For most people, the week begins on Monday. Our week begins twice in the community; first on Sunday, and then again with the start of the working week on Tuesday, as Monday is our day off. After Mass, which is said every morning in St Mary’s Priory, we walk over to Holy Trinity Church to lead Little Footprints, our parent and toddler group. This morning the children are making birthday cards for St Mary, to celebrate her Nativity, and reading a story about food in preparation for the Harvest and food festival.
In the afternoon we set out tables on the vicarage lawn, and serve tea, coffee and Welsh cakes to the residents of Riverside Court, St Mary’s newest neighbours. Despite the gloomy weather, many of the residents come out to chat with us and walk around the beautiful vicarage garden. As a tea drinker, one of the most important lessons for me so far has been how to work a coffee machine! Hospitality is a big part of the work of a Benedictine community, and so our lives here, but sometimes it seems strange to me that it counts as work – we receive so much more back than we can give. As the newest member of the community, I’m regularly asked how I’m settling in and if there is anything I need, which has helped me to feel at home already.
After Lauds, Sr Jennii and I walk across town to meet volunteers who work with Crafty
Women. It’s great to find out more about volunteering in Monmouthshire, and think about how the community can get involved. If you are interested in volunteering in the local area, and helping to support some incredible projects, you can find out more about it here. We’re back for Sext, and then across town to Abergavenny Baptist Church, to talk about community life and our journeys with the ABC fellowship group who meet their every Wednesday at 2.30pm. The group pray and sing hymns before we speak, including one of my favourites, Great is thy faithfulness. It seems to be the right word for Abergavenny – there is so much happening here, and the churches of the town are right in the middle of it all.
Thursday is normally my day for helping in the Tithe Barn Café, but today we are expecting pupils from Our Lady and St Michael’s Catholic Primary School on a Tudor-themed visit to the church. Pupils rotate through three workshops: a workshop on Tudor pastimes, one on Tudor food, and a Day in the Life of a Monk session led by Fr Mark, Sr Jennii and I. All the workshop leaders and assistants are dressed in period costume, including a Benedictine monk’s habit and hood for me. It’s a little strange seeing myself dressed as a traditional monk, with my Holywell pectoral cross on over the habit! Our visitors ask excellent questions, and to my delight, many decide that they would be willing to become medieval monks. The highlight of the tour for me is showing each group the Beadsman hidden in Sir Richard Herbert’s tomb – at eleven years old I would never have been brave enough to put my hand under the marble foot to feel the hidden carving.
Thursday is also the feast of the Holy Cross, which I have never really celebrated before. It’s good to have something to focus my prayers on. With Easter so far off, it’s also a good chance to think about the cross and Jesus’ passion once more.
On Friday, set-up for the Food Festival begins in earnest. We set out tables, chairs and gazebos on the vicarage lawn ready for the church cream teas, and run through the schedule for the weekend. The food festival brings thousands of people into Abergavenny, and stallholders, exhibitors, and speakers from across the country come to share their knowledge. In the evening, the Festival Fringe runs a talk on sustainable fishing practices in the church, to a large audience. The Abergavenny Food Network run a community kitchen and campaign on food sustainability; you can find more information about them on their facebook page.
The main day of the food festival! Sr Jennii and I are based on the Priory site, helping out with the tea on the lawn and running a creation-based activity for children during the day. It is wonderful to see people coming into the church to pray and explore the building. In the middle of the day I venture out into the market hall to find lunch (pizza, with the most gorgeous, floury, fresh-baked base I’ve had outside of Italy). The atmosphere is incredible, but it also makes me appreciate the tranquillity of the church. In the midday office we thank God for time to rest in the middle of the day, and I’m coming to understand and appreciate that office more and more. Heavy rain breaks out in the early evening, bringing a damp end to the evening market, but by this point the Community are already in bed!
The last day of the food festival, but more importantly, time for the church community to gather and worship. It’s my week to serve at the 8am Mass at St Mary’s, which is one of my favourite services. I had never served at Mass before joining the Community last month, and I’m slowly learning the ropes. Several families join us for our 9.30 All Age Eucharist (also St Mary’s), which is wonderful – we hope that many more will join us over the coming months. The last service of the morning at St Mary’s is the 11am Mass. Serving duties mean that one of the Community will normally be based at St Mary’s on a Sunday, but over the next few months we will be spending time at Holy Trinity, Christ Church and St Peter’s, and I’m very much looking forward to meeting the other churches and worshipping with them. We also visit some of the stallholders and are treated to a few leftovers from the day! The final service of the day is Evensong, with a particularly excellent sermon from Fr Roger, and music from the Chamber Choir. Saying Evensong or Compline in the evenings is the perfect way to end a long day – we have a chance to give thanks for all that has been good, and give our cares to the Lord, going to bed unburdened. And so ends the working week, and another begins, each completely different from each other, with new challenges, new faces, and the same wonderful, all-giving God.
~ Sr. Joanna