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Taking inspiration from legacies in London monastery

Taking inspiration from legacies in London monastery


Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of posts from Miranda Harrison-Quillin. Miranda was specially invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to work and pray in the monastic community of St. Anselm, at Lambeth Palace in London for 10 months. In this submission, she talks about the vows and sacrifices of monastic life and the legacy left behind by John and Charles Wesley.

“Isn’t it difficult to go without?” asked the restaurant server with genuine curiosity.

“What exactly do you mean by that?” I replied.

This is a photo of worship night at Westminster Abbey. The final resting place of 17 monarchs, Benedictine monks first came to this site in the middle of the 10th century, establishing a tradition of daily worship that continues to this day. It's also considered a treasure house of paintings and stained glass.

He clarified by saying, “not just romance, but everything. Aren’t you just dying?”

​I soon found his question was inspired by a pre-conceived notion that monastic life must be terrible because of all the rules.

“Following the rules is not difficult,” I said. “Compared with having to put the needs of 12 other people above my own, that’s what’s difficult.”

So then, what is a United Methodist from Florida doing in a monastic community in London? For the answer, we need not look much farther than John and Charles Wesley.

The Methodist movement began with John and Charles Wesley searching for a way to actively live faith, as opposed to passively assenting to a collection of principles.

John was heavily influenced by the Orthodox Church of the east, which is, in effect, a monastic church. His Holy Club met regularly to reflect on their lived faith and asked themselves the famous 22 questions. These included, "Am I a slave to dress, friends, work or habits?"  "Do I pray about the money I spend?" "Did the Bible live in me today?"  

Essentially, the Wesleys were asking the same questions that are raised in monastic traditions.

The most famous of the monastic rules is the Rule of St. Benedict. It includes conflict management strategies and instructs members to welcome all guests as if they were welcoming Christ.

My Community of St. Anselm takes inspiration from the legacies of three of the great religious communities: Benedictine, Franciscan and Ignatian. Broadly, our prayer life is modeled after the Benedictine way. Our service to the poor is modeled after the Franciscan way. Our study is modeled after the Ignatian emphasis on scholarship as worship. We don't attempt to follow three rules of life, rather we follow a rule which combines major threads from these communities.

The traditional vows made by monastic communities are poverty, chastity and obedience. While each community defines closely how each of these vows takes shape within their own context, they are generally accepted to be lifelong commitments to live in a prescribed way.

In the community of St. Anselm, we made no formal proclamation of these vows, but we do live them in our own way, even if just for this year. We live poverty not by choosing to walk barefoot and eschewing comforts like a warm bed and regular meals. Rather, we live poverty by renouncing our own will and desires in every moment. We eat the food which has been purchased from a common budget and prepared for us by our brothers and sisters, even if it is not what we’re craving for dinner that day.

Two Methodist members of St. Anselm joining Miranda Harrison-Quillin are Michael Lindsay, left, from the Mississippi Annual Conference, and Samuel Murillo Torres, a pastor in the Methodist Church of Mexico. The statue is of John Wesley.

We submit our idea of a well-planned day to the schedule of the community. We put our preferences in a place of secondary or tertiary importance compared to the needs of the community. We have our needs met, but our preferences no longer dictate our choices. 

We live chastity by refraining from pursuing any romantic relationships at a time when our peers are dating and planning lives with their significant others. When in a relationship or marriage, the members of the relationship are their own community and, hopefully, put the needs of the other before themselves.

Conversely, we in the community of St. Anselm commit to being available to each of our brothers and sisters and to those we serve in our charities. We want to give this year completely to God and those around us, which would not be possible if we were already giving ourselves fully in a marriage.

We are obedient to God through our brothers and sisters and our superiors. We have an Abbot, Archbishop Justin Welby; a prior, Rev. Anders Litzell, and a sub-prior, Sr. Sonia. We obey the rule we were happy to agree to, and we obey the voice of God, which we actively seek during communal and individual prayer times. Obedience is not an obligation or drudgery.  

We come from 13 different countries and nearly as many Christian denominations. In any other context, we might feel pressured to underline the distinctions between us.

But in St. Anselm we endeavor to see distinctions not as things which put distance between us, but rather things that bring us together. Unity means walking together and following Christ with people who may or may not look, speak, act or believe like I do. I am often overwhelmed with gratitude for this unique opportunity to live this glimpse of the Kingdom of God.

I think John and Charles Wesley would look very kindly upon what we are doing in the Community of St. Anselm. I think they would see many parallels between the Methodist movement and this ecumenical, monastic inspired community. Their allegiance was to Christ, not any particular church or movement.

At the same time, their hope for the Methodist movement was that it would reform the Church and revive it from within. Both monastic life and the legacy of the Wesleys give—to those of us in the Church—the gift of vision and tools to help bring God’s kingdom to earth.

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