September 2020

Friday 4th – This piece of news strictly belongs in last month’s mlog (monastic blog), but I didn’t want it to get missed. On the 25 August Bishop Anne Hollinghurst of Aston became our new Bishop Visitor. Bishop John of Worcester, whose term as Visitor has come to an end, has been our Visitor for the last ten years. The Visitor’s job is to provide oversight and support and make sure we don’t go way off-piste. I think I’m right in saying none of us has yet met Bishop Anne, but we look forward to a socially-distanced visit (lowercase v) sometime soon.

On 1st September we welcomed Sam Riley as our latest Alongsider. Sam, who has become a familiar face at Mucknell over the last few years, has taken the opportunity of a year-long sabbatical from his post with the Forestry Commission in Oxfordshire. We are now almost at capacity, with only one spare cell left. So if you’re thinking about exploring a monastic vocation don’t put it off any longer. As they say at Aldi: when it’s gone, it’s gone!

Saturday 12th – Last night we prayed our farewells to Sam, who on reflection decided that now was not the right time to test his vocation. Fortunately he has been able to resume his life without too much disruption. We wish him well as he continues his discernment and look forward to seeing him again when the guestwing re-opens.

Br Stuart and I were on kitchen detail this week and over the potato-peeling he told me that his first Aspirancy (as they called it then), aged twenty-eight, lasted only two weeks.

“Why was that?” I asked.

“I realised I had a lot of growing up to do”

“And to think you later became Superior for twenty years”

[with mock outrage] “Excuse me, it was twenty one years”

[smiling] “Of course, twenty one years… Look, you’ve missed a bit”.

Wednesday 16th – Last week, from Monday through to Thursday, our two novices took part in a virtual internovitiate study week. Sr Jessica writes:

“Over the course of 5 afternoons, a group of novices met via Zoom for a study week / conference with a difference! Usually we’d gather in person 3 times a year for study, fellowship and prayer. We were able to meet in Gerrard’s Cross in February, hosted by the Sisters of the Church, but haven’t been able to meet physically for either our June or September conferences. Sr Alison therefore organised a week for us to take it in turns to share a book that has been significant to us in our journeys so far. Over the week, 10 of us took part in often lively discussions, with 8 people all together sharing a wide variety of texts that have helped and inspired them. Discussion flowed naturally out of these texts, and covered such areas as prayer, both individual and corporate, the work of the Holy Spirit, poverty, the environment, celibacy, Christian unity, contemplation, stability, different ways of living our own and our communities’ charisms, and much more besides. It was also a great time to catch up with some familiar faces and meet some new people.

Most of us found the Zoom experience quite tiring, and it was definitely not an ideal way for new novices to suddenly meet a whole bunch of new people, but overall the week has been immensely rewarding, and I think has given everyone at least one or two new reading ideas!”

The books chosen by the group

Sr Sally has begun a two week period of self-isolation in the hermitage ahead of a hospital operation. She is managing to keep the Devil at bay with that most monastic of spiritual weapons: handicraft. These two baskets recently appeared in the East Link (or “Leper’s Link” as I’m calling it), proof – along with the return of empty lunch plates – that all must be well:

A doe and her fawn have taken up residence in the Hazel copse near to the entrance of the estate. I see them now almost every evening. They’re a bit wary, the young one especially, but unlike many others they don’t bound away at the first sight or sound of a human. The other day I more or less ran into them and they did nothing more than momentarily look up from their grazing (“destroying the trees” Br Adrian calls it). I kicked myself for once again forgetting to bring a camera. However I must have been feeling unusually energetic, because I decided to run (then jog, then walk, then sort of lunge breathlessly) back to the building to get one, confident in the hope they’d stay put and submit nonchalantly to a photoshoot.

Well they did and they didn’t. Like people: it’s okay if you stumble upon them naturally, but they get suspicious if you start stalking them. I did get very close at one point and then a rabbit shot out from the undergrowth and startled all of us (yes, there was literally a rabbit off). Anyway, I managed to get you this. I hope you enjoy it.

Postscript: It turns out that ‘there’s a rabbit off’ is a Geordie expression. Even now, at the age of thirty six, I’m still discovering words and phrases which I assume are standard English but turn out to be peculiar to the North East. I remember not that long ago getting exasperated with someone who didn’t understand what I meant by ‘he gave me wrong’ (he told me off). When ‘there’s a rabbit off’ it means something’s wrong, or something’s up. Perhaps the preceeding paragraph makes more sense now.

Tuesday 22nd – On Sunday we celebrated Br Stuart’s Golden Jubilee of Priestly Ordination. A special liturgy was prepared for the Eucharist, which included a piece by Hildegard of Bingen sung by Sr Gregory and a renewal of commitment to ministry. Br Stuart also gave a short homily in which he talked about how his understanding of ministry had changed over the years. Having once seen himself as part of an elite clerical caste, he now understands an important aspect of his vocation to be an enabler of the royal priesthood of all believers.

Br Michaël spent many hours in the kitchen creating a Gateau Saint-Honoré for lunch, which disappeared very quickly, and an anonymous benefactor sent Br Stuart two bottles of champagne, which went the same way.

Br Stuart standing opposite Bishop John Moorland on the day of his ordination in 1970.