What is a Christian Community?
According the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church, a Christian Community "of this Church under this Canon is a society of Christians (in communion with the See of Canterbury) who voluntarily commit themselves for life, or a term of years, in obedience to their Rule and Constitution.”
This is a bit different from the Church’s definition of a Religious Order, which specifies vows of celibacy and obedience along with common ownership of possessions. Nevertheless, you will hear Christian Communities also referred to as religious orders, and members often refer to themselves as “Religious.”
What do Christian Communities have in common?
By the Canon, religious communities have three things in common: voluntary commitment, a Rule, and a Constitution. Each Community will also have a particular charism, a set of spiritual gifts that is the community’s main focus.
The community’s Constitution simply describes how the community is organized and how decisions are made. The Rule describes how members live their lives. Each member makes vows to the community, similar to those made in Religious Orders. Unlike Religious Orders, most communities substitute a vow of “simplicity” for that of “poverty,” recognizing that members of that order still have to make a living in the world. Communities often include those in committed relationships, so the vow is often of chastity, instead of celibacy.
Each religious community has its own process of formation, a time when a proposed member studies the community’s way of life, carries out assigned exercises, and begins to develop the habits necessary for lifelong dedication to living the life of the community. At some point, the proposed member asks to be allowed to profess life vows and take on the full life of the community.
Most Christian Communities are “dispersed.” Members live in their own homes, without a central “house.” They usually participate in their local parish life and, if not clergy, have secular careers.
What Christian Communities are present in the Diocese of Missouri, and how do they differ?
Currently our diocese includes members of the Anglican Order of Preachers, the Order of St. Francis, the Anamchara Fellowship, and the Rivendell Community.
- The Anglican Order of Preachers is the Anglican expression of Dominican spirituality, whose charism derives from St. Dominic de Guzmán’s vision of a preaching and teaching order. Dominican life is defined by four “Pillars”: prayer, study, community, and preaching (outreach).
- The Order of St. Francis expresses Franciscan spirituality within the Episcopal Church and Anglican Community. They can often be found working with the poor, with food charities, or simply providing personal ministry to people they meet on the street.
- Anamchara Fellowship uses a Celtic approach to spirituality within the Episcopal Church. With the charisms of hospitality, generosity, compassion, and love, members of the community provide spiritual direction, pastoral care, and catechesis.
- The Rivendell Community strives to live Eucharistically, offering themselves in thanksgiving, intercession and adoration for the nourishment and healing of the world, and extending God’s hospitality to others.
How can I find out more?
Many people are satisfied with their walk of faith, but often someone will feel the need for something more: a deeper, more spiritual way of life. If you are one of the latter, life in a religious community may be where you belong.
- The Episcopal Church has an excellent web page with an official list of Anglican Orders and Communities along with discernment advice
- For more information about religious Communities in general, see the National Association of Episcopal Religious Communities.
Author Mike Malone, PhD, is a recent postulant in the Anglican Order of Preachers and Verger of Holy Cross Episcopal Church in Poplar Bluff. An instructor at Three Rivers College and a professional software developer, Dr. Malone is also a Taekwondo Black Belt. Active in Poplar Bluff's theater scene, this winter he'll direct an old-time radio version of “A Christmas Carol."