Three ‘Young Franciscans’ enter community in west London

21 September 2018

Young people get a taste of the religious life for a year

Josh Carrot

The Young Franciscan candidates Alex (almost hidden), Charlie, and Miriam, are commissioned by the Archdeacon of Middlesex, the Ven. Stephan Welch

The Young Franciscan candidates Alex (almost hidden), Charlie, and Miriam, are commissioned by the Archdeacon of Middlesex, the Ven. Stephan Welch

A NEW residential community for young people has been established in west London amid a renewal of interest in the religious life over the past few years.

Three “Young Franciscans” were given crosses and robes at a service of commissioning at St Saviour’s, Wendell Park, on the feast of the stigmata of St Francis of Assisi, on Monday evening.

The Priest-in-Charge of St Saviour’s, the Revd Chris Lee, who is a novice of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis, founded the Young Franciscans last year as a non-residential community. A group of 15 young adults continue to meet monthly for dinner and compline at the vicarage.

Mr Lee, who arrived in the parish three years ago, explained: “I realised I was at the top of the food chain in terms of spirituality in the parish, but I knew I had a lot to learn. I wanted to set up something that allowed me more discipline and growth in spirituality and my prayer life.”

He began attending Third Order meetings: “I thought that this is a wonderful, rich thing — but the average age there was 70. There is growing hunger and passion for a deeper level of engagement with God from young people: there is no net to catch that hunger. There are old nets, old wine skins.”

Josh CarrotThe Revd Chris Lee, and the candidates: Alex, Charlie, and Miriam

The idea was to establish a second group of up to five Young Franciscans, he said, who, for a year, will “live by a rhythm of prayer, work, study, and mission” in the house next door.

The candidates on Monday, Miriam, Alex, and Charlie, were presented by Mr Lee, and commissioned by the Archdeacon of Middlesex, the Ven. Stephan Welch, during a sung eucharistEach of them made a commitment to live by a rule of life for the next 12 months.

The rule has been created by Brother Sam, a First Order member of the Society of St Francis and a member of the Young Franciscan steering group. In his sermon, he spoke of the “daunting” sacrifices made by St Francis: the loss of humility, of human relationships, and of “his God” in favour of a God who cannot be manipulated by human desire.

“It may seem daunting and radical, but losing your life to gain it is the bottom line of following Christ,” he said. In return, the novices would gain “hidden depths of treasure” on a journey of self-discovery.

The Young Franciscans will volunteer for charities and churches in the community, pray in the house chapel, take part in weekly meetings and monthly gatherings, and attend three retreats, including a pilgrimage to Assisi, where the Franciscan movement was born.

Josh CarrotBrother Sam delivers his sermonCharlie, who is 19 and works part-time as an administrator at the church, said: “I wanted to follow Jesus in a more close and simple way — which sounds easy, but is actually a challenge, quite radical. I was incredibly inspired by Francis’s journey: he took the gospel and lived it to its distilled form.

“I have never lived in community before; so it is a good step for me. You learn a lot about yourself in community: it is a place where you can encourage one another, and rub each other up the wrong way.

“What is great is that this isn’t just a group of Christians sharing a house: this is people who have pulled together and want to encouragement in the faith; so it feels like we are more like family, more like brothers and sisters than flatmates. You can’t run and hide if you don’t get along.”

The novices will continue in secular employment, and will pay rent. Mr Lee explained: “Financing the community has been a struggle. We hoped to have the diocesan property [next to the vicarage] rent-free, because it is for mission, but there seem to be two heads within the Church, and they had to balance the books. The building was an empty shell before.”

The Minister Provincial for the European Province of the Society, Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, who is on the steering group, said that the latest plan was to establish Young Franciscans as a charity. “This is so exciting. Even though it is not part of the Orders, it is part of the Anglican Franciscan movement, and we would love it to be ecumenical. We are 1000 per cent behind this.”

Mr Lee concluded: “In church life, it is either ordination or bust. Young people are happy to commit in an extreme way, but for a short period rather than for their whole life. We are all tagging on to the renewal of religious life which the Archbishop called for. We see it hopefully as a movement, and a measure that will continue to grow.”

Archdeacon Welch agreed. “It is a great moment,” he said, “and we want a lot more of this: communities within communities, taking that whole experience deeper into the Early Church: those demanding things that the great saints, like Francis, have helped us not to lose sight of.

“Communities present all the things the world is frightened of. The Church needs to be radical, revolutionary, and it needs to be subversive. We should be turning the world upside-down; the nature of our community in its diversity is subversive. We need to show that rootedness and moving in the rhythm of God’s creation, and turning in God’s direction, is gentle and loving, and not to be frightened of. Hopefully, we have sown that seed with these three young people.”

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