A Franciscan Spirituality

On Easter Sunday 1991 the Community of the Little Followers of Saint Francis was founded by Sister Laurel Clare and Brother Edwin Thomas (Lloyd-Jones) LFSF; Rita Reid, and Michael Reid. The inspiration for founding the community came through prayer and discernment as community members recognised, in their shared life and purpose together, how similar this had become to the spirituality and ethos exampled by Saint Francis and Saint Clare of Assisi.

When Laurel received in her prayer guidance the message to contact both the Catholic Archbishop, and also Anglican Bishop, to inform them that the community at Elm Grove Sanctuary had founded the Little Followers of St. Francis, all four were somewhat agog. Laurel had received the assurance that they would be ‘well received’ so they followed this up and contacted the bishops to arrange a meeting to discuss their fledgling community. This extract from The Elm Grove Story – a mystical journey outlines their reception:

As we were all accepting of this, Laurel contacted the respective offices of the Bishops for Canberra and Goulburn to make the appointments. Our first appointment was with the former Anglican Bishop Owen Dowling and his Archdeacon Alan Huggins. The following day we met with the Catholic Archbishop Francis Carroll. Laurel’s guidance had proven perfectly correct as Bishop Owen gave us his blessing and wished us well and on the subsequent day Archbishop (Father) Francis gave us his blessing saying ‘your story has the hallmark of the Holy Spirit upon it.’  He offered us his ongoing support and encouragement.

Later Catholic Archbishop Francis Carroll and Anglican Bishop George Browning (who replaced Bishop Owen Dowling), accepted the invitation to become the community’s Bishop Protectors/Guardians. The Little Followers of St Francis is profoundly ecumenical in its broadest sense and the Bishops as Protectors held no ecclesiastical power over the community. They freely offered their much-valued support and counsel and came to be greatly loved by the community.

When ‘Clare’s Chapel of Hope’ was completed at Elm Grove Sanctuary it was co-blessed by both Bishops on 9th April, 1994. On this occasion Brother Edwin Thomas, Sister Laurel Clare and Sister Mona Jeshua (Tyler) made their Life Professions – called by Sister Joanne Fitzsimons, Abbess General of the Order of St Clare. Each was co-blessed by their Bishop Protectors. Sister Anne McLeod-Nibbs LFSF made her Life Profession on 17th November, 2000 in St Clare’s Chapel of Hope. Sr Laurel Clare called Anne to her vows and Archbishop Francis and Bishop George gave their blessings. Many other people became associates of the community over the following years.

Hundreds gathered for the Chapel Blessing and Life Professions of Sr Mona, Sr Laurel and Br Edwin. A banner symbolising the river was carried up from the St Francis Nature Chapel by many hands. Water drawn from the river and ashes from the smoking ceremony by members of the Indigenous community were used for the Blessing and Dedication of St Clare’s Chapel of Hope by the Bishops.

Sr Joanne Fitzsimons OSC called (L – R) Br Edwin Thomas Lloyd-Jones lfsf, Sr Laurel Clare Lloyd-Jones lfsf & Sr Mona Jeshua Tyler lfsf to their Life Vows as Franciscans. Each received a lighted candle and an individual blessing from both Bishops. They then signed their vows on the altar and joined all present in joyful singing of ‘Lord of the Dance’.

St Anne McLeod-Nibbs made her Life Profession on 17th November 2000 In St Clare’s Chapel of Hope before our Bishop Protectors. This deep commitment was celebrated with her family and friends who came to share in her special day.

The community became the first ecumenical Franciscan community in Australia and was invited to become members of the Australian Franciscan Federation. Our community invited membership for both individuals and also married couples. Today professed members and associates live within the wider world continuing to seek always to serve, and live by example within the spirit of Francis and Clare of Assisi.

Francis saw in every creature, and every aspect of nature, the presence of the divine and sought to praise it and to care for it. He sought a kinship and fellowship with all of nature and did not seek to dominate or to control the natural world.

His Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon allows us to view his deep insight into the heart of all creation – animate and inanimate – something unique for his times and still somewhat rare even today. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZZFO9F8FWU

“The story of the universe begins for each human being as soon as we look with wonder, awe and curiosity at the world around us. As we begin to learn about the story from the scientists, the universe reveals itself to us in surprising ways. If we fix our eyes on the nearest mountain, or better still gaze into the heavens on a starry night, we might be inclined to think that the world, at least the physical world, is permanent. Nothing could be further from the truth. Teilhard in the Phenomenon of Man, echoing modern scientific probings into the origins of the universe, tells us that the primary feature of the story is one of change and transformation. True, the time-scale for the transformations is enormous and the space immense. The figures involved are often beyond what our human sense of time and space can comprehend, but still they tell us that we live in an evolving universe. The challenge of our times is to understand how this insight can chart our course in today’s world.”  The Story of the Universe, from To Care for the Earth: a call to a new theology– by Sean McDonagh