The Third Order, Society of Saint Francis (TSSF), whose members are usually called Tertiaries, is the present day expression of the Order of Penitents, founded by Saint Francis of Assisi in the early 13th Century. Francis had already attracted to his own calling many men who became known as Friars Minor, or Lesser Brothers in English. Their mission and ministry was to preach the Good News of our Lord Jesus Christ and to make our Lord known and loved everywhere. With his encouragement a woman named Clare had established an enclosed Order of women, and they became known as the Minoresses, or the Poor Clares. The successors to Francis and his Friars, in the twenty-first century Anglican Church, are the brothers of the Society of Saint Francis (SSF) and the sisters of the Community of Saint Francis (CSF), and those of Saint Clare and her Sisters are the Community of Saint Clare (who by tradition use the letters OSC after their name).
There are now more than three thousand members of the Third Order world-wide, and so we are divided into Provinces: Europe (which has nearly two thousand members), the Americas, Australia, New Zealand and Africa. The European Province is divided into Clusters, and each cluster comprises a number of Areas, and within each Area there are local groups. You might be pleased to know that the most important unit in all this is the local group.
The Brothers and Sisters of the Third Order are vowed to lifelong Commitment to Christ and bear witness to the Gospel of Life in their homes and in the occupations to which they believe God has called them. They are those, married or single, ordained or lay, who though following the ordinary patterns of life, feel called to a lifelong dedication under a definite discipline, in accord with Saint Francis intention when he encouraged the first formation of a Third Order, recognising that unlike Friars Minor and the sisters who followed Saint Clare, many of God’s children are called to serve Him not in a literal acceptance of the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, but in an observance of their spirit in the ordinary professions of life.
Anyone over the age of eighteen years who is an Anglican, or a member of a Church in Communion with us can become a member of the Third Order. The Formation program consists of a minimum 3 year period of both discernment and formation – discernment as to God’s call to the religious life in general and to the Franciscan life in particular, and formation as a Franciscan tertiary. This period consists of a period of aspirancy, usually lasting several months, a period of postulancy of at least 6 months and a period of novitiate of at least 2 years.
See “An Introduction to the Third Order” which provides some further information about us. A printed Enquirer’s Form, available by post from Third Order Distribution, has the same information. You may also like to read some Third Order Journeys (personal accounts written by Tertiaries).
If, after reading some of this material, you wish to discuss your possible vocation to the Order, see the web page “How to Join”.
The Booklet “Being Called” (PDF) is an earlier publication which may be helpful, but note that the contact details for the Provincial Novice Guardian there are out of date – see the second entry in the page “To whom to send things” for the up-to-date information.