A Disciplined Life

“We want a rule which shall answer to the complexity of our own age. We want a discipline which shall combine the sovereignty of soul of Antony, the social devotion of Benedict, the humble love of Francis, and the matchless energy of the Jesuits…”

Brooke Foss Westcott, A Disciplined Life (1868)

What is a Rule of Life?

A Rule of Life helps us to live a Christian life more intentionally. It encapsulates the principles and disciplines by which we aspire to live. A Rule is a framework around which a Christian character can take shape. For many people a Rule is an important aid on the spiritual journey. It prevents us from drifting and allows us to think about the shape we would like our lives to have. A Rule of Life works on the principle that we are all creatures of habit and it would be best if we cultivated good habits.

As B. F. Westcott points out in his sermon on ‘A Disciplined Life’, Rules of Life have their roots in the Rules of religious orders. These Rules were communal before they were individual. The Westcott Rule expresses our aspirations of our life as a Christian community. It outlines the expectations that we have of one another. It is the backbone for a more personal rule, which is something to talk over with our tutor or supervisor, and spiritual director.    

The Westcott Rule of Life bears witness to the core of our purpose here:

  • to grow in holiness and to nurture our relationship with God, through prayer and worship, and life with others
  • to grow in wisdom, engaging with the riches of our inheritance of faith and to articulate it afresh amidst the complexity of our own age,
  • to grow in compassion and to cultivate a capacity for attentiveness to the world and its needs.
  • to develop a disposition of openness to Christ and to those among whom we are called to serve.

We seek to grow as priests and pastors and missionaries of Christ’s gospel. This Rule sets out the habits of a disciplined life, habits to be cultivated in order to sustain a lifetime of fruitful ministry.

Holiness: Habits of the Soul

We come to Westcott in order to grow in holiness. Prayer is the pulse that runs through our life. We become participants in the public prayer of the Church so that we may come to inhabit it, and so that it may reshape us. This involves faithful daily attendance at the office, and the Eucharist on Sundays, Thursdays and the principal feasts of the Church year. For many of us this includes daily Communion. We also commit to say the office during vacations or when we are away from the community. We are accountable to Christ and to one another in this discipline. Prayer is the foundation for our growth in holiness.

Alongside our liturgical prayer we put time aside for personal prayer, and this too we seek to engage in on a regular basis.  This is likely to involve meditation and contemplation. Intercession is important: for the needs of the world, for those who have asked for our prayers, for those close to us and in our care, and for ourselves.

Growth in holiness requires care for ourselves with the same diligence that we would care for others.  There are many aspects to the Christian’s care of the self, and this embraces the physical, spiritual, emotional and relational dimensions of each of us. We attend to our need for regular space and time for ourselves, maintaining a day off each week, taking holidays, nurturing friendships. Crucially, we ensure that our primary relationships with partners and family are honoured and strengthened by the time and quality of attention we make for them. God does not call us to conflicting vocations and we are to discern how God is calling us to attend to both our commitment to ministry and our commitment to family.

We are to be on guard against the particular dangers of working in the pressurised atmosphere of a theological college. These include not getting enough sleep, or exercise, or social time with others, or quiet time by ourselves. These practical matters are something to talk over with our tutor or supervisor, and spiritual director; they are no less spiritual for being eminently material. In response to the calling we have each received, we expect each of us to see our spiritual director regularly through the year.

Moderation over food and drink is firmly laid before us by the spiritual traditions of both the Western and Eastern Churches, as is the principle of taking one full day off each week. The best pattern of leisure and self-discipline will differ from person to person. The liturgical year invites us to embrace seasons of specific spiritual practices and disciplines individually and communally. We can also each embrace the principle of a Sabbath, of one day off per week as a period of rest, and undertake the dominical practice of spiritual retreats.  We must address these matters with our tutor and spiritual director, particularly if we are not keeping a day off, or developing habits that inhibit our spiritual growth.

Wisdom: Habits of the Mind


We come to Westcott in order to grow in faithful wisdom. Jesus taught us to love God with all of our heart, mind, soul and strength. At theological college we may find ourselves being called to love God with our minds with an intensity we had not experienced previously. The years we have together are a unique opportunity to grow in the love of God through increasing in our knowledge of the Christian tradition.  The gift of this opportunity is a gift to use to the full.  One of the riches of Westcott House is the great range of talents and experiences that members bring, and to enable their development we have a range of training pathways and opportunities.  We welcome the diversity of ways we each grow in wisdom, and recognise that we do not value our own formational and educational pathway if we do not value those of the rest of the community.

Our studies have many dimensions. We learn information – the content of the Christian faith – but not as so many isolated facts. Theological learning is formational: what we come to know and understand changes who we are and how we act. As a community we are involved individually and corporately in the task of theological thinking and reflection, so as to bring our theological studies, the world around us, and our own hearts, into constant dialogue. We make the most of the extraordinary intellectual resources in Cambridge, to help us in understanding our faith and the world.

Our training also involves learning skills. We learn how to do things well, and how to inhabit those actions authentically, theologically and prayerfully.  We understand that how we act, and how we engage in the practice of being in training, and in priestly ministry, including as tutors and teachers, bears the qualities of who we are as people of prayer and reflection.

Our growth in wisdom takes time, diligence and patience.  We will notice the changes through our time in theological college, but these changes are not likely to be smooth, but challenging and demanding.  It is in our life together, rooted in our worship and prayer, that we live into the wisdom to which we are called.

Christ is our teacher, and our learning in faith and wisdom springs from the Eucharist and our life of prayer, and becomes a form of prayer itself, a matter of adoration and contemplation. We can take as our own the aim of St Thomas Aquinas for the friars of his order: ‘to contemplate and to pass on to others the fruits of our contemplation’.

Compassion: Habits of the Heart

We come to Westcott in order to share in the compassion of Christ and his passion for justice in a broken and distressed world. Sharing in Christ’s compassion for the suffering and needs of others, and our longing to respond as servants of Christ, is the motivation for our work of evangelism, reconciliation, mercy and justice. In his letters, St Paul speaks of the Church as the Body of Christ.  Our participation in the Body of Christ is the primordial fact of Christian identity, so radical in its repercussions that we continue adjusting to it for the rest of our lives. The charter for a Christian community is to discover what it means to live as members together of the Body of Christ.

The Church is universal but it finds its expression in a local form. Our life together is such an expression of the universal church. We are the Body of Christ in this place and at this time, sustained by God in his calling of each one of us to be here. In the words of a past Principal of the House, B. K. Cunningham, we are here in order to become the person that God is calling us to be. God’s calling of us to this community is his gift, and we receive one another in that spirit. This is the creative tension of life in a theological college: it is a community on the move, one that we join in order to leave, and yet it is also the place where we live and grow as members of Christ’s body here and now.

In a body various different parts work together. Of all that Paul finds in this image, it is this sense that delights him most. Christians share in a basic unity through baptism but the Church is not uniform; it is characterised by difference and cooperation. As a ‘community of differences’ we recognise this diversity, and learn to respect it and learn from it. We ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’ and ‘rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep’. We commit to receive the difference that each of us offers in community.  We recognise that in engaging with each others’ differences we will ourselves be changed, to become more truly ourselves in Christ.

Difference can be provocative. To live together in harmony members of a community have, in particular, to learn the discipline of ‘guarding the tongue’ (Proverbs 21.23). That involves not ‘bearing false witness’ (Exodus 20.16), and avoiding unkind words, either spoken to people’s faces or behind their backs. In his Rule, St Benedict speaks of the importance of taciturnitas, by which he means the avoidance of damaging and thoughtless speech. Benedict includes specific references to ‘crude jokes’ and ‘idle gossip’ – both of which refer to demeaning other people. This is one of the most serious threats to our common life. It relates to all forms of communication, including email and other forms of messaging. ‘Guarding the tongue’ involves knowing when to refrain from speaking. It demands discretion. It means avoiding dogmatic, divisive or destructive chatter.

When we fail, penitence may lead us to reflect on the fact that reconciliation with God is the basis for reconciliation with one another. We should seek both to forgive and to be forgiven, and to be agents of reconciliation between others. One of the gifts of the Incarnation is to learn that wherever possible this is a face to face process, not one that can be achieved remotely.

All this we attend to, and learn, and are fashioned by, in order that we can show and share Christ’s compassion in the world.  We are becoming public witnesses to Christ’s death and resurrection, so that more may come to know the glory of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ, and the world be transformed by his compassion and mercy.

Openness: the Disposition of Heart, Mind and Soul

As the Body of Christ in this place, and at this time, we are called to embody Christ’s self-giving love.  This requires an open, not closed or fixed disposition.  We are to be open to one another, open to those among whom we learn and serve, and above all open to the Spirit of Christ in our midst. It is from our openness to Christ in the Eucharist and in our life of prayer that our mission and evangelism flows. We learn to embody Christ’s love more deeply, more sacrificially and more openly in our practice of ministry on placement and attachment, through the work of Lyn’s House and other mission projects, through college missions, through our engagement with other cultures and contexts, and through our work for justice and reconciliation.  In every situation we see Christ at work and are drawn into his loving service.

We all make mistakes.  It is an important part of how we learn and grow.  Our openness both allows those mistakes to happen and enables us to learn from them.  If we do not make mistakes we are not taking any risks; if we take no risks then we are not living into the Gospel that demands we take the risk of denying ourselves.

We learn to embody Christ’s love more deeply together as a community which flourishes as each person strives to work for the common good. Each of us has certain works to perform, either because they suit our skills and temperament, or simply because they need to be done and we can do them. Not everyone is good at everything. This is a positive thing: no one should seek to do everything, but rather to yield a place to others. Some responsibilities come with an office, for instance with positions on the Common Room Committee. Others come simply from the resolution to pull our weight, whether by volunteering (gardening, for instance) or taking our part in duties by rota (such as recycling or serving at the bar).  All of them are acts of self-giving service.

The disunity of the Church is a scandal precisely because it is something that deters others from following Christ. It is a stumbling block. The unity of Christians is a priority for us. We work towards it by living at peace with one another: in the House, in the Cambridge Theological Federation, and beyond. We cultivate a habitual disposition of respect and by our love bear witness to the love of Christ. The life of hospitality and reconciliation we seek to live here will provide the bedrock for the ministry we will exercise in the wider Church.

We are also called to give our time, our concern and our attention. Most of all we are called to give ourselves joyfully and faithfully. We offer our lives for the sake of Christ, his Church and his Gospel. We give of ourselves in the places we work, minister and study, in the conviction that ‘the one who calls us is faithful’ (1 Thessalonians 5.24).

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