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Review by Charles Hoffacker
The fifth and final volume produced by the Littlemore Group of scholar priests and religious, The Vowed Life: The Promise and Demand of Baptism offers a contemporary Anglican view of how Christians and their communities are shaped by the vows of baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, and the religious life.
This book is neither a simple introduction nor a technical treatise. Instead, the numbered chapters, each by a different contributor, suggest the sort of informed gathering such as the contributors apparently experienced from time to time during the long process of shaping their book.
Looking at the entirety of Christian life from the perspective of vows seems in retrospect an obvious project, but how often is it undertaken with the breadth demonstrated here, with attention paid to person and community, traditional inheritance and contemporary concerns? This book is not turned in on itself. Instead, it is oriented outward, inviting a reader to engage the contributors, to join the conversation they launch but do not conclude.
I encountered this group’s conversation after 40 years of ordained ministry and almost 70 years of baptismal life: confirmed as a youth, married and widowed and then married again, and living as an Anglican religious for several years before ordination and marriage. I made enough vows for a lifetime! Yet this book, spare in the personal stories it relates, exercised an alchemy allowing me to view in a renewed way both myself and other people, all within the invisible network that is the triune God.
I saw myself as constantly falling short in every commitment, but repeatedly receiving opportunities to try again. I saw the same dynamic in the lives of others. Christian vows welcome us into a network stronger than our shortcomings. They build for us a Jerusalem strangely golden.
This book works out the implications of baptismal vows through subsequent vows, with substantial attention to the vowed life of religious communities. The revival of religious life among Anglicans during recent centuries is generously investigated and seen as a basis for hope. The allure of Little Gidding as place continues, though there’s no community in residence there now.
The contributors to this volume are to be commended for a resource likely to prove helpful to a variety of readers. Their compilation represents less a summary of the past than a first word for the future.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a priest of the Diocese of Washington who lives in Greenbelt, Maryland, with his wife, Helena Mirtova.