One influence on me that has only recently become clear was that of an Anglican religious order named the Society of St. John the Evangelist, founded by Fr. Richard Meux Benson back in 1866 in England. Commonly known as the Cowley Fathers after the church where Fr. Benson served as curate, its spiritual tradition has been described as a cross between Trappist and Ignatian. (In the US, its house in Cambridge, Mass., has a chapel with a stained glass window showing a Basque kneeling while offering his sword.) Their contemplative life is matched with active forms of outreach.
Two former members of the Society live here in Manila. One of them, Fr. Joseph Frary (who has been mentioned in the past), first introduced me to the order. The other, Fr. Charles “Joe” Mock, who is assistant chaplain at Brent School, then introduced me to their Rule, about seven years later. Fr. Charles (to avoid confusion with the other Fr. Joe) keeps close ties to the Society, being a member of its associate group the Fellowship of St. John and an annual retreatant at their main US house.
Fr. Charles shared his copy of the Rule with me, and he says that he found it very fruitful. The American congregation adopted this new Rule in 1996, and felt that it would serve a great need outside the Society that they decided to make it more widely available. Given what the some Christian communities need in this country right now (and of course, given what some of us, myself included, need), I think this will serve the purpose of stimulating reflection on what being a Christian in community is about, from a different perspective—given the faddish tendency to adopt certain “worldly” paradigms of church growth.
This long introduction leads me to the passage that struck me last Monday, while waiting for an old friend. This comes from a chapter on “The Challenges of Life in Community” (emphases mine). Here it is:
“The first challenge of community life is to accept wholeheartedly the authority of Christ to call whom he will. Our community is not formed by the natural attraction of like-minded people. We are given to one another by Christ and we are called to accept one another as we are. By abiding in him we can unite in a mutual love which goes deeper than personal attraction. Mutual acceptance and love call us to value our differences of background, temperament, gifts, personality, and style. Only when we recognize them as sources of vitality are we able to let go of competitiveness and jealousy.”
– The Rule of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Chapter 5.
(The Rule was published by Cowley Publications, which has recently been bought out by another publishing house.)