For a number of years we have been, and still are,
of the opinion that the unique Cistercian charism and the contemplative life
has so much to offer the Church of England, and – after much "fasting
& prayer" – we have founded a new religious Order in order to
effectively attempt to fill that gap in the chaos that is the
current Church of England.
We had a brief meeting with the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, at Lambeth, and he was very supportive of this idea of founding a new dispersed and uncloistered religious Order (open to both male priests and laity, whether single, celibate or married).
We confirmed the outline of our vision in writing, and the Archbishop passed this letter, together with our Rule, to then Bishop of Dudley (+David Walker) who is currently the Bishop of Manchester; and who chairs the Advisory Council on the Relations of Bishops and Religious Communities (the Advisory Council). This Council then appointed Abbot Stuart Burns OSB (formerly Abbot of Burford, and now, since the community relocated there, of Mucknell Abbey in Worcestershire) to be our Consultant.
We prepared very detailed Governing Documents, containing our proposed Charter, Rule and Customary. These we have subsequently adopted as our Constitution at a Chapter meeting at Mount St Bernard RC Cistercian Abbey (November 2010).
Our first Bishop Visitor was the Bishop of Horsham (Chichester Diocese), the Rt Revd Mark C.R. Sowerby. Bishop Mark was succeeded on the 30th March 2014 by the Rt Revd Tony Robinson, Bishop for the Areas of Wakefield and Huddersfield (Diocese of West Yorkshire & The Dales - incorporating the former Diocese of Wakefield, and the Pontefract Episcopal Area).
On the 8th September 2011, on the Feast of the Birth of the Virgin Mary, three of our number made their Simple Vows and were clothed in the Cistercian habit before Abbot Stuart Burns OSB, in the presence of our Bishop Visitor, Bishop Mark Sowerby, who also presided at the Profession Eucharist. Our preacher was the Chairman of the Archbishop's Advisory Council, Bishop David Walker.
At their council meeting on Wednesday 6th November 2013, the day after our patronal feastday of Our Lady of Hailes, the Advisory Council on the Relations of Bishops and Religious Communities [AC] has granted our Anglican Order of Cistercians Acknowledgement as an Order – with no abstentions or votes against! This is excellent news, because we now formally and officially take our place amongst the religious orders and communities of the world-wide Anglican Communion. Our Order's details are published on page 161 in the Anglican Religious Life, a yearbook directory of Religious Orders and Communities in the Anglican Communion [Current Edition (2016-2017): ISBN 978-1-84825-776-4].
We have also been asked by the Advisory Council to help in the Council's corporate understanding concerning dispersed communities/orders, and they are hoping that we will be willing to work with the Advisory Council. Because, as the Council informed us, "we are by far and away the most advanced, both in experience of community life, albeit dispersed for most of the year, and in desire to make a life commitment to each other".
It is hoped also that we [singular or plural] may be able to come to meet with the Council or/and the Executive Committee, as the AC take further some of the strands of their debate regarding dispersed monastic communities in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. There is a huge amount of good will – there is also the awesome recognition that the Church needs to get things as right as possible for the whole spectrum of what the Holy Spirit seems to be bringing into being.
From ancient times the Church has had the custom of celebrating each day the liturgy of the hours. In this way the Church fulfils the Lord’s precept to pray without ceasing, at once offering its praise to God the Father and interceding for the salvation of the world. our community is committed to praying five Offices a day, beginning with Vigils at dawn, Matins, Tierce, None, or Sext, Vespers and Compline. We use the Benedictine Daily Prayer Breviary (see below).
Our Order currently consists of three professed brothers and three novices, as well as a number of inquirers (i.e., potential postulants awaiting to
be interviewed by our Deans' Council at a future Chapter meeting).
We have fostered an ecumenical link with the wider Cistercian Order of the Strict Observance, whose Generality is based in Rome. This link is a continuation of a former link that existed between the RC Order of Cistercians (OCSO) and the former Anglican Cistercian Monastery at Ewell (1966-2004). When this community began in 1966 it was clear that modern Anglican Cistercian life would need to be seen as Anglican rather than a copy of a Roman Catholic model. They were accepted as Cistercians on this basis and were voted by the Cistercian Order to be in spiritual communion with our Roman Catholic Cistercian sisters and brothers. What counts for everything is the real call to live the life of a Cistercian in the Anglican Church.
We are an Anglican religious order of lay and ordained brothers and we consider ourselves part of the larger Cistercian family which traces its origin to 1098. As Cistercians we follow the Rule of Saint Benedict and thus we are part of the Benedictine family as well. Our lives are dedicated to seeking union with God, through Jesus Christ whilst living a dispersed and uncloistered form of monasticism.
All Cistercian monasteries are dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God-Incarnate. The foundation day of the Cistercian Abbey of Hailes in Gloucestershire (5 November) is the patronal feast of our Order, and our patroness is Our Lady of Hailes.
The Order is wholly ordered to contemplation and we derive our manner of living the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our spirituality from the following six sources:
1. The Rule of Saint Benedict
Our way of life is in substantial conformity with that mapped out in the Rule of Saint Benedict. The brothers celebrate each day the Liturgy of the Hours. The day is balanced between work, reading and study.
2. The Founders of the Order
Saints Robert, Alberic and Stephen founded the reformed monastery of Cîteaux (France) in 1098. Their aim was to refresh the institutional forms of monastic life and to bring them into closer conformity both with the Rule of Saint Benedict and with the aspirations of the age. In particular this involved an emphasis on simplicity even in the liturgy and manual work.. The prime documents of this period are the Exordium Parvum, describing the origins of the reform, and the Charter of Charity, giving its constitutional basis.
3. Saint Bernard and his Contemporaries
The Cistercian charism evolved greatly during the second and third generations, particularly as influenced by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (+ 1153). In this period there was particular interest in the interior or experiential quality of monastic life, and there was a new emphasis on the importance of both fraternal communion and contemplation.
4. The Reforms of Abbot de Rancé
In the seventeenth century when various factors had caused decline and division in the Cistercian Order, the Abbot of La Trappe, Armand-Jean de Rancé initiated a strong reform movement, supported by his extensive writings and inspired by ancient monastic tradition. His principal emphasis was to insist on the austerity of Cistercian life and its contemplative character.
5. The Post-Reformation Revival of Religious Life in the Church of England
Christian communities are not new; from its earliest days the church has had at its heart groups who have chosen to make a common life of work, prayer and study. Dissolved by King Henry VIII they were born again in the Church of England in the nineteenth century focussing themselves on concerns such as health care and education for the needy or mission work at home and abroad, alongside their regular work of prayer.
The revival of the religious orders within the Church of England was a revival of the pre-Reformation system. One of the tangible results of the Oxford Movement—the revival of religious orders in the Anglican Communion. As long ago as 1839 E B Pusey wrote to J Keble that he and J H Newman had independently been led to recognise the desirability of some Sisters of Charity in the Anglican Church, and on Trinity Sunday, 1841 he received the vows of Marian Rebecca Hughes who in 1844 became the first Superior of the Convent of the Holy and Undivided Trinity at Oxford.
It was not until 1907 that, with the foundation of the first enclosed community, the Sisters of the Love of God, at Fairacres, Oxford, the ‘contemplative’ life was revived. In the previous year, however, the Sisters of the Community of the Holy Comforter, founded at Edmonton, London in 1891, decided to give up active work and adopt the rule of St. Benedict. After ten years at Baltonsborough, Somerset, they moved to Malling Abbey, Kent. Communities for men developed more slowly. The first religious order for men was the Society of St. John the Evangelist, founded in 1865 at Cowley by R.M. Benson. The Community of the Resurrection, founded in 1892 by C. Gore, has been, since 1898, established at Mirfield. The Society of the Sacred Mission, founded by H H Kelly in 1893 was at Kelham from 1903 to 1974; it is now based at Willen Priory, near Milton Keynes. It should be noted that one of the chief works of these two orders has been the training of Anglo-Catholic ordinands.
The Benedictine life for men was first revived by Joseph Leycester Lyne, Father Ignatius, in 1869. The oldest surviving community, now at Salisbury, (from 1926 to 1987 at Nashdom; from 1987-2010 at Elmore near Newbury), sprang from the Benedictine community at Caldey. The period immediately after the First World War saw the establishment of an Anglican Franciscan Order. In 1938 R C S Gofton- Salmond retired to a woodland property near Crawley, Sussex, where the Community of the Servants of the Will of God now follow a contemplative vocation of a semi-eremitical type. Walter Walsh, in his Secret History of the Oxford Movement, makes much of the influence of the Religious Orders of the Oxford Movement, particularly the Society of St. John the Evangelist and suggests they played a significant part in the development of the Oxford Movement within the Church of England.
The emergence of Religious communities in the mid-Victorian period took the Church of England bishops somewhat by surprise. Within the next fifty years, the number of both Religious and Religious communities increased not only in Great Britain, but in other parts of the Anglican Communion. From South Africa to North America, the Indian sub-continent to the Pacific, matters concerning the Religious Life began to be raised for Episcopal judgement. Form the communities’ point of view, their growth and increasing contribution to the Church’s ministry and witness entitled them to some formal recognition from the Episcopal authorities.
The Church of England recognises the importance of Religious communities in the Church and values their life and witness, but has no ecclesiastical law to protect and regulate them. The Advisory Council on the Relations of Bishops and Religious Communities was set up in 1935 to express the Church’s care for the Religious Life by providing a means of Episcopal oversight appropriate to the particular circumstances of the Church of England.
Now, in the 21st Century, there are numerous communities across the worldwide Anglican Communion; their spiritual roots may be catholic, Celtic, charismatic, or be elsewhere. Fresh expressions of religious community life are constantly being explored and new groups are formed even as some older ones complete their tasks.
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