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Interest grows in Anglican monastic-life project on Twitter

17 February 2023


A PROJECT that was hatched in a field at Greenbelt festival with the aim of raising awareness of the diversity and richness of the Anglican religious life has been overwhelmed with support and interest.

More than 8000 people now follow the Twitter account @monknunCofE, which sought to offer a space for Anglican religious in the UK to tell their stories to new audiences. Several of those who engaged with the account online are now exploring entering into the religious life themselves, and one of the early enquirers is entering the novitiate of a community this week.

The Anglican Religious Life Project has launched a website to offer stories and resources to those interested in exploring the religious life for themselves. The group behind the project began to discuss the idea at Greenbelt in 2017, and is a mix of Anglican religious in vows, enquirers, and friends of the religious life.

The Revd Thomas Sharp, Succentor of Southwark Cathedral and a member of the Franciscan Third Order, is a founder of the project. He said that the founders had no idea of the level of interest that would ensue when they set up a Twitter account to give the religious a voice. Members of communities were invited to take over the account for a week at a time to post their stories and thoughts.

Mr Sharp said: “Those involved in the project in the early days were stunned by the generosity of religious communities. It takes boldness to share your story when you don’t know what the reaction will be, but it has been overwhelmingly positive. It is their sharing of their lives in such a generous way that has made people so excited about exploring the Anglican religious life.”

Members of orders, he said, had shared honestly the joys and difficulties of their lives, and helped to break down some of the myths about the religious life. “In religious community, there will be times when things are difficult as well as joyful; you are living with people you didn’t choose, but you are committed to them, and there is so much potential for encounter and growth.”

Dom John-Aelred, from the Benedictine House of Initia Nova, who is taking over co-ordination of the project, said that the website would allow people to explore more deeply the Anglican religious life.

Rowan Williams said that the religious life was the best-kept secret in the Anglican Communion. Many communities have been around in the UK for years, and have had a big impact on the Church of England, but so little is known of them. Communities traditionally emerged from the Anglo-Catholic end of the church, but are now emerging from the Evangelical spectrum.

“In some ways, the religious life may be more relevant than it ever was: it gives people a space to breathe. Sister Catherine Wybourne [the digital nun on Twitter, who died last year] described Twitter as an extension of the cloister, and it has been a way of opening the door for people to explore the religious life.”

He said that, while some religious communities were shrinking, others were growing, and there had been a growth in new monastic orders in recent years. Those who were exploring their vocation to the religious life were of all ages, he said.

The Anglican Religious Life Yearbook lists 106 celibate vowed communities, 31 acknowledged communities with vows, and two dispersed celibate religious communities.


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