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Surrounded by Geordies, in a fairly secular area at the East End of Newcastle, there is an island of holiness (maybe just in our perception); at least, the scattered faithful have shown such a warm appreciation since our arrival in 2013, that it is hard to live up to it. Statistically in the poorest 5% of English parishes, people possess riches of friendliness, making it pleasant to live here.

In the short time that our friary has been in existence we’ve seen quite a bit of upheaval. The most dramatic occurred when Damian had to leave the house suddenly because he had become ill with a brain tumour. Although God has called him to rest, we continue to live with his legacy. It is heartening how often Damian comes up in conversations with all sorts of people. The other great legacy in the area is the long ministry of Alnmouth Friary, which virtually everybody seems to know. Often people ask: ‘So are you going all the way up to Alnmouth tonight?’ Both give us a strong building block, as people gradually become aware of our work and existence.

In the few years we have been here, there has been quite a turnover of Brothers. Robert has now been here for two years; Eric Michael arrived in September last year and in March, we were strengthened by Edmund. We potter on, and have slowly formed a happy family. We work hard to build up community by regular sharing of our thoughts and experiences.

Robert spends four days a week as part of the Chaplaincy Team in St Oswald’s Hospice, where he enjoys working with the rest of the team. It forms a harmonious unit, and it appears to the team that God has brought them together for a purpose. With all the challenges that the Hospice has to face, which are fairly similar to those of any other organisation in the charity/health sector, this has been a great source of strength and support. Robert experiences it as a great privilege to listen to the patients and relatives and to help them nurture their spirituality. St Oswald’s is a massive place where thousands of people go in and out. The response to the habit and the conversations that grow out of it, are another enjoyable feature for Robert. Sadly, meetings seem to take up an ever increasing amount of time. Most of Mondays, being his in-house day, Robert spends on the computer, catching up with various administration tasks.

Eric Michael arrived from New York (USA) and took to volunteering with the One World Shop at St Thomas the Martyr Church in the city centre, working with the youth on the streets of the Byker estate, and volunteering at St Silas Church, as well as the occasional speaking engagement.  However, he had a heart attack earlier in 2016 and has had to give time to recovering, and to attend to a different pace, both physically and mentally.  He has resumed work at St Silas’ and the One World Shop, is learning to do therapeutic massage and is also preparing to volunteer with refugees.

Edmund has enriched the house with his usual joviality and brought a touch of lightness to us. Laughter is on the increase. He supports the local parish of St Anthony’s next to our house and also gives a hand at the community café in St Michael’s, Byker. He also brought his joy of gardening to support the local churches, whilst sharing in their prayer life. Eddy’s productive chaos prevents us from taking ourselves too seriously and in getting too rigid in our routines. f

‘Prayer Spaces in Schools’ project at Marden High School, Newcastle.

A project that Edmund and Eric were involved in during June 2016, at the invitation of Fr Adrian Hughes of St George’s Church, Cullercoats, was ‘Prayer Spaces in Schools’.

At first, they wondered about the possibility of it, but in fact, with a training evening as preparation, there was a whole week at Marden High School, a non-church school, for   11-17 year-olds. Class by class, the whole school came, for an hour at a time, to a large classroom set out with about 15 creative activities to encourage individual reflection on such issues as forgiveness, injustice, thankfulness, self-worth and, ‘If God walked in, what would you ask, right now?’ The big gazebo in the middle of the room had lots of questions clipped up by day five. Others wrote their nickname in a sand-tray, rubbed it out and wrote the name they would like to be known by. Another reflection involved holding a rock (fresh off Cullercoats Beach) in their hand, putting it gently in a big bowl of clear water if they wanted to forgive some hurt, or else lay it aside.

The teens, boys and girls, arrived in groups and were invited to use the space, with the invitation: ‘You may be a Christian, you may not; you may want to explore; you may not – but think it’s better than an hour’s maths; you may want to do your own thing, but please respect each other’, and they did.  Everyone got involved. It was something perhaps that ordinarily, school barely touches on; OFSTED gives its approval, but some head teachers need to test it out to prove that it is possible.

The feeling among those who had set it up and who were there to step in to explain or reassure if need be, was that here was a beginning – a beginning of beginnings possibly – towards the Gospel, for a whole range of young people for whom their normal contact with the Brothers and clergy present would be at most a passing “Hi” in the street. Just a single week (that was part of the careful structure of it all) but the hope is that something similar will happen again.

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