Steven Haws celebrates the life of the Community of the Resurrection, founded in 1892
Readers of New Directions will not recognise the illustration showing the Chapel of the Resurrection of Pusey House, Oxford. Long before Temple Moore’s design for a new chapel, this chapel stood in the middle of the garden of Pusey House. Erected in 1891, there seems to be two accounts of the material used to build it: brick and timber or corrugated iron. Without any exterior photographs to substantiate the claim, no one knows for sure what the chapel looked like from the outside. The illustration shows the interior of an earlier chapel, possibly the first and located in the old Pusey House itself. It was in this chapel on the 25th July 1892, the Feast of S. James, six priests made vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience as the founding members of the Community of the Resurrection (CR). Charles Gore became its first Superior. The precursor to CR was the Society of the Resurrection established in October 1887. Gore was its Superior as well as Principal of Pusey House. The Society began with the desire of the priests of Pusey House joined by a common rule, prayer and a commitment to celibacy with the brethren of the Oxford Mission to Calcutta, India who had been encouraged to look towards Pusey House as their English base. The SR consisted of priests, some who were founder members of CR. There were members of the Society of the Resurrection who felt drawn to the Religious Life at Cowley where they became novices of SSJE before making their profession in the presence of their Superior and Founder, Father Richard Meux Benson.
CR spent a year at Pusey House before moving to Radley, Oxfordshire, in 1893 when Gore became Vicar of the parish. James Nash CR succeeded Gore when the latter became a Canon of Westminster Abbey where the first branch house of the Community had opened in 1895. When the Community settled at ‘Hall Croft’ in the West Riding town of Mirfield in January 1898, there were eleven brethren. As the former home of mill owner Thomas Hague Cook, ‘Hall Croft’ became the House of the Resurrection, the Mother House of the Community of the Resurrection. From 1914, the Community opened a priory based in London, subsequently having moved in six different locations in the metropolis until the closure of St Michael’s Priory in Covent Garden in 2003. As one of the most influential communities of men within the Anglican Communion, CR made significant contributions in its 130 years, not least in its ministry of hospitality, education and social justice.
In 1903, the Bishop of Pretoria invited CR to work in South Africa where it established churches and schools. A theological college under the patronage of St Peter soon opened and for the next 70 trained most of the Anglican clergy in the Transvaal, including Desmond Tutu.
Ten priories opened where the brethren lived among Native Africans. From South Africa, CR established a priory in Zimbabwe where the brethren had charge of S. Augustine’s Mission. It also had a House of Residence in Borneo for about three years. In the UK between 1904 and 1977, four new priories had been opened: Leeds (Priory of S. Wilfrid, Hostel of the Resurrection), Lis Escop, Truro (1923-1935 when Walter Frere CR was Bishop of Truro), Cardiff (S. Teilo’s Priory), and Sunderland (Emmaus).
In 1955, an invitation to establish a CR presence in the West Indies was accepted based at Codrington College and later in S. David’s parish. The brethren, both priests and lay brothers, known for their evangelical and Catholic fervour in leading parish missions, retreats, quiet days, and schools of prayer were also engaged in writing books and tracts on such subjects as the political and social attitudes during the 19th and 20th centuries, ecumenism and church unity. From Gore, Figgis, Bull, Longridge, Frere, Thornton and Huddleston, to Curtis, Raynes and Williams down to our present day, a number of brethren have written books on spirituality, prayer, monastic life, reconciliation, church history and other subjects.
The ministry of the ‘Mirfield Fathers’ extended beyond the United Kingdom, South Africa, Zimbabwe and the West Indies. Brethren made frequent visits to America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand where they conducted missions and retreats as well as preaching engagements in parishes and to university students.
As the Community grew, the need for a more permanent church became a necessity. No longer fit for purpose was the first chapel in the House in use from 1898 to 1902 located in what is now the Superior and Secretary’s office. The second chapel (now the Old Library on the first floor) had been in use for ten years until 1912 when the first phase of the Chapel of the Resurrection was completed. In 1938, a new Community church incorporating the chapel at the east end opened. Seventy-one years later, a major refurbishment project began in church that included removal of steps leading into the Resurrection chapel with new underfloor heating, new lighting, sound system and decorating. To enhance the monastic space, new wooden choir chairs replaced the choir-stalls and screens. During the Community’s Festival Day in July 2017 the Community Church was re-hallowed by the then Visitor to CR, Graham James, Bishop of Norwich. A year later on 7th July, 2018, the Bishop of Wakefield, Tony Robinson, consecrated the new central altar placed between the tombs of Bishop Gore and Bishop Frere.
Until 2009, CR had two retreat houses. Many will have fond memories of St Francis House, Hemingford Grey, and the programme of retreats and quiet days conducted by CR Fathers and Brothers. SSJE, SSM and SSF were among the other religious involved in conducting retreats at St Francis House. After the closure of Hemingford Grey, the Retreat House at Mirfield continues to offer preached and seasonal themed retreats, quiet days and conferences on a broad range of subjects in contemporary society including environmental issues and race relations.
Some brethren are engaged in theological education with various partners who share the Mirfield site with us. These include The Mirfield Centre, two theological colleges, a liturgical institute, and school of ministry under the auspices of the Diocese of Leeds. Brethren are also involved in hospital chaplaincy, working with victims of crime, ecumenical links with local parishes. For more than fifty years, CR has had a link with the Roman Catholic Benedictine Abbey of St Matthias in Trier, Germany.
The bonds of goodwill and unity between our Roman Catholic brothers has continued with annual visits between the two communities. For several years, CR has had a link with the Sisters of Vitorchiano, a Cistercian Benedictine foundation in Italy where both communities are united in prayer for the unity of God’s people.
During the late 1950s and early 1960s, CR reached its numerical peak with some ninety brethren, not quite attaining one hundred, but pretty close. Over the next three or four decades, the number of Religious within the Church of England has declined and CR has not been an exception. Within the last twenty-five years, the decline had escalated to the point where some communities simply died out. Our residential overseas work ended in 2006 and we no longer have any priories but our commitment to a new project, Tariro, (see p.10) has borne much fruit among children and young people in Zimbabwe. Our link with South Africa has not diminished and we continue to support our brothers and sisters in prayer and in a number of projects.
God is still working his purposes out for those of us who believe that traditional celibate Anglican Religious Communities has a place and part to play within the wider Church. There are still men who feel a genuine call to explore such a life as lived in CR and we give thanks that there are those who wish to discern such a call. Come and see whether God is calling you to a life in the Community of the Resurrection. During the past 130 years of our history, there have been many changes, comings and goings, new works begun, other works ending, some disappointments and failures, but also achievement and satisfaction. There have been risks taken and the many challenges the Community as a whole has had to face. In the midst of sorrow, there is joy, and hope for whatever the future might hold for the Community of the Resurrection.
Br Steven CR is a member of the Community of Resurrection, Mirfield.