By Bro. Andrew Aelred
“In all times and places, the Eternal One calls forth souls to help creation realize its destiny. God so calls us, believers from many Christian denominations, to come together into the Ecumenical Order of Charity. Through living out the principles embodied in our rule of life, The Founding Document, and through the profession of our five unique vows, we dedicated ourselves to becoming active conscious participants in the unfolding of the Reign of God on Earth, co-workers with Our Lord, Jesus Christ, for the sake of the Kingdom.” –The Founding Document, Preamble
And so begins the preamble of The Founding Document, the rule of my community, the Ecumenical Order of Charity. It is a religious community bound to no one denomination but beholden to all people in all places. The five vows of the community are: Simplicity of Life, Purity of Heart, Obedience, Non-Violence, and Universal Citizenship. As the preamble continues, “we come from all walks and states of life; we are men and women; single or married; widowed or dating. We are lay or ordained. We are high school and college graduates, or neither. We come from all professions and experiences.” We are called to be the living embodiment of three particular charisms: Charity, Availability, and Ecumenism.
Some of you know me well, some as an acquaintance, and some as that guy in the corner of the room at Diocesan Convention playing the piano. My name is Brother Andrew Aelred and I’m a novice in the Ecumenical Order of Charity or, more easily adaptable, the EOC. I’m the Associate Music Director and communications nerd at Church of the Ascension, Knoxville. Late last year, I began the formal process of becoming a postulant in the EOC. As of June of this year, I became a novice. For some, the question has been, why so sudden? For those who know me, it has been, finally!
We all have longings in our lives. Longings for relationship, for fulfillment, for…you name it. Mine has been a long longing for communion with the Divine within a community of shared desire with shared rules (i.e. vowed religious life). All communities have an identity, something that makes them unique. When searching for a religious community, I was advised to explore and read the diﬀerent rules of the communities if not adopt them for some time in a trial run. It was there that I would find their identity. Explore I did! After some considerable time, none stood out as resonating with my longing. Not that any were particularly problematic, I just didn’t feel any of them call to me.
When I read The Founding Document, it felt as if I had arrived at home. I knew that the community guided by this document was the community that I belonged to. This was a living community guided by a living document. When I went to the General Assembly in June, I walked into the community as if I was walking into my own living room.
So what does this all mean? Nothing drastic has happened. I still keep the Daily Oﬃces of Morning Prayer, Noon Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Compline. I have picked up Centering Prayer and am exploring the riches of that practice. I am currently in the Formation Program of the community, which involves reading books on New Monasticism and reflecting on the five vows of the community, which, God willing, I will take next summer. Most importantly, I am striving each and every day to be an active and conscious participant in the realization of Christ’s Kingdom here and now.
This past year and this coming year are periods of intense reflection and formation, but I suspect that the journey ahead will be one of continued and unending conversion. It is a particular and poignant concept of my community that we and our work is never finished (hence no finial knots on our cinctures). What is also important to note is that I am still Episcopalian if not even more deeply so. My community calls each of us to be firmly and securely grounded in our respective traditions, bringing our unique perspectives to the community. Episcopalianism is particularly congruous and supportive of vowed religious life with its own rich history of monasticism. You may be surprised to find that there are vowed religious members in your own parish!
While The Founding Document does not require it at all times, I choose to wear the habit of my order as a continual sign to myself and to others of my call to religious life, of the Divine reality that my life points to day in and day out. Yes, it produces some interesting questions, but it has brought a surprising number of joyous reactions from strangers (and animals that like to play with my cincture and scapular!).
I invite you to visit ecuorderofcharity.org for more information on my community. There you will find a full copy of The Founding Document and historical information. I also invite you to get in touch with me at any time at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to stop into Church of the Ascension for a cup of coﬀee and a chat!
Much love and blessings, Bro. Andrew Aelred
Above right, Brother Andrew poses for a photo at The Spiritual Life Center