The first time I discovered religious orders in the Episcopal Church was the fall of 1997. I had just arrived at the Episcopal Urban Intern Program in Los Angeles, and we had our opening retreat at Mount Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara.
It was transformative. The routine of prayer, meals, and silence fed me in a way I didn’t know I needed to be fed. There was abundant room for the Spirit to speak, and I was fascinated by the brothers. They wore habits out in the world, but in their home they tended toward rumpled clothes and Birkenstocks. They all seemed very wise–but had impish senses of humor.
The Episcopal Church–and the wider Anglican Communion–is blessed with many religious orders. There really are Episcopal nuns and monks–and oblates and associates and a number of other ways to engage in a vowed spiritual life. They are young and old, male and female, gay and straight, conservative and liberal–rather like the Episcopal Church as a whole.
And not only are there religious orders in the Episcopal Church, there are members of religious communities here in Arizona in our own diocese! Last night, I met with many of the members of religious communities in Arizona–about 20 of us (Franciscans, Benedictines, and Dominicans!) gathered for sharing, prayer, and the chance to get to know one another more deeply and envision how we might more deeply and effectively encourage religious life in Arizona.
Some orders live in community, take strict vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Those orders often have associates or oblates who are connected to the community and follow a rule of life, but live out in the world. The Conference of Anglican Religious Orders in the Americas (CAROA) has a wonderful website where you can learn more.
Some orders are dispersed, and include people who are single, partnered, and married. They sometimes have secular jobs, are clergy or lay, and connect to the community via prayer and occasional face-to-face retreats and gatherings. The National Associate of Episcopal Christian Communities has a website describing their communities.
One of our most thriving local communities is the Community of St. Mary of the Annunciation in Tempe. In particular, they are attracting young people in their 20s and 30s to join the community. Neo-monasticism holds great appeal for young Christians, as they seek to live authentically, simply, and faithfully in loving communities.
If you are a person of faith who is seeking a deeper relationship with God, and greater direction and accountability in your prayer, affiliating with a religious order may be a path God is calling you to follow. And if you are looking for a spiritual director, a quiet day leader, or a prayer partner, one of our local religious may be someone to turn to. We are developing a page on the diocesan website, which will contain descriptions of each community and contact information for each.