The Herbert Kelly Institute for Anglican Religious Life

Since the mid-19th century Anglican religious life has flourished in many forms and made a rich, if somewhat hidden, contribution to the life of the Anglican Churches throughout the world. Though it may be declining within the Church of England, the religious life nevertheless represents a universal calling that continues to inspire people today – not only within the Church but beyond it too.

With this in mind we are proposing to set up an Institute for Anglican Religious Life at St Antony’s Priory, which will not only preserve the legacy of Anglican religious life, but also provide the resources that will help to inform its future.

Our starting point is the need to ensure the preservation of the legacy of Anglican religious communities, at this critical juncture in the life of our Church. The religious life represents a living tradition and a universal calling, but it is in decline. We therefore see the Institute as having a role to play in the future development of Anglican religious life, as well as being a resource for the propagation of Christian spirituality more widely.
We believe that this can best be achieved by the establishment of a physical centre, based at St Antony’s in Durham. This will enable us to further the foundational aims of the Society of the Sacred Mission, as well as link with other relevant organisations in the region, including Centre for Anglican Studies, Centre for Catholic Studies, Ushaw College, Palace Green Special Collections, Cranmer Hall and the Lindisfarne College of Theology.

The purposes of the Institute will be to:  

Ensure the preservation of the legacy of Anglican religious life, by: 

  • Curating a resource hub for the archives of as many religious communities as possible, and providing information about the history of the religious life, as well as signposting to other relevant resources.
  • Working with the custodians and curators of collections to share knowledge and provide a resource for researchers, as well as supporting, where necessary, the creation of detailed catalogues and ensuring preservation of archive collections. 
  • Providing assistance to communities in the management of their historic records. 

Enable the study of Anglican religious life, at both academic and ‘general interest’ levels, by: 

  • Facilitating the study of, and enabling research projects relating to, Fr Herbert Kelly, traditional Anglican Religious Orders, and new expressions of religious life. 
  • Supporting research in Anglican religious life at the University of Durham.
  • Raising awareness of the living tradition of Anglican religious life across the Church, for example among ordinands, spiritual directors, and parishioners.

Encourage the development of new forms of Anglican religious life, by: 

  • Making accessible the accumulated wisdom of Anglican religious life through the provision of courses, lectures, seminars and other resources and outreach projects, and engaging with the diverse currents of contemporary spirituality.
  • Resourcing those involved in the development of new forms of religious life.

Scoping Exercise 

During 2022 we carried out a scoping exercise to explore the viability and need for such an initiative. This has involved a number of strands, including widespread consultation, a research project within the SSM archives and the development of the SSM archive catalogue. One of the most important elements of this exercise has been to gather information about Anglican religious communities and their archive collections. In doing so, we have consulted with the communities themselves and begun the task of mapping the present whereabouts and condition of their archives. The full report is available for download here.

Next Steps

With the continuing support of the Trustees of SSM we are now in a position to proceed to the development phase of the project, which, over the course of 2023, will entail further networking with Anglican religious communities, building partnerships with other organisations and developing resources to both support the custodians of collections and also to make the riches of Anglican religious life more widely known. For more information contact:


“This sounds like a very good project.”

“What providential timing! Your project feels like an unexpected legacy, and we have just embarked on bringing order to our community archives.”

“Thank you for your letter which arrived just in the nick of time. We are about to downsize and are in the process of disposing of a large percentage of our effects. I have tried various avenues for disposing of our archives and each enquiry has led to a dead end. I shall follow this project with the greatest interest.”

“I will be very interested in hearing of further work in this and helping by completing your survey. We have just finished work with a very accomplished Archivist to get our documents etc., into good order.”

“It sounds really interesting and it is surely the right time for something like this. I’d really like to keep in touch with what’s happening.”

“Our interest is in the living tradition and strengthening the future of the religious life in the Church of England. We would be very interested in partnering with St Antony’s in this work. all good wishes for this timely venture.”

“How exciting to discuss your admirable proposal. I so hope it can happen: it very much needs to be done.”

“That sounds a very worthwhile and exciting venture and, for us, very timely! Sadly, we shall be moving (…) and need to give thought to our archives.”

“I have for many years wanted to see a research centre for Anglican religious life. I am particularly concerned about the loss of information to women’s studies, as more and more communities are ageing and reduced in numbers.”

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