Archbishop of Canterbury praises role of religious communities in the Anglican Communion

17 June 2019

The place of religious communities – monks and nuns – in the Anglican Communion has been praised by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. Speaking at an Anglican Communion conference at St Paul’s University in Limuru, Kenya, last month, Archbishop Justin said: “Religious communities are an integral part of the church today and in places they are a vibrant part of the church.”

The conference brought together delegates from 14 nations and from 10 different religious communities. Members of the Anglican Church of Kenya also took part in the event. In his address, Archbishop Justin gave a ringing endorsement to their place and contribution to the mission of the church. He highlighted the work of the Melanesian mission sisters “in leading the church through times of civil war and difficulty in the Solomon Islands [and] in members of that mission working out of the love of Christ for the sake of the reconciliation of their country.”

He said that “people who are called and hear the call to take up the religious life are ordinary people who are willing to do the extraordinary, which is put their lives in the hands of God with the aim – as we find in the Rule of St Benedict set out again and again and again – of learning what it is to be in obedience to Christ and to walk together with Christ.”

The conference ran from 29 May to 2 June and was organised by the Theological Education department at the Anglican Communion Office. It was the third of three conferences on the Archbishop’s priorities of reconciliation, evangelism, and the renewal of prayer and the religious life.

It was organised by the Revd Canon Dr Stephen Spencer, Director for Theological Education in the Anglican Communion, along with Project Manager Dr Muthuraj Swamy. Dr Spencer described how the re-founding of religious communities in the Church of England in the 19th century had been “like a stone dropped into a pond”. He said that this conference had shown that the ripples from that stone were now reaching across the globe.

Religious Communities for women and for men were started in the Church of England in the middle of the 19th century and spread to many parts of the Anglican Communion, especially those provinces inspired by the Anglo-Catholic revival. Members of the communities make life vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and put a big emphasis on praying together four or five times every day.

One of the delegates, Brother Emmanuel, the founder of a Francophone Benedictine community in Cameroon, described how encouraging it was to learn that Anglican brothers and sisters are found across the world. Sister Jemma, from a Franciscan community in South Korea, described how in all the diversity of communities there was a strong common life.

The conference had given a boost to the vision of a number of women in Kenya, including female clergy, to establish a religious community in the country which current has no Anglican religious community.

The papers and responses from the conference will be published early in 2020 in the third of three volumes from all three conferences. The first two have just been published and were launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury during the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Hong Kong in May.

They are being published to help the Anglican Communion prepare for the next meeting of the decennial Lambeth Conference of Anglican Bishops, which will take place in Canterbury, England, next year. Part of their role has been to raise up the voices of theologians from the global south, which now represent the majority of active Anglicans in the world.

  • Walking Together: Global Anglican Perspectives on Reconciliation
    ed. Swamy and Spencer
    Forward Movement, ISBN 978-0-880-28474-5

  • Witnessing Together: Global Anglican Perspectives on Evangelism and Witness
    ed. Swamy and Spencer
    Forward Movement, ISBN 978-0-880-28475-2