The love of Christ has drawn us together. Let us live in him abounding in thanksgiving.’
These are the words at lunchtime Grace in Mucknell Abbey, a Benedictine Community of monks and nuns from the Anglican and Methodist Churches, near Worcester. At the beginning of March, I spent four days there, in conversation with three others leaders of ‘new monastic communities’ and two members of the community at Mucknell.
At Mucknell, seven times a day a bell rings, the signal to leave whatever you are doing, for the most important work to be done in the monastery: prayer. Everyone gathers in the simple, but beautiful chapel, to say and sing the divine office, consisting of sentences, psalms and readings from scripture. I love the beauty of the communal prayer and feel carried and nourished by the regular pattern of coming before God to listen and pray.
Whilst Mucknell is nestled in the countryside outside the city of Worcester, many of the ‘new monastic communities’ are called to be in urban contexts, and here in Ipswich this is true for the St Thomas Pilgrim Community, located in the north-west of the town.
The prayer of any monastic community is for God’s transformation of the world and the lives and situations of all those whom they touch. So it is in the St. Thomas Pilgrim Community that our prayer is for God’s transformation of the lives of the people of Ipswich and the wider world.
I came away from the conversation I was part of in Mucknell with two key insights, which are valuable for any of us feeling called to a more contemplative way of faith:
1. ‘The divine office is key, and the fact that we do it together.’
Even for monks and nuns, whose work it is to pray, other demands may get in way. Like those of us who have jobs, families, church and other voluntary commitments, they have many demands on their time and find themselves as stretched as we are, having to prioritize and manage their commitments. What makes the difference for them? The call of the bell!
Br Stuart shared the story of how he realized that the call to go to pray takes precedence over everything else – ‘a bit like, when death calls us and we have to let go of everything else’.
As a novice, ironing shirts in the basement of the priory with half a shirt left to iron, the bell went. In order to get back to chapel on time, he had to leave straight away; there was no time to finish the last shirt. The highest priority is to pray. No matter how frustrating it might be to leave the ironing unfinished so close to completing the job.
How many times have I deferred going to prayer – either my personal prayer or going to communal prayers, because I had an email to finish or some other task to complete? How many times have I not got to my prayer time at all, because something else seemed more pressing? And yet, when I make prayer a regular commitment in my day or week, I notice how I am much more aware of the presence of God in my life and in the people I encounter, how everything else falls into perspective.
2. Silence and hospitality.
In a monastery, the community spends time in silence together in chapel, at meals, as well as observing periods of silence throughout the day. At the St Thomas Pilgrim Community we host a Christian meditation group where we meet for silent prayer together once a week, and by doing so support and encourage each other in our personal practice of silent prayer. We also offer the Vicarage as a space for individuals or small groups for quiet days – a place for spiritual nourishment and refreshment in Ipswich.
John Main, a Benedictine Monk and teacher on Christian Meditation says ‘God is with his people. God dwells in our midst. And that is why we meditate. To be open to God’s presence. The presence is eternal. Our awakening to it is daily. We awaken to the great Revelation that transforms human consciousness and existence: “I heard a loud voice proclaiming, now at last, God has his dwelling among the human race. He will dwell among them and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be with them. (Revelation 21.3) (John Main, ‘The Way of Unknowing’ in ‘Silence and Stillness in every season’, March 3).
For the St Thomas Pilgrim community a commitment to a regular pattern of prayer and the practice of silence is at the heart of our calling to serve God’s mission in Ipswich. Most of the members of this developing community live in and around Ipswich, and we have space for four residential community members at the St Thomas’ Vicarage.
The conversations at Mucknell Abbey confirmed my sense of calling to develop an intentional community here to serve the mission of God in North West Ipswich and beyond, in particular the call to be a place of prayer, hospitality and listening to God.
The weekly pattern of prayer and monthly extended prayer meetings are on our website and facebook page. Everyone is welcome to join us or get in touch to come for a quiet day.
‘The love of Christ has drawn us together. Let us live in him abounding in thanksgiving.’
The Revd Jutta Brueck is in Priest-in-charge of St. Thomas’ Church, Bramford Lane, and Leader of the St Thomas Pilgrim Community, an intentional Christian Community with residential and non-residential members. For more info see the IIP website page on the St Thomas Community
These blogs are written by different people from the IIP team. They are prompted by the things we talk about and pray about when we meet together and by words shared from the praying community in Ipswich.