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Reflections of Br Anselm

‘We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.’

 

T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets: Little Gidding

To begin at the beginning, we have to go to The Friary, Cerne Abbas – later to become The Friary, Hilfield, at the request of a local aristocrat who lived at The Abbey House, Cerne Abbas, to the confusion of the post office and Mr. Dubbin our postman who lived at Sydling St Nicholas.

It was on my sister Helen’s twenty-first birthday (15th September 1953) that I reported to the Friary, the last part of the journey being on the bus from Sherborne to Lane’s Cottages where I was collected by a friary van for an up and down woodland trip to my destination (and, it has since transpired, my destiny).

What was I joining? The Christmas 1953 edition of the Intercession Leaflet tells me that twenty-five brothers in Life Profession, ten in Simple Profession and twelve Novices were living at six addresses in England at Cerne Abbas, Plaistow, Hooke, Cambridge, Glasshampton and Stepney. Of the 47 brothers, three survive at the time of writing – Reginald, William in Australia, and me.  One, Arthur, had died soon after the publication of the leaflet.

Another, Sydney, was soon to follow him (November, 1954) and in those pre-cemetery days he was laid to rest in Hilfield churchyard, the gravediggers being Ronald (on a visit from Coventry) and me.  We borrowed the wheeled hand bier from Leigh – in places the gradient threatened to deposit the load in the road.  Sydney died at Damers House in Dorchester after a hernia operation, a measure of the shortcomings of post-surgery care in those days. The day before he died I had visited him – and forgotten to take the flowers.

I reflect on Sydney because in one short year I came to value his quiet faithfulness, his devotion to the Chetnole parishioners, his professionalism in the garden, his patience with garden staff largely composed of Brother Christopher’s probation hostel in St Francis’ House, and guests and novices.  The last category tested his patience by having bright ideas – perhaps I was the chief offender in that regard. It took his death to help me to realise what he meant to me – a part of the learning curve that we all follow in the search for ourselves; to learn that I could admire Sydney for reasons outlined above, and love him as a brother, but I could never be Sydney. I could only be Anselm, flawed, blemished and helped in the healing of flaws, removing of blemishes by the process of living with Sydney and many, many others.

Part of Sunday routine 60 something years ago was a bike ride, and from here I can see hints about where the vocation of SSF was going to take me in future.  To begin with, the rest of life was going to be a journey; not, it is true, a bicycle ride from Batcombe to Chetnole, but to London for teacher training and teaching experience, to Hooke to preside over (under?) a boarding school, to the globe as a trotter in search of First Order Brothers’ Chapter Meetings, to Scunthorpe, Cambridge, Birmingham – and to Glasshampton.

Landmarks on the Chetnole route: the ford where the bike could be carried over the footbridge, Hell Corner further on where once had lived the heller or thatcher, hell being a covered place; later, the turning to Chetnole Halt and so to the church, not far from the New Inn, now the Chetnole Inn, and not my destination!

The church of St Peter where on Sunday afternoons Brother Sydney gave the parents of Chetnole a weekly break from child care, helped by me, and where I can now see my role until I reached the age of 50 as in loco parentis (in a manner of speaking) at Hooke and elsewhere.

Br Anselm presiding at the Blessed Sacrament Altar in Glasshampton

And at the age of 50? Everything happened at once.  Mum died at the age of 79.  She had always hoped that I would be a priest, and SSF wanted a layman at Hooke.  So I was free from Hooke and almost at once, Minister Provincial. The then Bishop Protector bent the rules and laid hands on me – I was a priest and Mum lived to be at my first eucharist in the chapel at St Monica’s in Bristol, the retirement home where she lived, founded on the Wills tobacco fortune. It was very grand, and she glowed. There was a lunch; she died six months later.

Now, I can see that the seeds for all that were sown in St Peter’s, Chetnole at a school in a church, under the auspices of SSF and as an element of the Church of England’s ministry in Salisbury Diocese. Subsequently I enjoyed a priestly ministry in Scunthorpe, and in Cambridge at St Bene’t’s, in Birmingham, and here at Glasshampton. Twice a week I celebrate in the sacrament chapel at the side altar, sitting for the ministry of the word, standing for the ministry of the eucharist.

Thank you, brothers.

Thank you, family and friends.

Thank you, God. f