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FOCUS ON ALNMOUTH

Q. How many Religious does it take to change a lightbulb? A. CHANGE?

A fond perception of Religious Houses is that very little changes from year to year; they are places, so we are told by those who have never lived in one, where time stands still. Anyone who has lived in a Friary will be able to tell you that that is far from the truth! In the Friary of St Francis, Alnmouth we are fortunate to live in one of the most beautiful parts of England and, partly because of that and partly because of the corporate welcome people receive when they come here, we are never short of visitors. Last year we offered hospitality to many hundreds – if not thousands – of people (some coming for the day and others staying for longer) and there is every indication that that will also be true for this year.

cooks with saltfish

“Akee and Saltfish!”

Hospitality remains the main focus of the house but we have also seen a real awakening of interest in the Chalet (dedicated to St Anthony of Padua) which was ‘earmarked’ and equipped a few years ago to provide hospitality to people who might not, ordinarily, find themselves in a Religious house but who have been put in touch with us by one of the trusts and charities with whom we work in Newcastle. Thanks to the austerity policies of the former coalition and present Government (by which we are all, reputedly, equally affected…) and the resultant reduction of funding to local authorities, we are now finding ourselves ever more needed. This provides a most welcome ‘leaven’ in the mix and gives our ministry here a distinctly Franciscan ethos for which we are all deeply grateful. Let it never be thought that we are merely a ‘middle class bed and breakfast’ by the sea! Our hospitality is expressed around two tables: the table of the Eucharist and the Refectory table and it is not unusual to find Priests, Asylum Seekers and Politicians sitting at the same table: a representation, surely, of the great Feast that awaits us in Paradise?

Because of the small number of Brothers resident in the Friary it is difficult to engage with the wider community on a regular basis, but Brothers occasionally find themselves being invited to preach in parishes (some local and some further afield), give Quiet days, or participate in youth events, and there is always a healthy stream of people coming into the Friary even if the stream coming from the Friary is rather more limited than we would like. At the time of writing one of the Novice Brothers is exploring a sense of vocation to Prison Ministry by visiting a local Prison and we are all delighted in this interest.

visit to Nunraw whole group

Living in such a potentially pressured environment we have to protect ourselves and this we do by having regular closed periods when the Brothers are free to slow down somewhat and to do things as a Community without the daily pressures of cooking and cleaning. One example of this was when, in the week following Easter, the Brothers went as guests of the Cistercian Abbey of Sancta Maria in Nunraw to spend time with the Brothers there. Although the Cistercian and Franciscan ways of living out the Religious Vocation are very different, nonetheless there was a great deal to talk about as we reflected on the joys – and challenges – of the life. It was a particular joy for us to join with the Monks in the monastic choir for their offering of the Divine Office, united in our wish to praise God. We must pray for that day when we can join not only in prayer but also in the Eucharist and we hope that our link with Nunraw will continue and flourish.

The future is, of course, in the hands of God but we do know that there will be even fewer Brothers next year (and of the six who will live here two are not in the best of health) but we are already thinking about what we can do to make things a little easier for us as a Community and to give us more time in which to engage with the ‘world’. f