THIS is the third of three volumes relating to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s three priorities for the Anglican Communion. This third volume is on the renewal of prayer and the religious life, which Archbishop Welby acknowledges as being the most important of his three priorities.
The book contains chapters mostly based on papers presented at the Theological Education for Mission in the Anglican Communion (TEMAC) conference held at St Paul’s University, Limuru, Kenya, in May 2019. As I read the accounts of how people pray in Kenya, South Sudan, Myanmar, Korea, Melanesia, and the Solomon Islands, where Anglicans have experienced persecution and martyrdom, domestic violence, the ill-treatment of women, and the fight for social justice, I was reminded of T. S. Eliot’s lines from “Little Gidding”, “You are here to kneel Where prayer has been valid.” It has been valid prayer in those places which has held communities together, led to action, and brought healing and growth.
Most of the authors are theologians writing from within their own cultural context, and the second section of the book looks at theological foundations. Some chapters have a response from another theologian, taking issue with, questioning, or expanding on what has been written. When you are writing from within one culture, it illuminates the discussion to have a feedback response from someone from another culture.
Five chapters look at the renewal of religious (monastic) communities. While some Anglican Provinces in the West struggle with vocations, the Sisters of the Church find no shortage of vocations in the Solomon Islands, and the Melanesian Brotherhood has 300 professed brothers and 200 novices. A new Benedictine community in Cameroon draws on the ancient wisdom of traditional monasticism, adapted to meet its social contextual needs.
The final section, “Innovation in the Religious Life”, looks at new expressions of people living in community, some under the same roof and others as a dispersed community. Two communities based at Lambeth Palace are described. The ecumenical Chemin Neuf Community, with its roots in the Roman Catholic Church, comprises vowed celibate members and married couples, some members living together and others near by, but meeting regularly to pray and be community.
The ecumenical Community of St Anselm, also based at Lambeth, draws from the riches of the Benedictine, Franciscan, and Ignatian traditions to provide young people from various parts of the world with a life of prayer, study, and service to the poor. A chapter also describes the Franciscan Third Order and the Church Mission Society as being dispersed communities, with their own charisms, whose members are united in prayer and mission to the world.
This book is a collection of different people’s experiences of prayer and community from within their cultural contexts, and clearly what may work in one context will not necessarily work in another. A common feature is the importance of the liturgical Daily Office to provide a rock on which to build a life of communal and personal prayer. In trying to discern from the writers what brings about renewal in praying communities, I found that three things shone through: first, a deep longing for God; second, a real love for one another; and, third, a passion for their apostolate.
The Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS is a former Bishop of Monmouth.
Listening Together: Global Anglican perspectives on renewal of prayer and the religious life
Muthuraj Swamy and Stephen Spencer, editors
Forward Movement £12
Church Times Bookshop £10.80