Reach, gift relationship and social innovation. Reclaiming Religious Orders

Francis Davis

The Religious Orders are alive and well if we but look with open eyes, writes Francis Davis, Professor of Communities and Religion at the University of Birmingham.

In this article I want to suggest that parishes and dioceses currently looking with envy at evangelical approaches to mission would do just as well, if not better, to look for hope in our old history, and current practice, of international Religious Orders. In doing so, I suggest they will not only garner insights which could be trialled and tested in UK parishes, but will also be better supported in how to speak into society rather than above it, to shape culture rather than live in parallel with it. Consequently, they will discover God first in the weakest, in the spirit of Pope Francis, rather than in a frenzied reach for ecclesiastical apologetics at a time when episcopal hierarchies are so reputationally damaged that everything they touch dissolves the ability of Catholicism to communicate, no matter how faithful they claim to be.

Some of us will have stories of Sisters, Brothers and Religious priests whom our families have encountered. Less often do our parish, diocesan or religious communities get the chance to locate those personal encounters in a wider context: Franciscans are not just ‘the holy poor’ but a brilliant institutional adaptation to urbanisation.

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