by Prior Anders Litzell, Prior of the Community of St Anselm
When Justin Welby and his family were moving into the family apartment on the top floor of Lambeth Palace in 2013, someone asked the new Archbishop of Canterbury what he was going to do with the rest of the 800-year-old building. “We’ll fill it with young people,” he said.
Fast forward two years and Archbishop Justin is launching a radical new monastic-inspired community of young Christians at Lambeth Palace, called the Community of St Anselm. In a special service at Lambeth Palace Chapel today, 36 young men and women will commit to a year of praying, studying ethics and theology, and serving the poor.
When the initiative was announced last September it caught the imagination of many – including unlikely parts of the media. The Financial Times reported – on their front page, no less – that the Archbishop was inviting young bankers to spend a year of prayer at Lambeth Palace. Meanwhile the Huffington Post enjoyed the idea of young men and women being offered the opportunity to “kick it with the Archbishop of Canterbury”.
The reality is a little different, but – I believe – even more exciting. The Community is open to young Christians from around the world, from every part of the church, and with every kind of professional background or ambition. Whether they are already, or plan to be, working in banking, education, politics or the media, or they sense a call to serve the church, the programme offers the same opportunity: to experience a monastic lifestyle focused on Jesus Christ, and to do that while actively serving in the world.
Today in a special service at Lambeth Palace, the first members of the Community of St Anselm will promise to spend the next year living by a Rule of Life that the ancient monastics would have recognised.
They will be committing to a year of prayer, study, rigorous self-examination and committed fellowship with one another. But they will also be committing to live out this loving life of Christ in local communities, serving those on the margins and in most need.
Some will be residential members, based at Lambeth Palace; others will continue their day jobs in advertising, education, media, banking, the civil service and elsewhere – part of their challenge will be exploring how to close the gap that often exists between professional and spiritual life.
But despite the diversity of their national, cultural, professional and denominational backgrounds, the unifying question for all of them over the coming year will be: how do I follow Jesus throughout my life, and stay deeply committed to him wherever life takes me?
Over the last year in particular the Community of St Anselm has taken shape at extraordinary speed – a lot of coffee has been drunk, a lot of work has been done, and most importantly a lot of prayers have been said. From a flash of God-given inspiration a few years ago, to today’s service of commissioning at Lambeth Palace Chapel – it’s been quite a journey. But the real adventure starts today, and it’s one that I am thrilled to be travelling with these young people, with Archbishop Justin, and most importantly with Jesus Christ.