Members of religious communities may be known as monks or nuns, particularly in those communities which require their members to live permanently in one location; they may be known as friars or sisters, a term used particularly (though not exclusively) by religious orders whose members are more active in the wider community, often living in smaller groups. Amongst the friars and sisters the term mendicant is sometimes applied to orders whose members are geographically mobile, frequently moving between different small community houses. Brother and Sister are common forms of address across all the communities. The titles Father and Mother or Reverend Father and Reverend Mother are commonly applied to the leader of a community, or sometimes more generally to all members who have been ordained as priests. In the Benedictine tradition the formal titles Right Reverend and Very Reverend are sometimes applied to the Abbot (leader) and Prior (deputy leader) of the community.[a] Benedictine communities sometimes apply the titles Dom and Dame to professed male and female members, rather than Brother and Sister.
Religious orders were dissolved by King Henry VIII when he separated the Church of England from papal primacy. In 1626, the saintly Nicholas Ferrar, a protege of William Laud (1573-1645), and his family established the Little Gidding community. Since there was no formal Rule (such as the Rule of Saint Benedict), no vows taken, and no enclosure, Little Gidding cannot be said to be a formal religious community, like a monastery, convent, or hermitage. The household had a routine according to High Church principles and the Book of Common Prayer. Fiercely denounced by the Puritans and denounced as "Protestant Nunnery" and as an Arminian heresy, Little Gidding was attacked in a 1641 pamphlet entitled "The Arminian Nunnery". The fame of the Ferrars and the Little Gidding community spread and they attracted visitors. King Charles I visited three times, including on 2 May 1646 seeking refuge after the Royalist defeat at the Battle of Naseby. The community ended when its last member died in 1657.
Although the Ferrar community remained a part of the Anglican ethos (Bishop Francis Turner composed a memoir of Nicholas Ferrar prior to his death in 1700), not until the mid-nineteenth century with the Catholic Revival or Oxford Movement and the revival of Anglican religious orders did Little Gidding reach the consciousness of the average Anglican parishioner. Since that time, interest in the community has grown and not been limited to members of the Anglican Communion. Accord to ascetical theologian Martin Thornton, much of the appeal is due to Nicholas Ferrar and the Little Gidding community’s exemplifying the lack of rigidity (representing the best Anglicanism's via media can offer) and "common-sense simplicity", coupled with "pastoral warmth", which are traceable to the origins of Christianity.
Between 1841 and 1855, several religious orders for women were begun, among them the Community of St. Mary the Virgin at Wantage and the Society of Saint Margaret at East Grinstead. Religious orders for men appeared later, beginning in 1866 with the Society of St. John the Evangelist (Cowley Fathers). In North America, the founding of Anglican religious orders began in 1842 with the Nashotah Community (men) in Wisconsin, followed in 1845 by the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion in New York. In recent decades, there has been a remarkable growth of religious orders in other parts of the Anglican Communion, most notably in Tanzania, South Africa, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea. There are currently about 2,400 monks and nuns in the Anglican communion, about 55% of whom are women and 45% of whom are men.
During the three centuries from dissolution to restoration some views expressed a desire for the restoration of the religious life within Anglicanism. In 1829 the poet Robert Southey, in his Colloquies (cxiii.), trusts that “thirty years hence this reproach also may be effaced, and England may have its Beguines and its Sisters of mercy. It is grievously in need of them.”
Practical efforts were made in the religious households of Nicholas Ferrar at Little Gidding, 1625, and of William Law at King's Cliffe, 1743; and under Charles II, says Fr. Bede in his Autobiography, “about 12 Protestant ladies of gentle birth and considerable means” founded a short-lived convent, with William Sancroft, then Dean of St Paul's, for director.
Southey's appeal had weight, and before the thirty years had passed, compassion for the needs of the destitute in great cities, and the impulse of a strong Church revival, aroused a body of laymen, among whom were included William Gladstone, Sir T. D. Acland, Mr A. J. Beresford-Hope, Lord Lyttelton and Lord John Manners (chairman), to exertions which restored sisterhoods to the Church of England. On 26 March 1845 the Park Village Community was set on foot in Regent's Park, London, to minister to the poor population of St Pancras. The “Rule” was compiled by Edward Pusey, who also gave spiritual supervision. In the Crimean War the superior and other sisters went out as nurses with Florence Nightingale. The community afterwards united with the Devonport Sisters, founded by Miss Sellon in 1849, and together they form what is known as Ascot Priory. The St Thomas's sisterhood at Oxford commenced in 1847; and the mother-superior of the Holy Trinity Convent at Oxford, Marian Hughes, dedicated herself before witnesses to such a life as early as 1841.