UK Initiatives Seek Monastic Renewal

By Dodd, Liz | National Catholic Reporter, December 5, 2014 | Go to article overview

UK Initiatives Seek Monastic Renewal


Dodd, Liz, National Catholic Reporter


Religious communities have been quietly present at Lambeth Palace at other times in recent history But no modern archbishop of Canterbury has come up with an arrangement as radical as Justin Welby has proposed.

The Anglican archbishop has announced plans to welcome a group of young people to live and worship together at Lambeth Palace under a Benedictine-inspired rule of life. The community will be dedicated to St. Anselm (1033-1109), a former archbishop of Canterbury and doctor of the church.

From September 2015, 16 people aged 20-35 will embark on a one-year project living as the Community of St. Anselm in Lambeth, dedicating themselves to prayer, study and service. They will live alongside and be supported by four members of the French Catholic community Chemin Neuf, which Welby invited to Lambeth in 2013. The new community's abbot will be Welby himself.

The order of St. Benedict has been an important influence on the archbishop; he has been an oblate of the Anglican Benedictines for several years and his spiritual director is a Catholic monk. A job advertisement has already gone out to recruit a prior. who will be paid an annual salary of [pounds sterling]26,000 (US$42,484).

St. Anselm's is a long way from conventional religious life and the latest example of the "new monasticism." These groups often comprise people in their 20s and 30s who desire a deeper spiritual life alongside working in the world, without committing themselves to lifelong vows, such as the traditional ones of stability and chastity. New models of living in religious communities have also been explored within the Catholic church, where it has often been given an ecumenical spin.

Applications to the community of St. Anselm will be open to anyone, anywhere, from February 2015, including non-Anglicans and married couples. The 16 full-time members will be housed in shared rooms in Lambeth Palace and will be supported by 40 part-time companions. Welby's chaplain, the Rev. Jo Bailey Wells, believes Welby had the idea of creating a religious community at Lambeth even before he was formally appointed. It is the latest in a series of moves that have underscored his own attitude toward prayer: On taking office in March 2013, he named renewal of prayer and religious life his top priority.

With the Community of St. Anselm and Chemin Neuf, Welby is putting prayer at the geographical and administrative heart of the Anglican Communion.

While much emphasis is being put on what the 16 community members will reap from the experience at Lambeth, Wells explained that the archbishop will no doubt derive strength from their presence, saying: "Archbishop Welby exists within a community that is deeply prayerful. It is fundamental to the way he works."

Welby told BBC Radio 4's Sunday program that the members would bear fruit that will benefit the whole church. "They will go back to their homes and when, in 20 or 30 years' time, they're doing something spectacular, in their community or their church, I hope when asked why are you doing it, they say, 'This is what I learnt from the Community of St. Anselm,'" the archbishop said.

While the prior will shape the final screening process. Lambeth Palace says it is not looking for "credentials on a CV," but rather a "longing to go deep and the willingness to make sacrifice and undertake the discipline that monastic life will demand."

There is no sense that Welby's initiative is a means by which to recruit young people to religious life. Wells hopes that the year will enable members to travel for the rest of their lives "in deep communion with God"--whether that is into industry education or the city.

Lambeth Palace believes that a short-term commitment will appeal to young people, to which Wells added: "I think that makes a lot of sense. When people don't understand the nature of vows--even marriage vows--in society at large, we lose confidence in taking them. …

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