Richard Meux Benson was born in 1824, in England. He was ordained a priest, and eventually, with two other priests, he founded the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE). SSJE was to be “a small body to realize and intensify the gifts and energies belonging to the whole church.” SSJE became the first stable religious community for men in the Anglican Church since the Reformation. Branch houses were established in Boston, India and South Africa. Benson wrote the original SSJE Rule and served as Superior until 1890.
Gore was born in 1853 (almost 30 years after Benson was born). He, too, lived in England, and served as a priest and later as a bishop. He founded the Community of the Resurrection, a community for men that sought to combine the rich traditions of religious life with a lively concern for the demands of ministry in the modern world. He was a writer and promoter of liberal Anglo-Catholicism. He wanted to both 1) make available to the church the critical scholarship of the age, while 2) pricking the conscience of the church and pleading for a focus on the work of social justice for all.
What both Benson and Gore saw was a need for a more intentional Christian community to shape the spiritual lives of the faithful. Though none of us live in religious orders, we understand the value of being surrounded by a faith community. I just had a conversation last night with a parishioner about this very issue. The parishioner ran into another parishioner who has fallen away from the church lately. The two had a conversation about how easy getting caught up in the rush of life can be. Finally the active parishioner asked the other, “But how do you do it? How do you encounter God without being active in the life and worship of the church?”
What this parishioner saw, or what Benson, Gore, and the writer of the First Epistle of John saw, is the value of the other in our faith journey with God. Whether it is the call to social justice by Gore, the invitation to be formed by the faith community by Benson, or simply the reminder to the beloved to love one another, we experience faith within a community. The community invites us into something bigger than ourselves, and it reminds us that our individual relationships with God are only enriched by partners in the journey. That does not mean the journey will be easy – living within a community can be messy and full of its own challenges. But the reward of our shared journey is closeness to God. As First John says, “If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” Our communities are never perfect, but when we steep ourselves in them, we can better see and serve God. Amen.