The first month of the new community

This year we welcomed our new member Jennii Shaw into the community and said goodbye to Sam and Amy, a sad time of goodbyes but the joy of fresh beginnings and what better way could we start the new year but with the retreat led by Bishop Dominic.  This provided us with a reminder of the spirit behind the rule of St. Benedict and a good time for the old and new to bond together.

Once this had finished it was full steam ahead to prepare for the New Year of Little Footprints, Harvest Festivals, Abergavenny Food Festival, All Age Worship, 7 Corners and Hotspot.

This first month has been all about settling in, getting to know each other and how we work together as community.  The dynamics are quite different to last year but with that comes a whole new way of looking at things and fresh ideas that wouldn’t have been possible last year, which is quite exciting.

We have introduced a new Bereavement group on a Wednesday, offering our traditional Benedictine Hospitality by just offering people the space and time as well as refreshments to meet with each other and share in the experiences of grieving and their lives. Through this we hope new friendships can be formed and mutual support can be offered.  The group meets on a Wednesday evening at 1715 in the priory center and has made a promising start after two sessions.

We spent the best part of two weeks preparing for the food festival, which happened over the weekend of the 17th and 18th September.  The Holywell Community put on a food justice trail in the church in which we educated people on the impact that our Western lifestyles have on the food chain and the number of miles food has to travel to end up on our plates as cheap as it does and thus the knock on impact on the environment and greenhouse gas emissions.  We did this through the illustration of building up a pizza and where all the different toppings came from, so people actually carried their cardboard pizzas around the church adding toppings as they went, colouring or gluing them on and then calculating the miles it had travelled.  The display was a hit among the younger children, which was good.  We also had displays on Fair Trade and Food Bank initiatives for the adults to partake in as well as they wondered around.  In addition to this we offered church tours around all our monuments and windows and brought people into a closer experience of God as a result.  It was a wonderful weekend in which many visitors felt the warmth of the Benedictine welcome.  This highlighted, on reflection, the impact of just doing the small things well, just welcoming people as they walk around with an open smile, this was often enough so people felt able to ask questions and have conversations without feeling you were intruding.

Our toddler group Little Footprints has also restarted again after the summer, and has restarted with a Harvest theme.  A harvest banner has been made by the children there, which is now travelling the churches as they celebrate Harvest Festival.  We have got off to a quick start this year and haven’t lost many parents with new ones coming along every week so Little Footprints continues from strength to strength bringing people into contact with Christ in new ways whilst offering a relaxed environment for all to catch up with each other and a warm environment to encourage play for the children.

Hot Spot has also begun again, taking a caravan to the young people of Llanfoist in the evenings and offering them something to do and a safe place to meet, chat and have something to eat and drink.  This is a great ministry to the young people of our town in going out and meeting them where they are rather than expecting people to come to us.  This is another expression of Christ being present in Abergavenny, which brings a lot to our town.

Looking ahead with Harvest Festivals in full swing and new initiatives taking off I think we’re all in for an exciting year in the Holywell Community and in Abergavenny as a whole as we seek to bring Christ into our communities and make the rule of St Benedict real in our lives.

The Shrewd Manager

Br Michael’s sermon on today’s Gospel – Luke 16:1-15…

The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.

I have always found this particular parable rather confusing, it seemed to make no sense to me. A rich man has a steward who is accused of dishonesty, so in order to prove his honesty and his worth, he tells his master’s debtors to each pay a small proportion of their debt. I am sure this would please the debtors: they avoid paying half their debt, but I wouldn’t have thought it would please the rich man very much: he only gets half his money back. In order to understand what Jesus is trying to say, we need to fully understand the parable.

The first thing that I had to realise when reading through this parable is that the rich man is not purely the victim. Although it is a nuisance, having a dishonest servant, it seems as though the master had been engaging in some rather dishonest practices himself.

Jews were, at the time, forbidden to lend money at interest, but many of them got around this rule by lending in kind, with oil and wheat being easy commodities to use for this purpose. What is most likely, in this story, is that the money the steward deducted from the debtors’ debts was simply the interest the rich man would have charged. This would have delighted the debtors, as they would only have to pay back the principal – the simple amount that was lent, instead of paying back interest also. The rich man, however, could not lay a charge against the steward without first admitting his own dishonest business practices. It was a safe way out for the steward – he had made friends with the debtors by reducing their debts and had trapped his employer into being unable to lay a charge against him for fear of himself being found wanting. It seems, therefore, that when the master heard about the steward’s dealings, he could only admire the man’s clever approach. He had acted shrewdly – it didn’t say he’d acted honestly, or kindly, or faithfully. The definition of shrewd reads: “showing sharp powers of judgement or being astute”. It is certainly fair to suggest that the steward acted astutely.

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

The second thing we must realise about the parable is that it is, in fact, a parable, not a teaching or dogma on money and how (not) to use it. Parables have meanings behind them. We need only look at the Parable of the Sower… the different characters and types of ground refer to different people. The same is true here. The master is God. The steward is Israel. The steward is meant to be God’s ‘property manager’, responsible to God and set over His possessions, yet Israel, as we see so much through the Gospels, has failed in the task and finds itself under the threat of immediate dismissal. What, then, should Israel do?

The Pharisees had an answer. Their solution was to tighten the regulations of the law yet further, but this served only to exclude the very people that Jesus was trying to reach out to. In this parable, Jesus tries to explain that if Israel is facing a major crisis, the solution is actually to forget the extra bits and pieces of the Law that the Pharisees have found and collected together and to make friends as and where they can. That is what ‘the people of this world’ would do and ‘the people of the light’ – that is, the Israelites – the believers – ought to do so too; learning from the cunning people of the world in order to cope with the crisis that was looming upon their generation.

Thus, instead of hoarding lands, possessions and money, Jesus’ advice was to use it, as far as possible, to make friends. A crisis was coming and the people of God had to be prepared. When I think of that, I think of the Public Safety videos they showed during the Cold War, showing families how to make nuclear fallout shelters in their front rooms. The motto was ‘Prepare and Survive’ and this was similar to what Jesus was advising.

This parable, it seems then, was very much aimed at the people of the day and, on first reading, seems to have little to do with us today. After all, Jesus’ death on the cross has saved us from the crisis to come. How then, can we use the parable to learn today?

Obviously, the parable has nothing to do with commending sharp practices in personal finances. Rather, it advises us to focus less on the extra rules and regulations that we as a church self-impose, which are over and above the Gospel teachings and values. The church, in the present day, is passing through turbulent times, with crises occurring almost daily. In these turbulent times, we as a church need to frequently assess what matters and what doesn’t.

The twentieth century saw the so-called ‘mainstream’ churches in many parts of the world – the ‘traditional denominations’ as we know them – fall into a state of decline, with many newer churches growing and spreading. We need only look at our own Diocese and town to see the Church in Wales being forced to close churches and use unpaid clergy, whilst cinemas and old shops across town are being opened as newer churches. So what can the traditional churches do? We need to learn to think slightly less conventionally, be prepared to make new friends across the traditional barriers that used to separate us and to discover again, in the true fellowship of the Gospel, a home that will last.

It is my prayer that we can all begin to do this, to ensure that we can continue to bring the Good News to the people of Abergavenny in the twenty-first century and beyond.

Food glorious food

Food has dominated our week this week….no we’ve not gone in for gluttony!!

We’ve been picking apples from our orchards and the Tithe Barn has made Apple Crumble, Apple Tarts and Apple & Date Sponge out of them.  Why not pop in and try some.

We have also had a ‘ week of prep’ on food related themes as we prepare for our Food Justice display at the Food Festival and Harvest theme for All Age Worship and Little Footprints (our Parent & Toddler groups).

Prep

 

New Term – what we plan!

As the Summer draws to a close, our minds turn to our Autumn activities.

Little footprints

We are excited that Little Footprints will return after its Summer break on Tuesday, September 6th. Do hope to see some new faces and lots of older ones.

Our craft and stories will start with a look at Harvest  and in the first Half term we will also look at angels and animals.

This Parent and Toddler Group meets each Tuesday in Term time from 10am – 11.30-am at Holy Trinity Hall, Baker Street.

 

Bereavement Group

The following day sees the first meeting of our new group for those who are bereaved.

Meeting weekly on Wednesday between 5.15pm – 7pm in the Priory Centre at St Mary’s Priory, Monk Street it is  a safe forum for people to meet others who are bereaved to make new friends and/or share experiences.

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Schools Days

On Thursdays in Term time we will again join the St Mary’s Priory Development Trust Learning Service Volunteers in hosting visits by local primary school children as they learn about the Tudors.

Spend a “Day in the Life of a monk” with us!

 

7 Corners /Hotspot

You will see us volunteering in the various 7 Corners / Hotspot activities to. To find out what they do click here.

New Community reflect on the Rule

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The Holywell Community and Bishop Dominic

Less than 48 hours after being commissioned and we were off on retreat to Llangasty. The retreat was led by Bishop Dominic Walker OGS and was based upon the Rule of Saint Benedict. There where seven addresses over a two day period, each focusing on a different area of the Rule. During each address we looked at how that Rule was applied when written and how it is still relevent today and how it can be applied now, three concepts seeped through the seven addresses, humility, hospitality and listening. Each one of these is interconnected as it is impossible to have one on its own – a Community needs all three. It is these three concepts that I find are some of the most central to Christian life as a whole not just within the Benedictine Rule.

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Bishop Dominic Walker OGS leads the addresses for the Community

Saint Benedict suggests that we need to be humble, but this is not just a case of having low expectations of oneself or offering self-sacrifice, but rather about knowing yourself inside and out, knowing who you are before God, all your strengths and all your weaknesses, and accepting these as they are – applying both to the building up of others around you. Through being humble we open ourselves up to being hospitable, as only when we know our strengths and weaknesses can we truly apply them to the care of others.

Within the rule of Saint Benedict, he writes ‘All who arrive are to be welcomed like Christ’ (Rule of Saint Benedict 53:1). He says this as a reflection on Holy Scripture where Christ says ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’ (Matt 25:35). It is from this verse Saint Benedict calls us to see everyone as Christ, Christ lives in us all and we in Him. Our human nature can make this a difficult task, as grievances and arguments occur with people who we perceive to have done us wrong, but Christ did not come so that he may gain the glory, but so He could take on all these wrong doings onto Himself, that we may be washed clean in His blood. He came to show us the Gospel, not to show us himself. He came for each and every one of us individually.  So, if God can love a person that much, surely we can. Once we begin to open our hearts in this way, we begin to hear the needs of each other within the silence of our hearts. Through this love of one another we should be able to recognise each others’ needs without having to be asked; this is why Saint Benedict states that the hospitality towards guest should not disrupt the life of the Monk, we should be aware of the guest’s needs so that they may be carried out without disruption. They are to be welcomed. but the must not be put in the way of our relationship with Christ. Silence is a big part of many Religious Communities, which can at first be overpowering, but once it has been explained it is the most refreshing ways of praying we can have.

The first word of the Rule of Saint Benedict is ‘listen’, but it goes much deeper than just listening. We need to take these things into ourselves – they must become part of our very being – we must truly hear the words behind them. This is apparent from the first sentence of the Rule, where Saint Benedict uses a quotation from scripture ‘Listen carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts and incline the ear of your heart.’ (Proverbs 4:20). We must listen with our hearts to the needs of others, this is how we are to be able to know and recognise the needs of our brothers and sisters without a word ever leaving either of our lips, but more importantly we are to listen to ‘our master’s precepts’ – we are to listen to God. We can do this through prayer, Prayer is not just a list of things we want God to know, or a list of things we would like God to help us accomplish, this is part of it, but a small part, Prayer is the way we strengthen our relationship with God, it is a conversation. But conversation doesn’t work if it is only one-sided, we must allow time for God to listen to us and also time for us to listen to God. For many, the silence is deafening, it screams of their true self, the one God created, so they try to hide from it and distract themselves with noise, the noise of the world with music and entertainment, and inner noise, of lists and thoughts of things which need to be done, things that have happened and of comments of who they are in society; but once we have inner silence, we become stripped bare before God, like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, this can be scary, here it is that God sees us fully, uncovered and unguarded, our defences are down. This is scary for it is here we are most vulnerable, we fear that our true self is not good enough and may be rejected. But God gazes upon us and loves us for who we are. It is here God sees past all our distraction and sees us more deeply. Here He sees into the desires of the heart, rather than the wants of the mind. He sees what is really needed and all to often it is just to spend time with him, the thing we are afraid of is the thing we need the most, as time goes by it becomes more comfortable in this way, as just like any relationship with friends and family: the more time you spend together the closer you become, each friendship grows with group conversations but it grows more intimate and we became bonded more through one on one conversations there is a need for both. As a true friendship it is the same with God, the importance of both silent prayer and communal prayer must not be underestimated. As our friendships with each other strengthen, it become natural to just be with each other without the need to do, this is the same for our relationship with God.

Llangasty

The serene view in the early mornings

I found that the retreat house at Llangasty was a perfect place to be reflecting on the Rule as it was our first retreat together as this new community, so it gave us a place where we could just be together but also a place to just be with God, away from all distractions in the peaceful and serene setting that it has, here I was able to reflect on the beauty of the world that God had created for us and see the Love He had put into it for us.

Sister Jennii Shaw

NEW COMMUNITY COMMISSIONED

ON the Eve of the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary the new Community was Commissioned.

During the service our Episcopal Visitor, Bishop Richard of Monmouth took as his text: The Revelation to St John 12:1-2

After that there appeared a great sign in heaven: a woman robed with the sun, beneath her feet the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was about to bear a child, and in the anguish of her labour she cried out to be delivered.

He said:

A woman robed with the sun. You may be excused for thinking – on this Patronal day – that this woman in Revelation is Mary. It isn’t. The writer, St. John draws on the figure of Ziôn, the new Jerusalem, the church.

And that is quite appropriate because when we think of Mary, the mother of our Lord, we should always be drawn into two directions. To Jesus. And to the church. In ultimate truth it is the same direction, in practice it is a journey that twists and turns as we come to lay our lives and our will to God’s plan of redemption.

So today, as a parish community we celebrate the journey of Mary, and recognise that this our journey as faithful disciples of Jesus.

What I want to reflect about – for a few moments – is the cost of Mary’s discipleship and the cost of our own.

This week I have been surrounded by martyrs. No, not the type who make a fuss about nothing. No I mean real martyrs. St Teresa Benedicta of the cross ( Edith Stein) and also Maximilian Kolbe. St Maximilian is remembered today and St Teresa Bendicticta last week.

They were twentieth century martyrs. Both were born in Poland, both died in Auschwitz. Edith Stein was brought up a Jew , became an atheist and then converted to Christianity. She became a Carmelite nun living in the Netherlands at the Order of our Lady of Peace. Discovered to be a convert, she was taken to Auschwitz camp and gassed the next day.

Maximilian was a remarkable Polish priest who was devoted to the ministry of Mary. He famously took the place of another prisoner and after weeks of starvation was killed by injection.

They are radical examples of discipleship and yet they shared the same intent. To give all to God and by so doing to give all to those he calls us to serve.

Now those examples of red martyrs as they are called (for they were killed for their faith) are extreme and not really for us. But their lives are worth reading. Edith, or St Teresa Benedicta as she was called, was also a great thinker and writer. But here is a simple quote, which for me sums up the profundity and simplicity of discipleship.

NEWTEAM

 

“Let go of your plans. The first hour of your morning belongs to God.”

It is a call for all of us to get our priorities right. Start with God, centre on him and the rest will flow. I know it’s true because it works! If I am overly cocky or independent I will inevitably fall on my face. There are unwritten laws of the spiritual life which operate and that is the simplest and yet the hardest. Give your self to God. Like Mary did when she said “let it be”. Like Edith Stein or Maximilian.

And to give us an example of this intent to centre on God we have the Holywell Community in our midst. They take St Teresa Benedicta’s words to heart. The first hour of your morning belongs to God. Of course in monastic terms the hour is part of the office. And each day the Holywell Community will be in the office, this church, praying the hour of Lauds, or morning prayer. They are not obvious saints. – Unless I have missed some thing! But they are models for us, and for themselves of a faithful community who tries to put God first. And it’s working. Now in its third year the community flourishes and is a place of growth, of acceptance and of vocation. It’s presence here is a blessing for the parish,the church and the wider community.

As I come to commission them for a further year I do so with hope and joy because I see God blessing their intent of putting him at the centre of their lives together. In the charism that they are given both as individuals and as a community may they live out the discipleship of Mary and others, and may they bless you as you bless them.

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Community Selfie

During the Service Sr Jennii was Commissioned and Brs MIchael and Adrain were re-commissioned by the Bishop. While the Prior admitted Founder Lay-members Sam and Amy as Associate Members.

ASSOC

The Community will shortly go on a  Retreat to Llangasty Retreat House led by Bishop Dominic OGS, before commencing duties back in Abergavenny.

Community to run Bereavement social group from September.

Starting in September the Holywell Community is to host  a group to enable those who have been bereaved to meet for mutual support and friendship. It will take place in the Priory Centre on Wednesdays. Drop in any time between 5.30pm and 7.15pm.

 

The Prior, Canon Mark Soady announcing the new group said,

We have been approached by a number of ladies who have asked if such  a forum exists – so we are responding to  a need in the Community, as the Benedictines have done in Abergavenny for nearly 1000 years. We will provide a space, tea and coffee for those who need to meet.