Fr Peter Huckle SSJE looks to the future of St Edward’s House, Westminster
‘The best kept secret in the Anglican Church’. The words of the Archbishop of Canterbury regarding the Religious Communities – and how true they are! You might find it difficult to believe the number of times people say to me ‘Monks? They only exist in the Catholic Church.’ Leaving aside the implications of trying to define ‘Catholic’, I try to gently tell them that there have been Communities of Anglican Sisters for 150 years and of monks (using that word loosely) for 135 years.
Here and now
So what is the present situation? On the face of it, not good. Some Communities have folded completely, others are down to two or three members who realize that their work for God has come to a natural conclusion and they are ending their time continuing (and deepening) their life of prayer – and how the Church needs that! Others (and I hope this includes us) are trying to rediscover their roots and revitalize, and some, thank God, are succeeding in that. We have had two Life Professions in the last six months.
The fateful decision to ordain women had as big an impact on us as it did on the whole Church. For the women’s Orders, they had to face the possibility (since realized) of one or more of their own applying for ordination. For the men’s Orders the situation was easier – they have the right to say who celebrates at their altars anyway. But even they were faced with possible splits as some members accepted women priests, invited them to lead retreats in the Houses, and thus allowed them to celebrate. Some Orders were big enough to split into autonomous Houses, some Houses accepting women priests, others not, while still maintaining normal relationships between their Houses, attending Chapters together and so on. In most Communities, two or three members joined Forward in Faith and their views were respected and admitted by all the Community, which is what happened here. In other words, our problems exactly mirror the problems of the Church as a whole.
Very shortly after that time, Traditional Religious from different Communities got together for an Annual Conference and shared their problems, learned much from each other, and began to look outwards again. Thus a very brief summary of the present situation.
Forward in Prayer
So what about the future? Forward in Faith has once again shown that it is not a group who simply hark back to some mythical ‘good old days’ but is looking to continue to build the authentic Catholic Faith in the Anglican Church. They early on instituted regular vocations conferences and realized that ‘vocation’ was not just to parish ministry, but covered many different fields. The conferences have included a Religious to talk about that calling, a ‘first’ I believe. (Now I expect a flood of letters saying that the diocese of Outer Mongolia has always done that!) There has been some feedback from those conferences. But that field does not tap women for their Orders or men who see their vocation to a lay ministry, and all the men’s Communities are for both lay and ordained. What can we do? After all this preamble, I come to the reason for these ramblings. From all the readers of New Directions (well, perhaps not all or I will never get time to read them all!) I am looking for thoughtful and prayerful ideas for possible future directions for Religious.
Crisis of Commitment
Is there, in the twenty-first century, a place for people to make just a five or ten year commitment, rather than for a lifetime? Some Orders have experimented with that, but it has enormous (though not insurmountable) problems with regard to, for example, voting rights, which are normally restricted to life professed; pensions if they miss ten years working life and so on. How do we reach lay people, if the vocations conferences are at least beginning to reach potential ordinands? What is the place of people attached to an Order, but living and working in the world? We have a Fellowship (men and women, lay and ordained) who live their normal lives but make a simple Rule of Life. Many orders have something similar – the Franciscans have their tertiaries, for example. Some, including ourselves, have Oblates, people who make a serious offering of their lives and their work in the world, but also have a commitment to the Society, an offering which is renewed at a simple ceremony annually. We also have Internal Oblates who make an annual commitment, live with us, have the intention of at least exploring life vows, but may leave at the time of their annual renewal if it is not for them. They have their pension right safeguarded and by changing our statutes they may vote on certain matters after a period of time. Has the time come for there to be a new Community, where the two or three members from various other Communities who are of our integrity get together? If so, how do we combine the very different ethos of each of us into one?
Stewardship of Resources
In another area, how can we (and that includes you all) make the best use of our buildings? We have made a commitment to retain our House right here in the middle of London with its 10 guest bedrooms. We host regular preached retreats (details available from the undersigned), we have many groups who meet here regularly from many different fields, though they must all be non-profit making organizations. Parishes organize Quiet Days here, some led by one of us, others DIY. Many individuals come and stay here for a few days for their own private retreats, with or without direction from one of us. But it is a large and expensive House to maintain, and we wish to continue to be able to offer help to those who might find commercial rates – which we have to charge for those who can afford it – too much. Are there groups and individuals who don’t even know of the existence of St Edward’s House right in the centre of London, and what use might they make of it?
I am asking for any comments, questions, brickbats or bouquets to be sent to me. I don’t guarantee to reply to them all individually – it will depend how many come! – but what I will do is to undertake to publish a summary of the replies and hope to draw some conclusions from it, and thus to continue our move into the twenty-first century.
Letters or e-mails to: Fr Peter Huckle SSJE, St Edward’s House, 22 Great College Street, Westminster, London SW1P 3QA. Email: frpeterssjeuk@talk2l .com