The Benedictine DNA of the Episcopal Church
Saturday, April 29, 2017 at 8:04PM
Robert Gallagher

Those who work on understanding organizational culture frequently share an assumption that a stronger and denser culture may be more sustainable and more likely to leave a beneficial stamp upon the life of those who participate in it. Such an organizational culture allows us to survive and to grow; to maintain our institutional identity and integrity while also adapting to respond to challenges and opportunities. 

Edgar Schein writes about culture as having three components – artifacts (how we work, how we do things in this parish, and related rituals and symbols), espoused values, and deeper underlying assumptions. The more these things align the healthier the organization is likely to be. When they are in significant alignment – we never get perfect – we find ourselves living with more depth and fullness.

The Episcopal Church finds much of its inner spirit in the DNA of Benedictine spirituality. It's a way of understanding ourselves and shaping parish communities for health and faithfulness. Accepting and embracing this reality gives us some significant resources for shaping healthier parishes. 

A significant element of our internal logic of our tradition, Schein's "deeper underlying assumptions", become more visible. A richer alignment is possible. We can more easily shape what David Brooks called A "thick institution" -- institutions in which participation leaves a mark on you and becomes part of your identity. Institutions with a distinct culture.

Institutional Expressions

There are two primary institutional expressions of the Benedictine tradition in the Episcopal Church. 

The parish church

The parish is the most important expression. The parish church may understand and act upon the Benedictine legacy of our tradition. Too many live it in a flimsy and thin way. Some don't even realize the legacy exists. There are others that are more aware and shape the parish life to express what is in our DNA.

"Parish churches get healthier when they begin to live into their own true self." For more on that take a look at an earlier posting – “Benedictine spirituality and the parish church.” 

Here are two Seattle parishes that offer their own sense of connection – Saint Paul’s and Trinity.

Benedictine Religious 

That comes in three primary flavors.

First, monks or nuns living in community that identify themselves as Benedictine with Benedict’s Rule at the heart of their life.  This includes communities such as the Order of the Holy Cross, the Community of the Transfiguration and Saint Gregory’s.

Second, there are dispersed Benedictine communities that gather once or twice during the year and live a form of monasticism in the world. They follow a rule aligned with the spirit of the Rule of St. Benedict. Members strive to live in the light of Benedictine spirituality. Among the communities like this are the Companions of St. Luke

Third, A form of the Religious Life that rather than being monastic is a community with an active apostolate. In the Episcopal Church, there is the Order of the Ascension with a common life that reflects a Benedictine spirituality and an apostolate that includes Benedictine spirituality as part of the work done as parish priests, parish development consultants, and writers.

Where do we see this Benedictine DNA in our Episcopal church life?

First in the Book of Common Prayer – over two thirds of the book is about the Holy Eucharist and the Daily Office. And those two – mass and office – are what grounds a parish community in the common prayer and scriptures of the church. A second primary element is an orientation around holiness of life. In our parish communities people may find themselves caught up in the very life of God. It is the parish as a school for the service of the Lord. And third there is a climate - a tendency to embrace paradox, contradiction, and balance; a spirit of tolerance and acceptance, of moderation and comprehensiveness.



A few resources

In his "The Benedictine Spirit in Anglicanism" Robert Hale, O.S.B. (a Roman Catholic) wrote, "The Anglican spiritual theologian Martin Thornton, for instance, insists that 'the genius of St Benedict cannot be confined within the walls of Monte Cassino or any other monastery; the Regula is not only a system of monastic order,  it is  a system of ascetical theology, the basis of which is as applicable to modern England as it was to sixth century Italy.”

Hale also noted   "the essentials of the Benedictine spirit were rendered immediately accessible to the entire Church through the key and characteristic work of the Anglican Reform, the Book of Common Prayer. It is extremely important to note this decisive fact about the Anglican Reform: at its centre and guaranteeing its spirit stands not a towering reformer (a Luther, a Calvin), not a theological doctrine or a moral code—but a book of liturgical prayer. In this fundamental respect alone the Anglican reform has a clearly Benedictine spirit to it."

Anglican Benedictines     Religious Orders - Anglicans on Line

Spirituality in the Episcopal Church - From the Diocese of West Virginia  

The Benedictine Promise -  A tool for reflection in a parish church

 A Life, Not a Program - Benedictine spirituality is a way of life not a parish program.

Parish life lacking any sort of contemplative focus

Order of the Ascension: The development of parish churches 

Methods for “taking counsel” 

Levels of consulting in the parish

Picking quarrels and provoking trouble

Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church – See chapter on the “Benedictine Promise” 

Article originally appeared on Congregational Development (
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