I was interested to read the other day the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech on the religious life
Religious communities have played an important part in the life of the church ever since the 4th century when in protest at the decadence of the church men and women went out into the desert to pursue a simple, spiritual life of prayer and worship and service. Of course over the centuries many of these religious communities themselves became established and suffered from the all the problems of being an institution. And in the Protestant West most were simply swept away at the Reformation.
However that was not quite the end of the story. During the 19th century, partly as a reaction to the Industrial Revolution, religious communities were set up again, and today there is once more a network of Anglican monasteries and retreat houses across the country. Out of these communities sprung up some remarkable work in often the poorest and neediest areas of our cities. Although I am not an avid follower of Call the Midwife, that programme has drawn attention once again to the massive good that so many religious communities made over the years – something that tends to be forgotten as the influence of the Christian faith is becoming increasingly airbrushed out of our history.
What might a religious community look like in our area? That’s a question I have often wondered and I have long been a supporter of Lee Abbey and their vision of Small Missional Communities. I want to challenge you to imagine a dedicated group of Christians, say, living according a simple rule of life and working to serve the local area in Devonport. Is that an impossible dream? What would happen if we heeded the Archbishop’s call for a wild burst of fresh and Spirit-fuelled imagination in regard to the religious life? When people begin having the same dream, then you never quite know where the Lord might lead you.