Considering the Religious Life – a resource post

When I approached my diocesan director of vocations to discuss my vocation, I was surprised to find that he didn’t have any resources or reading lists to give to someone interested in the Religious Life. I left with a reading list tailored for someone considering ordination, which didn’t really address my questions.

This post will contain resources that either I have used or that have been recommended to me by friends who have explored the Religious Life (disclaimer – I’ll check everything as thoroughly as I can, but I haven’t read everything on here.) If you have any further suggestions, please leave me a comment, or contact me through twitter (@joanna_hollins). The resources on this post are intended to focus on Anglican Religious Communities, but I hope will be useful for anyone discerning a vocation, and will draw on materials from other traditions as I find them.

Ultimately, the best way to explore is to speak to someone living the life, and to visit and spend time with a Community. Send an enquiring email, drop in to their celebration of the Eucharist, send them a tweet… it doesn’t matter how tentative your enquiry is, how little you may feel you know about nuns & monks, how long you’ve been thinking about it – we like enquirers. Come and see.

This doubly applies to vocations advisers – please come and spend time with your nearest community, and use the resources out there!

Books

The Anglican Religious Life Yearbook (ed. Dr Peta Dunstan). Updated annually, it includes contact information and general information for every community in the Anglican Communion, including a summary of the character and charism of the community, guest house information, the size of the current community, their oblates and associates, and whether they take Alongsiders. It also includes a few short articles and many pictures! The Yearbook is due to be replaced by a website in Sept 2019, but can still currently be purchased as a hardcopy.
Books about the Religious Life, Community & Discernment

  • Community and Growth by Jean Vanier
  • Anglican Religious Life: A Well-Kept Secret? ed. Br Nicholas Stebbing CR
  • What are you looking for? Seeking the God who is seeking you by Joan Chittester.
  • Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life by Fr. Christopher Jamison OSB
  • Monastic Practices by Charles Cummings OCSO
  • Crossing: Reclaiming the landscape of our lives by Mark Barrett OSB
  • The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
  • Selling All and Finding the Treasure by Sandra M Schneider IHM
  • The Calling by Catherine Whitney
  • Poverty, Chastity & Obedience by H.A. Williams CR
  • Towards a New Day by Ralph Martin SSM
  • A Simplified Life by Verena Schiller
  • Stolen Daughters, Virgin Mothers by Susan Mumm
  • The Disciple’s Call ed. Fr Christopher Jamison OSB
  • Discerning Religious Life by Sr Clare Mathiass CFR

On specific areas within monastic life:

Franciscan

  • Franciscan Spirituality: Following St Francis Today by Br Ramon SSF; and for further enquiry into Franciscanism, Augustine Thompson OP’s Francis of Assisi: A New Biography
  • Joy in all things
  • The writings of Clare of Assisi
  • Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone by Susan Pitchford

Benedictine

  • Monastery of the Heart and The Way We Were by Joan Chittister
  • Benedictine Tapestry by Felicitas Corrigan
  • St Benedict’s Toolbox by Jane Tomaine
  • The Oblate Life

Carthusian

  • The Way of Silent Love
  • The Spirit of Place
  • The Call of Silent Love

Accounts & Memoirs of the Religious Life

The Choice by Sr. Kirsty CSMV (Community of St Mary the Virgin)

Together and Apart: A memoir of the Religious Life by Sr. Ellen Stephen OSH

New Habits: Today’s Women Who Choose To Become Nuns by Isabel Losada

Unveiled: Nuns Talking by Mary Loudon

A list of suggested reading material can be found on the Anglican Religious Communities website here.
Audiovisual resources

Anglican Sister Journey – a wonderful youtube channel documenting a journey into Anglican Religious Life, and answering questions about it. Recent, informative, honest, and engaging, Lizzie covers everything from the mundane realities of daily life (what toiletries do nuns use? can they go to the shops?) to exploring spirituality, questioning vocation and the challenges of entering a convent.

Discerning Hearts is a podcast resource from the Roman Catholic Church, with podcasts ranging from spiritual direction, RC social teaching, bible study and vocations guidance.

The Pauline Sisters are a Roman Catholic order dedicated to spreading the world of God through the media. Amongst other work, they publish books & AV material, run bookshops, and create multimedia resources (and many of them can be found on social media). Their website includes many helpful resources on the Religious Life.
Online

The Religious Life page on the Church of England’s website contains useful summary information, including jargon busting and lists of Anglican Communities in the CofE.

Arcie (Anglican Religious Communities) may be helpful in locating a UK based community, and includes useful reading suggestions. The website is slightly out of date, but information appears to be accurate.

The Roman Catholic Office for Vocations in the UK has an excellent website for the Religious Life, including links to RC communities, vocations stories, a discernment app, reading lists and further resources on the Religious Life.

RoOT (Religious of Orthodox Tradition) are a group affiliated to The Society who promote the religious life across the Church of England. Amongst other projects they regularly organise Monastic Taster Days. These vary in location across the country and offer enquirers a chance to meet religious brothers, sisters, monks & nuns, ask questions, and hear their stories. Resources on their website include contact information, a novena for the religious life, resources to help promote the religious life, and information about upcoming taster days. (I attended one of these days in 2016 and found it very helpful. Although organised by The Society religious and enquirers from across the spectrum of the Anglican Church attend.)
Ways to explore: New Monastic Communities, Internships, Pastoral Assistants & more!

Communities with residential options:

The Community of St Anselm The Community of The Tree of Life The Holywell Community The Iona Community Lee Abbey The Scargill Movement L’Arche UK The Northumbria Community The Othona Community Way2Community

Dispersed communities:

The Community of Aidan and Hilda The Third Order of The Society of St Francis (TSSF) Community of Hopeweavers Contemplative Fire The Order of Anglican Cistercians The Order of Mission Martha’s House

The Single Consecrated Life – a fresh expression of the Religious Life. Adherents are not part of a religious community, but are connected through the SCL network.

Internships & Ministry Experience:

The CofE Ministry Experience Scheme • More to be added later!

*categorising these communities is challenging, so I have attempted to divide them on the basis of whether members can live in community, or are dispersed, on the grounds that this may be a useful starting point for those discerning vocation. I have included communities such as the Iona Community in ‘residential’ because they offer opportunities to volunteer for extended periods in one location, forming a temporary residential community, although most members are dispersed.

Four Sermons and a Goodbye

If by some mistake you’ve visited this blog before, you may notice the lack of posts from the last year. But although I haven’t shared much here, I have been writing – in rather a different form! Although poetry continues to be an important part of my life, my writing this year has principally reflected my role as a member of the Holywell Community, a new monastic community based in Abergavenny. In this role I’ve written and delivered sermons, intercessions, and children’s talks; ghost-written for the church guide book; written blogs, flyers, project ideas and advertising material for the community; edited blogs, sermons and other documents for friends and colleagues; and even started a few projects of my own! At the moment, my main focus isn’t writing, but reading: I’m enjoying the freedom of self-motivated studying, and have enjoyed dipping my toes into the Welsh language, science-fiction, and Christian theology over the year. I’m currently reading Thomas Merton’s No Man Is An Island, and enjoying getting to know the Bible a little better.

The greatest writing challenge of the year has, without a doubt, been the experience of being asked to preach. It’s nerve-wracking, stressful, and wonderful. I speak with my hands: the teacher who ran my secondary-school debating society once told me that I looked as if I was ‘pitchforking my opponent’. Every time I’m wracked with anxiety about my lack of formal qualifications in theology, and whether I have any right to speak or knowledge to share. But the Holy Spirit is good, and so far, it’s been a really uplifting experience – at least for me!

Although this may seem a little naive to those who write sermons every week, I’ve decided to share my four wee ones here. Any feedback from regular sermon writers would be welcome.

My first sermon! 17th December 2017. Readings: Malachi 3 1-4; 4 and Philippians 4 4-7. On the theme of ‘The Fuller’s Fire’.

Jesus as High Priest: What’s in a name? 14th January 2018. Readings: Isaiah 60 9-22 and Hebrews 6 17- 7 10.

Children of the Living God – my last sermon in Abergavenny. 17th June 2018. Readings: Jeremiah 7 1-16 and Romans 9 14-26.

Being broken, being whole: a sermon for the patronal festival of St Mary Magdalene, preached at Piddington with Horton Church on the 22nd of July 2018. Readings: John 20 verses 1 and 11-18.

Finally, I’d like to share my farewell message on the Holywell Community blog. It’s been a wonderful year, and I wish every blessing on the new community as their year begins later this month. To new adventures!