The Religious Life is a way of living the Christian life. It is not something exotic or separate, but at root, a call to prayer and service. God has called many people through the centuries to the life of a ‘Religious’.
The Religious Life is an intense and particular way of living out the call to be a Christian and a person’s baptismal promises. To those who discover such a call, it is demanding yet joyful and fulfilling, a radical way to relate to the challenges of our 21st-century society.
To support them and guide them, Religious in established communities take vows or promises to God. These vows can take different forms and are the mark of monks and nuns, friars and sisters. Some new communities do not ask members to take formal vows but instead simple promises. The traditional vows all include living a simple life sharing possessions (poverty). They also include chastity, which means not being involved in sexual relationships. Some communities do allow members to marry and have families – they have interpreted chastity as meaning faithfulness in marriage. Then there is obedience. The word comes from the Hebrew word for ‘listening’ and means taking seriously the need to work together in a community.
Among Anglicans, there were no nuns and monks in a formal sense until the 1840s. Then both clergy and lay people saw the revival of Religious communities as a way of evangelism and service. Of the many communities founded, some pioneered nursing or education for the poor, or reached out to wayfarers, others concentrated on evangelistic work both in the UK and overseas. All led a dedicated life of prayer alongside their ministries, and some evolved as hidden praying presences.
There have always been different forms of Religious life. Today that is still true. There are communities of men and others of only women, whilst a third group have members of both genders. Some live in their own homes, coming together for regular community times. Some wear distinctive clothes (a’ habit’), others do not. Members of communities can be lay or ordained. There is a wide variety of opportunities for service in this vocation.
The best way for anyone interested in the life is to visit different communities and experience the way of life as a visitor first. Many established communities provide opportunities for people to live alongside them for longer periods of time. Participants commit to helping with the work of the monastery or community – and there is no obligation to join the community afterwards unless the person wishes to explore further.
Anyone interested in learning more can look at community websites. To start, see the website here: www. http://arlife.org.uk/
The Anglican Religious Life Year Book is published every two years and lists all the recognised and acknowledged communities throughout the Anglican Communion.