life of a friar as the way to achieve this. In St Francis, the thirteenth-century saint who had turned his back on wealth and privilege to embrace a mendicant life style, Adderley saw the inspiration for founding the Society of the Divine Compassion.

The Franciscan ideal as itinerant friar

The Franciscan ideal had been argued about for centuries and was open to different interpretations, but at its heart was a desire to take the Religious Life of prayer and community outside the confines of the monastery, and live its values out amongst the poor and the homeless. It was an evangelising strategy, a witnessing to the Gospel, more than a social policy. It was radical in its methods because it demanded that Religious should live alongside the deprived and share their poverty, rather than minister from the comfort and security of the institutions of a Church which had grown rich and powerful. Amidst the desolation of the nineteenth-century landscape of Britain’s industrialised cities, this charism gripped Adderley’s imagination and spirit. Wandering itinerant friars would serve the poor and be their voice.

It was a romantic concept, for whatever deprivations Adderley embraced, his education and background meant that he would always have the possibility of returning to a more secure way of life and standard of living, whereas the poor whom he longed to serve had no such option. His radical edge, however, came from his conviction that only friars free of official commitments could be a true voice for those who were disadvantaged. He felt that a Franciscanism which was established within the Church’s structures would eventually be blunted and curbed, its witness contained by the pressures of running institutions, through which friars would eventually be liable to collude with the social system that tolerated poverty. He felt the parochial model of ministry would reduce Franciscans to palliative care and prevent any involvement with political campaigns or radical witness. The example of the Community of St Alban, a group of laymen living first in Paddington and then in Plaistow in the 1870s and 1880s, was instructive. The brothers worked for the parish of St Andrew’s, but their appearance on political platforms during the 1880 election campaign had resulted in the withdrawal of much of the support of the Church, and the community rapidly declined. Most of the clergy of St Andrew’s were prominent in this undermining of the community. For Adderley, therefore, the prophet had to work from outside the system.

Adderley had gone on road missions, tramping with wayfarers, in the years before he founded SDC and he saw this as an example of his principle that social questions need friars ‘free from the narrow local interests’ which consume parish clergy. He wanted the base for friars to be a house of prayer in the country, a place apart where they could rest, and where they would be trained in disciplines of prayer. From the friary, they could go out to expedite whatever work they found was necessary amidst the poor. That might be teaching in elementary schools or mission work or helping wayfarers, but on a ‘freelance’ basis. There could be no question of being tied to a specific place or a specific ‘work’ as a group, and priests (like himself) would have no privileges over lay members of the community. The model for caring for the poor was one of flexibility and variety, responding to diverse calls primarily as an individual friar, with the community a product of the rest periods at the proposed rural friar, where the emphasis on prayer would provide the support for the demanding vocation. Thus, community life was reflected not in working together but in praying together. In Adderley’s novel, Stephen Remarx, written to illustrate his ideas, the community which his hero founds is primarily made up of what would now be called Third Order members, people vowed to a Rule of Life but working in their own particular jobs in different localities. For Adderley, this Third Order model divorced the friar from being associated in the minds of the poor from any form of power or control. He believed this would mean fewer conflicts between the demands of obeying ecclesiastical authority and living out a Franciscan vocation.

The Franciscan ideal in the parish

Nevertheless, because of the necessity of providing an initial base and small income, Adderley accepted in 1894 the task of running a mission church, St Philip’s, which was part of the parish of St Andrew’s, Plaistow. Here, he was joined by Henry Chappel and Ernest Hardy, the latter taking the Religious name of Andrew. Chappel was already a priest and Hardy was ordained soon after joining the fledgling SDC. However, in contrast to James Adderley, Fathers Henry and Andrew believed that Franciscans needed to work within the parochial system of the Church. Indeed, they could not see how else the Society could achieve definite goals in helping the poor. The purpose of being in community was to achieve collectively what would be less easy to achieve as individuals. They saw the mission church of St Philip’s, Plaistow, as the ideal base for such a ministry: running a church but without the authority and power invested in the Vicar of the parish as a whole. This meant the brothers stayed within the Church’s structures, yet were more distant from the traditional social status of the Anglican clergyman than if one of them was appointed an incumbent. For the brothers, pastoral care was thereby distinct from ecclesiastical power, yet without the separation from the Church’s authority structures advocated by Adderley. For Henry and Andrew, this was an opportunity to change attitudes towards the poor; by showing within one parish district a new kind of ministry, rooted in a shared poverty, Franciscans could show the Church as a whole a way forward in its witnessing to Gospel values. It was being prophetic within the Church structures rather than outside them.

This approach was reflected in two practical policies. Firstly, the brothers would not have any amenities denied to the majority of their parishioners, but live with similar conditions to those they served. One example of this commitment is that the SDC brothers did not have a bathroom installed in their house. Secondly, the concerns of the parishioners about jobs and other issues became those of the brothers. Some of the lay brothers who joined SDC worked as local ‘craftsmen’, in mending clocks and printing, in addition to the priest brethren’s more traditional parochial ministry. Both points are articulated in the Society’s 1908 book, A Franciscan Revival.

“It [SDC] has its parish work, where it lives a neighbourly life, going out to the more active work of the ministry in preaching and missions; its workshops among the people, where it repairs clocks and watches, works its printing presses, decorates churches, and its members may belong to the same trade societies as the artizans among whom they live. It has had, in common with all Christians, its hours of darkness and temptation. It seeks to live a poor life, sharing the privation and discomfort of ordinary poor people.”

In so doing, they were providing a model of ‘living alongside’ which was stable and rooted in a local community.

Accordingly, when Fr William SDC marched with the unemployed to Hyde Park in 1906, he felt able to do so because many of the marchers were his own ‘flock’. He was not there as a Franciscan giving support to a political cause, but as a parish priest leading his own people in their fight for dignity. For example, the photograph of the marchers in the biography of Father William shows the banner they carried, which read: ‘In the name of Christ we claim that all men should have the right to live.’ At the head is a title: The Church in West Ham. The emphasis was not on Franciscans bringing the plight of the poor to public attention, but Franciscans supporting the cause on behalf of the Church. Whereas Adderley wanted Franciscans individually to be prophets, his co-founders in SDC wanted Franciscans to be representatives of a prophetic Church. It was a crucial difference, which affected the Chapter’s choices as to both SDC’s future location and the work it undertook.

His brothers’ parochial vision of pastoral care could not hold Adderley. He pushed again and again for the implementation of his own vision. He was, he claimed, ‘consistently opposed’ by the rest of the SDC chapter and therefore felt compelled to resign. His attempt to form another community was short-lived and, ironically, he returned for the rest of his ministry to the work of a parish priest, which was a tacit admission of the failure to realize his own vision.

Ministry by withdrawal

Yet despite Adderley leaving SDC, the memory of his ideas still found a place in the community’s deliberations. As their founder would have wished, in 1904, the SDC Chapter decided to buy a house in the country at Stanford-le-Hope, in Essex, which became the centre for the SDC noviciate. Novices were there formed in a monastic setting of prayer and silence, before they were set to work in London’s East End, so that,

” … the life should be seen in its hardest, most monotonous aspects, and that the cost should be well counted before the irrevocable step is taken. …

“Living in enclosure, with almost no intercourse with the outside world, there is not much fear of a man mistaking sentiment for vocation.”

But the work still remained defined by the parameters of parish and local community in Plaistow. The only exception to this was some brothers going to South Africa for a few years to teach in the mission field. However, the vision of Adderley still tugged at this model of pastoral care and did so in two very different ways.

The first was the result of the monastic style of the noviciate. Some novices became convinced of the value of contemplative life as a legitimate and necessary part of pastoral care. It was not merely a means of training and testing but was a significant ministry in its own right. To them, without the existence of vowed contemplatives who would remain in the monastery and not seek outside work, the apostolic ministries would lack an important dimension. Amongst women Religious in the Church of England, this trend had become strong in the first decade of the twentieth century. So, for example, the Servants of Christ, begun as an apostolic community in 1897, decided to become a cloistered contemplative order in 1905, adopting an essentially Cistercian spirituality. The following year, the Sisters of the Love of God were founded in Oxford, inspired by the Carmelite tradition. Among male Religious the same impulse was surfacing. The Benedictines founded in the 1890s by Aelred Carlyle became increasingly contemplative, settling after ten years in the remote location of Caldey Island, off the South Wales coast. For SDC, the impulse proved all the more startling because it was the superior, Father William Sirr, who was among those who felt such a call.

Father William had expressed this desire on his standing down as superior in 1912, but his brothers on Chapter were unsympathetic. They could not see how a life of withdrawal at the novice house at Stanford-le-Hope was not sufficient for William. Yet he persisted in asking for release and, after much frustration, a new superior proved more understanding. In 1918, Father William was permitted to go and live in a disused stable block at Glasshampton in Worcestershire, and there he created the monastery of St Mary at the Cross. His spirituality was based on a Cistercian model (although there was no land to work) rather than a Franciscan one. There was no outside work, but the monk welcomed male guests, especially those who were in trouble or personal difficulty, and Glasshampton became a place of refuge. Here, Father William prayed for the world and for the poor among whom he had laboured during his years in Plaistow. Sadly for him, those who came to test such a vocation with him did not persevere. At his death in 1937, the contemplative community for which he had hoped had not emerged and he died still a member of SDC, a solitary Franciscan instead of a Cistercian monk. The importance of Father William in the subject of pastoral care amongst Franciscans was that he illustrated the need for a ‘praying heart’ to the community. His example was admired by many other Franciscan friars, even though they felt unable to emulate or join him. Despite his own looking towards Cistercian patterns of life and prayer, Father William can equally be claimed as part of the Franciscan eremitic tradition.

Ministry to the outcast

A second development within the SDC noviciate drew more definitive inspiration from James Adderley. The novice concerned was called Brother Giles, and, during his two years (1911-13) at Stanford-le-Hope, he became convinced that his ministry should be to those at the very margins of society: the wayfarers or ‘men of the roads’, who had lost families and self-respect as well as jobs and security. To fulfil this call, he wished to tramp, as Adderley had done, from doss house to doss house. But such an identification had little resonance for his superiors. In 1908, they had written,

“S. Francis embraced poverty literally. The need of this age is to emphasise the dignity of labour – not to beg with the beggar, but to work with the worker. Moreover, to do what can be done to ensure that all have the opportunity to work, and to work under righteous conditions. Love for the poor – or rather the oppressed and starving – is best expressed in helping them to work … “

Roaming around casual wards did not fall within this definition.

The Society of Divine Compassion Chapter could not, therefore, accept such a vocation and Giles had to leave the community. In turn, Bishop Charles Gore of Oxford refused Giles his protection or blessing. The Society of St John the Evangelist, the ‘Cowley Fathers’, gave him shelter in Oxford in his rest periods but would not give him official endorsement either. So Giles began in 1913 what might be termed a freelance ministry as a genuine itinerant, working outside any formal ecclesiastical structure. He was, however, more concerned than Adderley with building a Religious community of friars for this ministry, not just a Third Order. It was not a time of public sympathy for the homeless and Giles’s way of life attracted little support – and no lasting companions. His vocation to community seemed far from realization.

Giles served in the armed forces during the First World War, but resumed his tramping as soon as he was able, early in 1919. Public attitudes towards the destitute on the roads had now changed dramatically, as so many wayfarers were former soldiers. Their numbers grew steeply: there were nearly two million unemployed by the Autumn of 1920. Giles found he now had support both from the Church hierarchy and from wealthy lay patrons. He was offered a location for a friary in the countryside by the Earl of Sandwich at a low rent so that he could create a ‘home’ for wayfarers. Most welcome of all was that he now also had several men willing to try their vocations with him. Late in 1921, Flowers Farm, near Hilfield in Dorset, became the friary of a new Religious community, the Brotherhood of St Francis of Assisi (BSFA).

The idea behind the new friary was to create a labour colony, where the men of the roads could both rest and regain self-respect whilst at the same time work on the farm to earn their keep. These men were cut off from their roots, in terms of both locality and relationships, partly through the ‘shame’ of unemployment which prevented them ‘going home’ where they felt they would be a burden to their families. They were condemned by the existing social legislation to tramp from casual ward to casual ward, often many miles, allowed to stay only two nights at each ward. The alternative of ‘sleeping rough’ was illegal until 1935; so they could only tramp- or else be liable to arrest and a prison sentence. From the stable base of the friary, however, these wayfarers could look for permanent work, helped by the brothers and their backers.

Giles had combined the Adderley and SDC visions. There was a base in the country (Flowers Farm), as Adderley had envisaged, but, unlike for the latter, it was not a base for withdrawal. Under Giles, it had become a place of both prayer and work, where wayfarers could be received for a period of rehabilitation. From SDC came the concept of parish, but the BSFA friary’s parish was not the Dorset locality but the roads in general. The people of the parish were not those who lived around the friary but those who had no home and belonged nowhere. The new Brotherhood was giving a parish to the parishless.

Giles was careful too to seek the backing of the Church. He had sought it in 1913. He gained it in 1919-22. If he wished to be prophetic within society, he also agreed with his former SDC brethren that he had to be prophetic from within the Church – not acting as a maverick but working on behalf of the whole community of the faithful. He was careful to seek ecclesiastical approval. Therefore, his new community was established in line with the traditional arrangements of Religious Life, including having a Bishop Visitor and an agreed structure. The first novices were even given some basic training by the Cowley Fathers. So the ecclesiastical rootedness of SDC was mirrored in BSFA, whilst those who were served were the outcasts and so-called ‘rejects’ Adderley had desired to help.

But for Giles there was a heavy personal cost. After nine months in Dorset, stress and overwork brought him to a breakdown, which led to his leaving Dorset and the Brotherhood forever. Giles had moved the debate on, but in the end, like Adderley, he could not bring the vision to fruition. It is one of history’s ironies that the man who did, Douglas Downes, was initially utterly hostile to the idea of becoming a friar. He was persuaded to leave his work as a chaplain in Oxford and take over the wardenless friary, so that the work would not have to cease. Yet at the beginning, he could not see the relevance of Religious Life to the ministry to wayfarers at all. Brother Douglas refused to be the superior of a friary or accept a ‘Rule’ of life; instead he became the Warden of a Home. One witness remembered that Douglas’s Evangelical sensitivities made him think ‘monks were people to be avoided’. So unsurprisingly Douglas refused at first to wear a habit and only the pleas of the Earl of Sandwich persuaded him to retain the patronage of St Francis.

Douglas Downes was no stranger to the problem of poverty. As a curate before the First World War, he had moved out of his comfortable lodgings to live at the top of a working-class tenement, with orange boxes for furniture. Teaching in India in the years 1908-14, he had lived not in the staff quarters but with the Indian students in a hostel. As he would later write:

“How to preach the Idea of Poverty which has no visible expression I simply do not know. The Life must be the sermon.”

He believed therefore that no-one could preach and demonstrate the Gospel effectively to the poor without sharing the same hardships. In this sense he was like Giles. They had known each other in Oxford in the years 1919 to 1921 and it was Douglas who had encouraged Giles to accept Flowers Farm as a base for his work.

Being a voice for the outcast

Douglas was a contrast to Giles in that he saw little need for the trappings of community life. But as the 1920s progressed and Douglas went through many dark hours in his struggle to keep the friary financially viable, he began to grow into the Religious Life, seeing a community of brothers as a ‘team’ to do the job. By 1927, guided by the Bishop of Salisbury and Father Barnabas SDC, he accepted the habit and a traditional Rule. He saw that a priest acting as Warden of a Home was akin to a charitable foundation or institution, whereas a Religious community could more easily create the atmosphere of a home for the men they served.

By the late 1920s, the friary was freed from the debt incurred when it was first begun. Its work was praised in the House of Commons. The brothers tried to establish a Home for wayfarers in every county and about a dozen were founded in the years 1928-34. There had developed then a specific and settled ministry. It was a pattern which involved many helpers, as there were still fewer than half a dozen brothers. A Third Order began to develop, first through a loose group of ‘associates’ and then, more formally, as a traditional Third Order, whose members became novices and then took vows. These tertiaries were committed to sharing their resources and some went as far as living in a group on a poor housing estate, existing on only the same income as their neighbours. Through the work of Giles and then Douglas, Adderley’s original idea was coming to fruition.

Just as Adderley would have hoped, the BSFA provided a voice for the wayfarers, taking their case to the public and to those in power. They did not do this by joining party political debates nor by lining up with the articulate leaders of the working-class. Instead, they lent their weight to a broad (and successful) cross-party campaign to change the treatment wayfarers received in casual wards. The BSFA Homes showed how they could be given more dignity and support and he saw no reason why society as a whole could not adopt such methods. He accepted a round of preaching engagements in parishes and schools and conferences. He and his brothers went on road missions to gather reliable information to present to the relevant authorities. Douglas showed how a ministry to the poor was not only about care and support but about representation. Adderley and Giles’s methods could be used as a means of presenting authentic information about a current social problem. It was not just protest, but an advocacy of how to put it right. This gave Douglas’s campaign a moral authority.

Yet, there was a weakness in Douglas’s leadership. As his idea of community was a team to do a job, he was unable to create community structures which would increase the bonds of support between his brothers. There was by the early 1930s no meaningful community life to which to draw novices, only a scheme of work. This in turn weakened the witness of the Third Order who needed a First Order as their focus and inspiration. Douglas had no instinct for the Religious Life as such and his quip about BSFA being a ‘group of social workers in brown dressing gowns’ was an incisive judgement as well as a humorous comment. When Mark Kemp, a simply professed brother of SDC, was transferred to BSFA in 1933, he was made a novice, but in the following years profession was never even mentioned. Finally, he left. Another postulant remained so for four years and then left having never been made a novice. Such stories were not unusual under Douglas.

The witness of community

The Bishop of Salisbury intervened in 1934 and insisted the brothers must live a community life. Responsibility for the running of the Home was given to a Committee, and a Warden from outside the community was appointed. But Bishop Donaldson knew that what was needed was another leader, one with contrasting skills. He turned to Father Algy Robertson, the leader of another group of Franciscans based at the vicarage of St Ives in Huntingdonshire. This group was an English offshoot of the Christa Seva Sangha, a Franciscan community at Pune in India, who witnessed both to a life of simplicity and one which mixed white and brown races, higher and lower castes, as a protest against the social divisions of the Raj. Father Algy had been invalided home in 1930 and, unable to return, he founded the CSS friary at St Ives. But Algy’s talents and hopes could not be contained as a minor offshoot of a community thousands of miles away. His small group therefore sought ways to co-operate and eventually merge with Brother Douglas’s Dorset friars. It was this aspiration which the Bishop of Salisbury now strongly encouraged. The unity process evolved over a number years and by 1937 the new Society of St Francis came formally into being.

Father Algy started from the premise that the Franciscan witness to the world could only succeed if community was fostered. He introduced a programme of training and a more formal structure to the life, particularly for novices. But the significant contribution he made to the models of pastoral care is the concept of ‘spiritual friendship’. Within the formality of structure, Algy created an opportunity for a more relaxed and personal approach than was found in most Religious communities of the time. In an age when even good friends might not use each other’s Christian names, he was not afraid to leap over social norms of deference. He regarded friendship as a tool of evangelism and pastoral care, once writing that “It is in the atmosphere of friendliness that hearts may be most deeply touched.” If this ‘atmosphere’ was to be used in the world to bring others to Christ, it had to be established within the community itself, and then taken out to those the Society served. He believed that it was not so much the Rule which was the ‘school for sanctity’ but its inner expression, what he termed ‘sacramental friendship’. He wrote:

“Selfishness can be curbed there: growth in holiness (in ‘christlikeness’) is possible there – nowhere else is there such an opportunity.”

There were two sources which shaped his Christian commitment into this particular form. One was India. He taught in Calcutta from 1917 to 1920 and then returned in 1927 to join the Christa Seva Sangha at Pune, staying for three years. Those six years shaped many of his attitudes towards community, for he found in Indian culture a mix of respect and informality which was a contradiction of the (then strong) British tradition of formal behaviour patterns. So, for example, contemporary British culture would have seen gestures of formal respect as boundaries in any interaction. In India, the initial gesture of respect was in order that one can subsequently enjoy a much more relaxed encounter. For Algy, this was a profound understanding of human relationships.

This influence was encouraged by a second, this time back in Britain. This was the Group Movement, or Moral Rearmament, founded by an American Lutheran minister, Frank Buchman, in 1918, its aim being a revival in all churches. Its methods revolved around three concepts. First there was Guidance – this was done by a Quiet Time of group prayer each morning in which the Holy Spirit’s will would be sought. Then came Sharing – this was a time in which members of the group confessed their worries and their sins, and, shockingly for the time, this included frank exchanges about sex. The third element, perhaps predictably for an evangelical revivalist group, was Loyalty. In practice, this meant the Groupists followed what Buchman or his trusted acolytes decreed. After a few years, the movement faded and its long-term effects were minimal, but at its height, thousands flocked to its Summer meetings held in Oxford colleges, the attendees including Brother Douglas, Father Algy and other Franciscans. Algy was enthusiastic at first, but eventually withdrew his support when he saw the authoritarianism of Buchman become more overt and the prospect of the Group Movement evolving into what amounted to a separate church.

However, Algy was nothing if not eclectic in constructing his vision for the Society. He took the lessons of sharing and intimacy he had learned from the Group Movement and put them into the safer context of spiritual direction. Here then was a further development in the Franciscan model of pastoral care. The quality of the relationships or friendships within a community were of direct relevance to the quality of ministry to the poor which that community then provided. Giles had united Adderley’s freedom of work with SDC’s belief in working from a friary. Douglas had added a political dimension to the prophetic witness. Now Algy had contributed a means of fostering the community spirit, on which the foundation of pastoral care would rest.

He also did not neglect to reintegrate Father William’s Glasshampton legacy. Soon after the Second World War, the trustees of the monastery approached the Society of St Francis, asking them to take over care of it. Father Algy visited Glasshampton in April 1947 and was immediately impressed with its potential as a place of retreat for the friars, and a centre for those within the society called to a contemplative vocation. The novice master, Father Francis, also convinced him that the novices should spend a ‘term’ there. Not the whole noviciate, as SDC’s novices had spent at Stanford-le-Hope, but eight or nine months. This has proved a lasting decision and for fifty years this contemplative period has remained a requirement for all those who aspire to join SSF.

The Society of St Francis, therefore, not only united Anglican Franciscan friars but also brought together the different models of pastoral care which had emerged from the ideas of all its various founders. The Society of Divine Compassion did not take part in the merger which created SSF. However, in 1952, fifteen years later, after SDC membership had dwindled to two elderly friars, its work at Plaistow too was taken over by SSF.

One goal which united all the founders and runs like a thread through their history was the need for evangelism. SDC saw its Plaistow ministry to the poor as, “to make Christ live again in their midst”. Giles’s life on the roads was essentially evangelical, as he wished to bring the love of Christ and the good news of the Gospel to those whose lives he believed were spiritually impoverished as well as materially deprived. As for Douglas, he was frustrated by the time spent working on the land in the mid-1920s, bemoaning that, “We must think more of the untilled garden in men’s hearts than of the weeds in the orchard!” Algy repeatedly urged the friars to be give evangelism priority. In 1948, he wrote, “our Franciscan community if it is to be true to its spirit must give itself to the preaching of the Gospel.”

For them all, social injustice could not be combated by political campaigns or charitable works alone. There had to be a witness to society of a different set of attitudes, to foster a greater sense of fairness. Human failings of greed and selfishness could not be abolished, but Franciscans believed that the Gospel offered a way in which they could be redeemed. Evangelism was therefore at the heart of pastoral care for Adderley and all those who followed him, because for them pastoral care was the Gospel in action, the true following of Jesus Christ. This is not to say that pastoral care was a tool for the manipulation of the poor; rather that it demonstrated the love of Christ in human interactions and so was inevitably and inextricably linked to evangelism.

The principles of pastoral care in Anglican Religious communities

The debates over the models for pastoral care within Anglican Franciscanism were therefore not divorced from the expression and commitment to the Christian faith, which was the inner motivation for all these brothers. Looking back over their debates, there are five principles which emerge.

First came the imperative that Franciscans ought to embrace a freedom from power, particularly institutional power, in order to remain free to respond to a variety of calls. As this idea developed in the lives of his successors, this did not mean a freedom from authority, ecclesiastical or secular. Instead, it meant a detachment from positions which gave power over others, so that the community could retain an independence of thought and spirit, and be open to change when circumstances demanded.

Then came the necessity of being rooted in local communities, wherever friars served. This way, any ministry would not be something which appeared imposed from outside, but, in contrast, emerge as part of a solidarity with the poor in their struggles for justice. Friars would be acting out of their own experience of the same conditions instead of from a more intellectually conceived idea of ‘what the poor wanted’.

Next came the principle of giving prayer a priority as a witness in itself. It was not merely an activity to keep a community together, but a valid expression of commitment to the poor. It had its place as a powerful tool in the work of those who sought to improve social conditions. Without the contemplative dimension, the active would be disarmed.

This, in turn, did not mean a refusal to engage in campaigns on issues vital to the well-being of the poor. Indeed, the need to represent in the political arena those who lacked the opportunity or the education or the confidence to speak out for themselves was a significant ministry.

Finally, there emerged the importance of relationships within a community. Working at, and through, such relationships was essential in order to create the spirit in which the various ministries could prosper. In doing so, friars would help create paradigms for relationships within society as a whole.

All these principles can be more closely associated with one of the founders more than the others. Yet, they were the fruit of the collaboration and interaction of a group of different men, who, in response to the same social problems, contributed distinct visions. After fifty years, their ideas were all expressed within one community. The friars had found a strength out of the tensions and divisions within their movement. Although Adderley left SDC in 1897, a hundred years later the Franciscanism he had embraced inspired the largest of all Anglican Religious communities.

Dr Petà Dunstan
St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge, UK