Working with the Society of St Francis
Not all religious communities are Roman Catholic. Some people are unaware that in the Anglican Communion there are over eighty communities around the world – many of them having more than one “house”. Amidst their varied ministries and mission, their common life is under-girded by their commitment to prayer.
One such Community is the Society of St Francis (SSF) which was founded (in the UK) in 1921. In its widest definition, SSF includes First Order Brothers, First Order Sisters (CSF), Second Order Sisters (who follow the “Rule” of St Clare) and a Third Order.
The First Order shares a common life of prayer, fraternity and a commitment to underprivileged people. In its larger houses, this includes providing hospitality and accommodation for short-term guests, but in the small, city houses, the Brothers and Sisters are engaged in a variety of ministries, often involving the task of mission in parishes and schools.
The Second Order is an enclosed Order and the Sisters rarely leave their Convent. Their service to the world is by their prayer, in which they are united to all people, everywhere. The Sisters try to provide for their own needs by growing much of their own food, and by their work of printing, wafer baking, writing and various crafts. They have a guesthouse where people may stay so that they may join in the worship, and share the peace and beauty with which the Convent is surrounded in Freeland, Oxfordshire.
The Third Order of the Society of St Francis consists of men and women, ordained and lay, married or single, who believe that God is calling them to live out their Franciscan vocation in the world, living in their own homes and doing their own jobs.
Living under a Rule of Life with the help of a Spiritual Director, members encourage one another in their lives and witness to Christ by being organised into local groups, so that regular meetings can be held. St Francis himself founded the “Third Order” in 1221, because so many people wanted to follow his ways, but already had responsibilities - such as family ties - so that they couldn’t join the Friars or the Poor Clares.
Malcolm and I are Franciscan Tertiaries (as these members are called) and it was in a Franciscan publication that we read a request for help to look after guests and do housework, gardening and general household maintenance at one of the Franciscan Friaries – the one at Alnmouth on the Northumberland coast. Having some spare time and energy and feeling called to use it in God’s service “somehow” – we wrote to the address given and offered ourselves. (I had decided that if we were accepted, I would leave my part-time job – Malcolm had taken early retirement anyway and hence the “spare time”!)
We were accepted and so it came about that within a few months we were standing on the doorstep of Alnmouth Friary wondering what on earth we were letting ourselves in for! However – as soon as we stepped over the threshold I knew – this was the right place at the right time.
The ministry there, for us, is one I describe as a “Martha” ministry with “Mary” moments. Guests need looking after for the duration of their stay, so we remain within “call” for the whole of our time there (no nipping off to the beach or Alnwick for the day!) We “down tools” after the supper things have been cleared away though, and spend time either enjoying the beauty of the surrounding landscape (on light evenings) or browsing through the books in the wonderful library, with its views out to sea (one window) or over the village (on the other side).
We love the rhythm of life there, with its cycle of prayer and work. Morning prayer begins at 7am. which is not too early and the Offices follow through the day, with Mid-day Prayer, Mass, Evening Prayer and finally Compline. There are opportunities for silent reflection in the times of Exposition and/or Benediction; and I’d say we manage to fulfil two of the “legs” of the tripod of “prayer-study-work” in a very satisfactory way. It is true to say that some “study” has been achieved, but on the whole we are happily tired at the end of each working day, and just need to relax.
For the last couple of years I have also co-ordinated a team of like-minded people who are willing to spend time at The Friary helping as we do (usually two to four weeks, twice a year). Most of the people are “early retired”, but there are generous souls who give up a week of their precious holiday. All of us are members of the Third Order, Society of St Francis, and working in this way is one way of the different “Orders” working together.
The Brothers (Friars) are lovely people, with a great vision, and we feel so greatly blessed that we are allowed to help them in this very special place.
The blessing of St Francis
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