Franciscan orders in the Anglican Communion
Franciscan orders are, collectively, the various religious orders which follow the Rules of life composed by Francis of Assisi and Clare of Assisi. This article discusses Franciscan orders in the Anglican Communion; there are also Franciscan orders in Roman Catholicism, Franciscan orders in Lutheranism, and some Franciscan orders that are ecumenical or non-denominational. There are also religious orders in Anglicanism following other, non-Franciscan, rules.
Society of St Francis
The main manifestation of the Franciscan life within the Anglican Communion is the Society of St Francis. It is fully recognised as part of the Anglican Communion, and has around 3,000 members in its constituent orders. The Society is made up of several distinct orders: the Brothers of the First Order (Society of St Francis, SSF); the Sisters of the First Order (Community of St Francis, CSF); the Sisters of the Second Order (Community of St Clare, OSC); the Brothers and Sisters of the Third Order (Third Order of St Francis, TSSF).
Francis of Assisi and Clare of Assisi, the founders of the Franciscan movement, produced separate rules for three parallel Orders - the First Order were to be mendicant friars, embracing poverty as a gift from God, and living the community life in the world, serving the poor. The Second Order were to be a parallel community of sisters living a more enclosed life of prayer and contemplation. The Third Order was to consist of brothers and sisters not living in community, nor under full monastic vows, but nevertheless taking simple promises, and following a Rule of life in the world. These three Orders still co-exist as parts of the Franciscan family in Anglicanism, as well as in other Christian denominations. Francis also wrote a Rule for those wishing to follow the contemplative life (in the style of the Second Order), but living alone as Christian hermits.
'First Order' Franciscans live in community under traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. In the Anglican Communion the male first order is known as the Society of St Francis, and brothers have the initials 'SSF' after their name; the female first order is known as the Community of St Francis, and sisters have the initials 'CSF' after their name. The First Order brothers and sisters operate worldwide, dividing themselves into internal provinces, and have around 200 members.
'Second Order' Franciscans live in enclosed community, taking the same traditional vows, but following a version of the Rule of St Francis modified to reflect a more contemplative lifestyle. Second Order sisters are often known as 'Poor Clares', though they should properly be known as the Order of St Clare, or Community of St Clare. The sisters have the initials 'OSC' after their names. They are the smallest part of the Franciscan family and are currently active only in the United Kingdom, at St Mary's Convent, Freeland, Oxfordshire. The sisters believe that their 'enclosed' life does not mean being 'shut in', but rather an opportunity to live and work together on one site in real community. The former second order convent in New York, opened in 1922, closed in 2003 following the death of the last sister of the Poor Clares of Reparation and Adoration (OSC).
'Third Order' Franciscans live as a dispersed community, which means that they meet together regularly for prayer, study, and fellowship, but live individually on a day to day basis. Some live alone, others as part of a family. Members may be single or married, and male or female. They do not take the traditional three-fold vow of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but they do enter into a binding promise, and live by a Rule of life based upon Francis of Assisi's original Third Order Rule.
Other Franciscan orders
Whilst the Society of St Francis (First, Second, and Third Orders), operating worldwide, is widely recognised as the principal branch of Francsicanism within the Anglican Church, there are other religious orders following the Franciscan Rule, and living the Franciscan life. Those that are officially recognised as part of the Anglican Communion include the following.
Other First Order
- The Korean Franciscan Brotherhood (KFB) is a First Order male community in formation in Korea, with assistance from the Society of St Francis. An SSF brother has headed the KFB since its formation in 1994, and by an agreement reached in 2001 will continue to support KFB in achieving full independence as an order. The brothers are building friaries and a retreat centre.
- The Sisters of St Francis (SSF) is a Korean community of First Order sisters living in a convent at Cheongwongun, Korea. The sisters engage in community work and parish work within the Anglican Church of Korea.
- The Order of St Francis (OSF) is an international dispersed community of men. Unique amongst First Order Franciscans, married men may be admitted to membership; this has necessitated changes to the traditional vows, particularly those of chastity and poverty. The vows are still taken, but with a broader interpretation.
- The Society of the Franciscan Servants of Jesus and Mary (FSJM) is a community of women founded in 1935, and living in a convent at Posbury in Devon. The sisters accept guests for retreats, and also have a small retreat cottage which is sometimes available for guests. The community is small in number, and has ceased much of its active community work.
- The Daughters of St Francis is a community of women following the Franciscan rule in Korea.
- The Order of St Elizabeth of Hungary was an early experiment in Franciscan First Order life for women, founded during the First World War, and named after the Franciscan divine Elizabeth of Thuringia. Operating extensively in England and Australia, the Society declined rapidly in the 1980s, and closed in the 1990s.
Other Second Order (and Hermitage)
- The Little Brothers of Francis (LBF) is a small Australian community of men, whose three founders were First Order brothers (SSF) who felt called to a more individual and contemplative life. They live according to the Rule of St Francis for Hermitages, and thus bring a further dimension to the Franciscan family within the Anglican Church.
- The Little Sisters of Saint Clare (LSSC) is a fresh expression of the Second Order Rule, founded in 2002. The sisters wear traditional habit and follow the contemplative life, but they currently live as a dispersed community (though with regular Chapter meetings) pending the funds to establish a physical convent.
- The Society of Our Lady of the Isles (SOLI) is a contemplative community living on Fetlar, an island in Shetland (Scotland), according to a hybrid rule derived from a blending of the Franciscan Second Order Rule and the Cistercian Rule. Oblate sisters live enclosed within the community, whilst fully professed sisters live as solitary sisters, engaging with community activities at prescribed times.
Other Third Order
- The Company of Jesus is an unusual order in two respects. Firstly, it is a deliberate mix of the Franciscan and Benedictine Rules, forming a 'hybrid' community. Secondly, although it is a Third Order movement, it bears many of the characters of the First Order. The members spend large amounts of time in community, in traditional habit, and the Order maintains a residential monastery (Livingstone Monastery in Virginia) where members may live the monastic life, despite their Third Order status.