Rule of Life
The Rule of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist
We Brothers welcome you to a share one of our daily practices: listening to and reflecting on a chapter of our Rule of Life.
- To listen to the SSJE Rule of Life, read aloud by a Brother, click on the chapters below or in the left sidebar navigation on this page.
- For a guide to reading the SSJE Rule as a means for your own personal reflection, click here.
- To purchase a print copy of the book The Rule of Life of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, click here.
- We welcome your comments on each chapter.
In addition the Brothers have a series of other resources that we hope might be helpful to you in exploring living with a Rule.
Living Intentionally: Creating a Rule of Life
We invite you to download our Living Intentionally Workbook for Creating a Personal Rule of Life. Walk with Br. David Vryhof step-by-step through the process of writing your own Rule.
A Framework for Freedom:
We invite you to discover the freedom that comes from living by a rule of life, by journeying through “A Framework for Freedom,” a 7-week self-guided video course to help you say “Yes” to your life. Watch the series now. Subscribe to a daily email.
In Lent 2012, we preached a series on the challenges and rewards of living by a rule of life. Drawing on chapters from SSJE’s Rule. Read and listen to the sermons.
A Living Tradition:
Each day of Lent 2011, we posted a short “living commentary” on our Rule, with a Brother or two offering his unique perspective on the document which shapes and forms our prayer and practice more than any other apart from Scripture and The Book of Common Prayer. To read that conversation, click here.
A rule, from the Latin regula, suggests not so much a code of legislation but a means of regulating and regularizing. A monastic rule sustains identity by mandating the rhythms of worship, spiritual discipline, prayer and rest, work and ministry. It sets the patterns by which authority is distributed and where accountability is expected. It delineates the bounds of the community and describes the processes of initiation. And it connects the ideals of the particular community or order with the gospel and the Christian mystery.
Our Rule is a contemporary one, created by the Society of Saint John the Evangelist over a period of eight years and formally adopted in September 1996. It replaces the original Rule, written by our founder in the 19th century. While it draws on the teaching of Richard Benson and other early members, the new rule addresses a whole host of issues that we knew to be vital for the health and faithfulness of a community making the transition into the third millennium. It is an authentic expression of our life for today, both who we are and who we hope to be.
Our sole motive in creating a new Rule of life was to strengthen our own community and our awareness of the particular vocation that God has given us; in other words, we produced it specifically for ourselves. Friends urged us to publish it for those who know us and who are seeking a deeper understanding of a way of life to which they feel attuned. And we offer it for those who do not know us yet, but who, in this time of widespread spiritual hunger when the monastic way is exerting a considerable pull on people’s imagination and interest, seek a window into the life of a contemporary religious community.
The response to its publication has been overwhelmingly positive. Roman Catholic and Anglican religious communities on both sides of the Atlantic have welcomed it, in some instances using it to enhance the teaching of their own Rules. And large numbers of men and women of a variety of faith communities in their daily meditations have drawn strength and renewal from its teachings.
01: The Call of the Society
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God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, the eternal Word by whom all things were created, to become flesh and live among us. In all the signs that he did and the teaching that he gave, he made known to us the grace and truth of the eternal Father. When his hour came the Son consummated his obedience to the Father, and expressed his love for us to the uttermost, by offering himself on the cross. He was lifted up from the earth in his crucifixion and resurrection from the dead in order to draw all people to himself.
We whom God calls into this Society have been drawn into union with Christ by the power of his cross and resurrection; we have been reborn in him by water and the Spirit. God chooses us from varied places and backgrounds to become a company of friends, spending our whole life abiding in him and giving ourselves up to the attraction of his glory. Our community was called into being by God so that we may be entirely consecrated to him and through our common experience of the glory of the Father and the Son begin to attain even now the unity that God desires for all humankind. “The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”
Our mission is inseparable from our call to live in union with God in prayer, worship and mutual love. Christ breathes his Spirit into us to be the one source of our own conversion and of our witness and mission to others; “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” We are sent to be servants of God’s children and ministers of the reconciliation which the Lamb of God has accomplished. Our own unity is given to be a sign that will draw others to have faith in him. Christ has entrusted to us the same word that the Father gave to him, so that those who hear it from our lips and perceive it in our lives may receive the light and through believing have life in his name.
By giving us the grace and courage to make lifelong vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience in an enduring fellowship, God makes us a sign of his eternal faithfulness. A community of men who pledge to stay together until death is a powerful sign to the world of the grace that enables those who love Christ to abide until he comes.
The divine Wind that blows where it chooses has not restricted our Society to a few ministries. Varied gifts within our brotherhood bear witness to the living power of Christ and extend his salvation. Though our gifts differ we share one call to be consecrated in truth, through the power of God’s word and the grace renewed by feeding on Christ and drinking his life-blood in the Eucharist. As a sign of our identity God gives us all an affinity with the witness of the beloved disciple embodied in the Gospel of John. We bear the name of St John the Evangelist to show the Church what is the source of our inspiration and our joy.
02: Our Dedication to the Disciple whom Jesus loved
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We hear God’s living word in all the Scriptures but the testimony of the disciple whom Jesus loved has special power for those whom God calls into this Society. It gives us joy to know that Jesus drew this man John to himself in order to enjoy the blessings of close friendship. We believe that through our religious vocation Jesus is drawing us also into the deepest intimacy with himself. We find a profound significance for our own lives in what the fourth gospel tells us of the beloved disciple’s friendship with Jesus and his call to be a witness to the mystery of the incarnation.
This is the man whom Jesus wanted to have closest to his heart at the last supper. The image of the trusted friend lying close to the breast of Jesus is an icon of the relationship we enjoy with the Son of God through prayer. It is by being close to him that we are reunited with the Father, for Jesus is “God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart.” And contemplating the closeness of the disciple to Jesus at the supper can deepen our awareness that the communion we have with Christ in the Eucharist is no mere abstract idea but a real and growing bond of personal love.
The beloved disciple did not hide from the suffering of Christ at Golgotha but took his stand there with Mary. By being steadfast together at the cross, enduring all that others found unbearable, they remained in Jesus’ love. If we abide in that perfect love shown on the cross we will receive the grace to face together all that we are tempted to run from in fear. Christ’s gift of enduring love will be the heart of our life as a community, as it was in the new family which he called into being from the cross when he gave Mary and John to one another as mother and son.
Only love can understand what God gives and reveals through Jesus. The beloved disciple understood that the pouring out of water and blood from Jesus’ side signified the giving of the Spirit. Love will open our eyes to the Spirit’s power in the sacraments, in prayer, in action and service. He went into the empty tomb, and believed at once in the mystery of the resurrection. Love will make us men of faith who know God’s power to bring life out of death. The beloved disciple recognized the Lord in the stranger by the shore. Love will expand our ability to know him in all persons, in all things and in all places.
The beloved disciple lived on, faithful to Christ’s call to “remain until I come.” The years spent exploring the depths of the revelation in which he had taken part bore fruit in the great gospel which bears the name of John. We have taken this name to show that we too are Christ’s friends and witnesses. Through us also many come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and through believing have life in his name.
03: Our Founders and the Grace of Tradition
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Just as we believe that our Society had its origin in the response to God’s creative call of our founders Richard Meux Benson, Charles Chapman Grafton and Simeon Wilberforce O’Neill, so we believe that it is sustained through our own obedience to the voice of God continually calling us on.God speaks to us in many ways to maintain and renew the vocation of the Society.God speaks to us through the Scriptures and the Christian tradition, through men and women of the Spirit of different ages and cultures, through our own experience and through contemporary voices that engage us with the challenges of our own time.Among the many voices that mediate God’s call to us, the witness of our founders and predecessors in the Society has a special importance.
God calls us to remember them and to value their testimony.Reflection on our community’s own tradition, and a dialogue between our contemporary experience and that of our predecessors, helps us to sustain our identity as we strive to rise up to the demands of the present.As we explore the spiritual legacy of our forbears we remember that they are not dead figures from the past.Risen in Christ, they belong to the great cloud of witnesses who spur us on by their prayers to change and mature in response to the Holy Spirit who makes all things new.
Faithfulness to tradition does not mean mere perpetuation or copying of ways from the past but a creative recovery of the past as a source of inspiration and guidance in our faithfulness to God’s future, the coming reign of God.As we meditate on the grace of tradition each of us will hear the call to become, in Father Benson’s words, “a man – not simply of the day, but a man of the moment, a man precisely up to the mark of the times.This makes the religious – so far from being the traditional imitator of bygone days – most especially a man of the present moment and its life.”
Our Society was the first religious community of men to be firmly established in the Anglican Church since the Reformation and embraced from the beginning both the contemplative and active dimensions of the religious vocation.As we struggle with God’s call to us today to be active in ministry, prophecy, teaching and service, and to have a deep life of prayer and worship, we shall find encouragement in remembering the example of our forbears in their dedication to the mystical and apostolic aspects of our calling.
There are many aspects to the witness of those who formed our Society’s tradition.Their lives inspire us to be indifferent to celebrity and success and to trust the power of hidden prayer. They stir us to be prophetic critics of Christendom and its compromises and to be dedicated to the renewal of the Church.They summon us to have a world-wide vision of mission, to be adaptable to a wide variety of settings, to be available in ministry to all classes of people.They teach us to integrate the catholic and evangelical traditions and dedicate ourselves to the ministry of reconciliation and unity.
Inevitably, the Society’s past is also marred by many failures.God will have much to teach us through them, as long as we humbly keep in mind our own biases and shortcomings.
04. The Witness of Life in Community
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God has called us into being as a community and our life as a community, though fraught with struggles and failures, is a powerful act of revelation, testimony and service.
In community we bear witness to the social nature of human life as willed by our Creator. Human beings bear the image of the triune God and are not meant to be separate and isolated. All of us are called by God to belong to communities of personal cooperation and interdependence which strive to nurture and use the gifts of each and to see that our basic needs are met. Jesus called his disciples to be the light of the world, a city set on a hill, which cannot be hid; through the vitality of our life as a community we are meant to help people remember their own calling to form community. In an era of fragmentation and the breakdown of family and community, our Society, though small, can be a beacon drawing people to live in communion.
One of the ways in which we promote community is by being the nucleus for a wider fellowship. This is formed through the relationships we establish in our varied ministries, especially the hospitality of our houses; through the Fellowship of Saint John, whose members keep a rule of life in harmony with ours; by the participation of our personal friends and families and by our neighbors regularly joining us in worship. Our proclamation of the good news is also an invitation to be in communion with us. “We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us.” This wider family is a true expression of community sustained by many energies of mutual service. We not only serve our brothers and sisters by acting as a spiritual center and home and ministering to them; they support us in innumerable ways in prayer, through their gifts and voluntary labors, by teaching and inspiring us and by working together with us in Christ. Some who find themselves relegated by neglect and prejudice to the margins of society will find a special grace in participating in this wider fellowship around our community.
Our human vocation to live in communion and mutuality is rooted in our creation in God’s image and likeness. The very being of God is community; the Father, Son and Spirit are One in reciprocal self-giving and love. The mystery of God as Trinity is one that only those living in personal communion can understand by experience. Through our common life we can begin to grasp that there is a transcendent unity that allows mutual affirmation of our distinctness as persons. Through prayer we can see that this flows from the triune life of God. If we are true to our calling as a community, our Society will be a revelation of God.
Our life as a community should also be a sign to the Church to rise up to its true calling as a communion of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Christ and the company of Christ’s friends. We are not called to be a separate elite, but to exemplify the life of the Body of Christ in which every member has a particular gift of the Spirit for ministry and shares an equal dignity. Fr. Benson taught that “there are special gifts of God indeed to the Society, but only as it is a society within the Church. The small body is to realize and intensify the gifts, to realize the energies, belonging to the whole Church.” Our witness and ministry is not merely to separate individuals; it is for strengthening the common life in the Body of Christ.
05. The Challenges of Life in Community
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Every Christian is called to live in community as a member of the Church. Christ in his wisdom draws each disciple into that particular expression of community which will be the best means of his or her conversion. Our way of life in this religious community is one of many expressions of the common life in the Body of Christ. We can be confident that Christ has called us into our Society because he knows that the challenges and the gifts it offers are the very ones we need for the working out of our salvation.
The first challenge of community life is to accept whole-heartedly 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 he calls us to accept one another as we are. By abiding in him we can unite in a mutual love that 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. As we actively seek to grow, and discern which men are being called into our Society, we must ardently seek for signs that God desires to increase our diversity in culture and race.
We are also called to accept with compassion and humility the particular fragility, complexity and incompleteness of each brother. Our diversity and our brokenness mean that tensions and friction are inevitably woven into the fabric of everyday life. They are not to be regarded as signs of failure. Christ uses them for our conversion as we grow in mutual forbearance and learn to let go of the pride that drives us to control and reform our brothers on our own terms.
The Society’s dedication to the fourth gospel draws us to see reflected in it certain values which we especially take to heart as we live in community. In John’s gospel the community of disciples is portrayed as a circle of Christ’s friends, abiding in him in obedience and love, and depending on the Advocate who leads them together into the truth. In this portrait we recognize an implicit critique of the tendency for communities to harden into institutions, and for officialdom to replace the spontaneity of mutual service. Our faithfulness to our calling will be seen in the ways in which we fearlessly subject our life to hard questions in the light of the gospel, resist inertia and rigidity, minister to one another generously as equals, and stay open to the fresh inspiration of the Spirit.
Because community life provides so completely for all our basic needs we must rise to the challenge of making sure that our sense of personal responsibility stays strong. Community life is arduous, and not an escape from the toil of earning a living. It is essential that work is distributed in such a way that each brother shares in its demands to the full extent of his ability. We are called to maintain an ethos that stimulates each of us to learn new skills by which he can serve the brotherhood and develop his ministry to others.
06. The Spirit of Poverty
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The poverty we embrace through our vow has its source, supreme example and eternal home in the being of God, who is a Trinity of Persons. In the Godhead there is no possessiveness, no holding back of self. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are One in mutual self-giving and receiving. Faith sees the cross of suffering and self-giving love planted in the very being of the God revealed to us in Jesus. When God made room for the existence of space and time and shaped a world filled with glory, this act of creation was one of pure self-emptying.
But God broke all the limits of generosity in the incarnation of the Son for our sake, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” By the vow of poverty we bind ourselves to have the same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus.”
The poverty that comes from God is not a barren emptiness. Christ “became poor that by his poverty [we] might become rich.” It is only because we are being “filled with all the fullness of God” that we can pledge together in this shared vow to give ourselves away in a common life of worship, hospitality, evangelism and service. “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”
By this vow we renounce personal ownership. We are to be of one heart and soul, holding all things in common. By sharing everything we will be in harmony with the very being of God whose Triune life is boundless sharing. We will have a foretaste of the life of the communion of saints. We will recognize that the concern with individualistic fulfillment and private security that prevails in our culture is a trap from which we are being set free. More and more we will come to know that we were all baptized into Christ to be set free from self-centeredness. Our fulfillment comes together as members of one Body, and the Spirit will summon us again and again to surrender individual desires for the sake of our brotherhood and our mission.
If our religious poverty is to be authentic we must stay soberly aware of the essential difference between the deprivation of those whose poverty is forced upon them, and the way of life we choose by vow. We continue to be privileged by our education, our access to power and our material security. Nevertheless, the Spirit has many ways of making us poor and we are in no doubt that they will be costly to accept. In particular we can be sure that the Society’s life will be marked by fragility and many frustrating limitations. The resources to meet the demands made on us will seem inadequate, and our numbers too few. Our energies will seem insufficient for the claims made on them, and the task of balancing our life and husbanding our strengths too difficult. Even some of our ideals and dreams will need to be surrendered; the way God actually calls us to live may seem less appealing or less heroic than other forms of the religious life. God will give us our poverty. Every day we will be called to grow in reliance on grace alone and to surrender those inner and outer riches that hold us back from risking all for Christ, who risked and gave all for us.
07. Poverty and Stewardship in Practice
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As we come to enter more completely into the offering of the Eucharist we learn more and more to offer thanks at all times and in all places. This gift of overflowing gratitude to God, who supplies all our needs, enables us to let go of dependence on possessions and all that is superfluous. In the sacrifice of thanksgiving lies the secret of simplicity of life to which we bind ourselves in the vow of poverty.
This simplicity of life finds expression in the way we enjoy and value the goodness of ordinary things and the beauty of creation. As we cherish the essential gifts of life, we grow in freedom from the compulsion to accumulate things, and cease to long for wealth. The movement towards simplicity puts us at odds with our culture, which defines human beings primarily as consumers, and gives prestige to those who have the power to indulge themselves in luxury and waste. As a community and as individuals we shall have to struggle continually to resist the pressure to conform. Our vow of poverty inevitably commits us to conscientious participation in the movement to establish just stewardship of the environment and earth’s resources.
Our personal responsibility in this vow means taking care to gather around ourselves only what is appropriate and necessary. We must always seek the permission of the Superior to keep any gifts offered to us. We shall readily share among ourselves the things we have for our use, and give away whatever we cease to need. Whenever we have reason to buy anything for our own use we are to be watchful for temptations to be irresponsible. Our collective responsibility involves us all in the careful stewardship of our resources, especially in the policies which govern the use of our endowment and properties. Those who have responsibility for using funds allocated by the community need to guard against the temptation to misuse this power by spending thoughtlessly or failing to involve others in significant decisions.
The security we enjoy as a community makes us strangers to the precariousness and destitution that are the lot of the poor. Therefore we come to the poor in need of their witness to what it means to be powerless and to put one’s trust entirely in God. As a community we must continually watch for signs that God is calling us to live and work with those who endure the hardships of material poverty. Even when our work among God’s poor is limited in scope we should be their allies in every way. Our vow binds us to ruthless self-examination as to our real solidarity with the poor. In our education, preaching and political lives we are committed to advocacy for the poor, and the struggle to restore to them their just share of power and the bounty of God.
08. Engaging with Poverty
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The vow of poverty is a commitment of faithfulness to the gospel itself, which summons us to a new vision and way of life that reverses the values of the world. The beatitudes of Jesus call us to trust the promise of divine fulfillment hidden in things that the world counts as barren and negative. By our vow we reaffirm our baptismal renunciations and pledge ourselves to seek out the mystery of divine grace present in places and experiences that seem insignificant, dark or empty.
By our vow of poverty we recognize that in our own spiritual lives there will be seasons in the shadow, experiences of dryness, waiting, obscurity and the seeming absence of God. In the light of the gospel we know that these are necessary, and that some of them yield more blessings than times when we are filled with devotion and confidence. “Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” Our whole spirituality should bear the mark of our vow, showing that God is freeing us from dependence on feelings of success and happiness.
Poverty involves radical truthfulness about our own persons and the community itself, grounded in the knowledge of our fallibility and brokenness. Popularity and acclaim are dangerous, as they can lure us away from the sober awareness of our spiritual poverty that compels us to confess that “this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” The knowledge and acceptance of our fragility preserves us from complacency and illusion, continually throwing us back on the mercy and compassion of God.
In the great prayer of Jesus in the fourth gospel he says of his disciples, “They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.” The vow of poverty is one of the chief ways in which we affirm our separation in Christ from everything in the world that opposes God’s way of self-spending love. It sets us in opposition to the way of coercion, violence and militarism. It commits us to reject in Christ’s name every manifestation of exploitation, prejudice and oppression. It calls us to dissociate ourselves from structures of privilege and wealth. By this vow we confess the rule of the cross: “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.” Through the vow of poverty we pledge ourselves to look for the signs of God’s activity and glory, especially in the lives of those who are strangers to success and power as the world defines them.
One of the signs that our poverty is authentic will be the readiness of others to confide in us their own experiences of suffering, grief and loss. If we are evading the mystery of poverty in our own lives, we will shut ourselves off from the pain and weakness in the lives of our brothers and sisters. If we are living our vow, they will find in our company a holy place of acceptance and understanding where they can wait for God to bring strength out of weakness and resurrection from death.