Festivals/Seasons & Holy Days

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Monthly Archives: June 2013

Annual Brothers Chapter 2013

The Brothers gathered at Hilfield Friary

The Brothers gathered at Hilfield Friary

The Brothers of the European Province met as usual at Hilfield in early June for their Annual Chapter. They were joined by Br Clark Berge, the Minister General, and by Br Stephen who is visiting this province from the SSF community in Korea.

The brothers were blessed with good weather and so the photograph shows both brothers and Friary off to their best!

Annual Brothers Chapter

Sermon preached at the Eucharist of the first Order Brothers of the Society of Saint Francis by Canon Patrick Woodhouse

June 6th 2013

Luke: 12: 22 – 34


There is something both exhilarating and daunting about reading this gospel again. Exhilarating because it encapsulates the Franciscan vision.  Francis obeyed these words literally and his obedience took him into the radical freedom that lit up the mediaeval world.

But they are daunting too.   In a society obsessed with getting and possessing, Francis’s freedom seems impossible.  ‘Strive for God’s Kingdom’, says Jesus, and don’t give a thought to anything else. Well, we might say … anxious controllers of our worlds that we are: how can we possibly do that?

But the Gospel – in the way that Luke has written it – seems to hear our fear.   ‘Don’t be afraid little flock’, says Jesus in the very next sentence, ‘it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom’.   Actually you don’t need to strive.   It is a gift.  Just learn how – empty-handed and open-hearted – to receive it … day by day by day by day….  And that learning, of course, takes a lifetime.

But then comes what is perhaps the most intriguing verse of the whole passage:  ‘make purses for yourselves that will not wear out.’

This business of purses is quite confusing.  Earlier on he said, ‘don’t have a purse’.  ‘Carry no  bag, no purse’ is the explicit instruction.  To follow me is to give up on purses.

But now he seems to say something different.  We are told not to dispense with purses, but to make them.  Create purses for yourself that will not wear out … purses to contain the uncontainable … so that your lives carry the Kingdom within them … so that in this world obsessed with money, your lives  might offer  to all around you who are really worried about how much is in their purse … an altogether different kind of currency.

Make purses for yourselves that will not wear out.  What does he mean?

It is to do with the shape of our lives.  I am reminded of a little book by David Ford written in 1997 called ‘the Shape of Living’, in which he writes most imaginatively and suggestively about how our lives are shaped.  The challenge of the book is how to give life a distinctively Christ-like shape – and that, for us, may mean giving particular attention to particular things: the disciplines of prayer we keep, the rituals we share, the symbols we revere, the habits we form, the virtues we practice, the relationships we cherish.  It is about the rule we keep within our communities …

Make purses for yourselves that will not wear out.

Of course the purse, the rule, that has, over 1500 years done more than any other to give shape to faith and society in the western world, has been the rule of St Benedict.  I was reminded of this the other day when I came across again the book written in 1981 by the distinguished moral philosopher Alasdair Macintyre entitled ‘After Virtue’, for right at the very end of his work Macintyre beguilingly alludes to St Benedict.

The book, which was republished in 2007, is about the breakdown of the moral order in the modern world.  In particular, in the absence of any overall understanding about what life is for, about what end or purpose human life has, it is about the breakdown of any consensus as to what goodness means, about what ‘right’ behaviour is.   In the modern – or perhaps we should now say ‘the post-modern’ world – Macintyre says that ‘we have – very largely, if not entirely – lost our comprehension  of morality’.   And this, he says, is a catastrophe, but one that we are very largely unaware of, though it has huge consequences.

The book – which is a long and by no means an easy read – explores how this catastrophic state of affairs has come about.  And then towards the end, in the absence of any overall consensus as to what morality is, the suggestion is that that which was regarded in the tradition of ‘The Virtues’ as a vice, ‘acquisitiveness’, or to use its Greek word ‘pleonexia’ which means greed, avarice, or covetousness, has now become a virtue, and is the central shaping force of our western world.  This leads Macintyre to suggest that we have now entered ‘a new dark ages’.  And what he says matters in this difficult and dark time is ‘the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained’.   Make purses for yourselves which will not wear out.

 ‘A new dark ages.’

Every one of us in this Chapel, living and working in our own particular contexts, will I suspect, be able to resonate with this phrase. We might want to give our own particular definition as to what it means. Perhaps we might say it is a new dark ages where Justice is denied?  Or perhaps a new dark ages where there is a gross and widening inequality between rich and poor?  Or a new dark ages where the only measure of value is that which contributes to economic growth?  Or  – and perhaps this is the most disturbing aspect of our times – a new dark ages where we still seem largely indifferent to the fate of the earth itself?

However we might phrase it, I suspect that few of us would disagree with Macintyre’s very disquieting suggestion.   But he is not without hope.  It is the ending of his book which is so suggestive.   His final sentence reads:  ‘we are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St Benedict.’

 Side by side he places the play by Samuel Beckett – Waiting for Godot – that perhaps most characterised the meaninglessness and despair of the twentieth century, with the figure whose rule not only was the foundation of western monasticism but offers the way to how lives may find their truest, most proper shape.  A shape in which a balance of prayer and work and rest is found;  a shape in which the virtues of wisdom, justice and compassion are fostered;  a shape which, above all, understands that the idea of being a private autonomous individual, which is axiomatic to the modern consumerist world, is a nonsense and a dangerous illusion.  We only know who we really are, will only truly find happiness, in relationships of interdependence, vulnerability and trust.  Make purses for yourselves that will not wear out.

So Macintyre ends his seminal work by placing before us St Benedict, and through him the challenge of making the right kind of purse.

However Macintyre is not the only example of a most perceptive observer of the human scene ending his work with the name of a saint and the challenge of living in another way.

At the end of his little book of poems called ‘the Book of Hours’, the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke reflects on the terrible poverty and degradation that he witnessed in Paris at the very beginning of the 20th century. In his poems some of which are extraordinarily prescient of the present time, Rilke also focusses on the sickness of a society obsessed with making money, and contemptuous of the poor.  And in particular he points up the dangerous alienation of those in the cities from the world of nature.  All of these are features of our current malaise.

But what is most fascinating is that he ends his work also with a cry of longing for a saint, for a figure who can show us the way out of the darkness.

Let me read you the poem which – like Macintyre’s ending – comes as a cry of longing right at the end of Rilke’s work after he has despaired of the  condition of so many blighted lives, of the disregard in which so many are held, and of the alienation from the earth that so many exhibit.  The poem is a prayer, almost a challenge, made directly to God:

Where is he now

who leaving wealth behind

grew so bold in poverty

that he  threw off his clothes before the Bishop

and stood naked in the square?


The most inward and loving of all,

he came forth like a new beginning,

the brown-robed brother of your nightingales,

with his wonder and goodwill

and delight in earth …

Perhaps surprisingly for someone who spoke from outside the Christian tradition, Rilke looked to Francis of Assisi as the figure who most offered hope in a world increasingly darkening.

But, the poet asks: ‘Where is he now?’ … Where is he now, when we need him most?

To Rilke, Francis was a new kind of human.  A man who, with his embrace of poverty and vision of how all living things belong together in the great ecology of God, lived a life of such simplicity, trust and freedom that he offered a new way of being human.  ‘He came forth like a new beginning,’ he writes, ‘the brown-robed brother of your nightingales … with his wonder and goodwill and delight in earth …’

Make purses for yourselves that will not wear out.  Attend … keep attending … to the shape of your lives.  It is what will hold you.   And go on following in the joyful steps of Francis, with his wonder and goodwill and delight in earth.


Patrick Woodhouse.

The Shape of Living.   David F. Ford, (Fount Paperbacks)

After Virtue, a Study in Moral Theory, Third edition, (University of Notre Dame Press)

Rilke’s Book of Hours, Love Poems to God, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy (Riverhead Books, New York)

Decision to leave CSF

After a period of discernment and a short time on Leave of Absence, Phyllis Hoare (ex Sr Phyllis) has decided to leave CSF and will be released from her life vows.  Please pray for her as she adjusts to life outside community and adapts to her new situation.

G8 urged to act on hunger

To prepare for the G8 summit the Enough Food for Everyone If coalition called this rally for 8th June, reminding us that a billion, 1 in 8 of the world’s population, are hungry.

The Flower installation

The Flower installation

Br Desmond Alban, Frerik Jerxsen and Jonathan Herbert of the Hilfield Friary Community and I   joined a Christian Aid coach in Dorchester for the service in Westminster Central Hall, where we were diverted to the also full St Margaret’s overflow. Most Rev Vincent Nichols gave the address, Archbishop Justin Welby a video message, the General Secretaries of the Methodists and URC gave contributions, while Aimee Manimani spoke of her experiences of hunger in the DR Congo. Joining Brs Peter and Vaughan, we walked to Hyde Park with Sr Kay Finnegan of JPIC Links  where we added our paper flowers to the  installation north of the Serpentine, a petal for each one of the 2 m. children who die of hunger every year, more than are killed in war.

Desmond Alban, Hugh & Muslim Aid friends

Desmond Alban, Hugh & Muslim Aid friends

South of the Serpentine we met many friends, including a Muslim Aid worker who I had known in London, now an MBE, and several tertiaries. Joining an enormous crowd, we heard Bill Gates the philanthropist start his talk by reminding us that 100 years ago today Emily Davison the suffragette died of her injuries and encouraging us also to strive for change. Among other speakers were Julie Siddiqi (a Muslim), Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, and  Satish Kumar. The weather was perfect with a carnival atmosphere. Unfortunately we had to get back to our coach before the end, missing Rowan Williams, now President of Christian Aid.

Vaughan, Sr Kay Finnegan, Frerik, Desmond Alban,  Peter, Hugh outside St Margaret’s

Vaughan, Sr Kay Finnegan, Frerik, Desmond Alban,
Peter, Hugh outside St Margaret’s





Back at home the Guardian online reported ‘While supporters enjoyed the sun in Hyde Park, across London politicians and government officials pledged up to $4.15bn to tackle malnutrition, effectively doubling the annual current spend on nutrition by 2020. A spokesman for the IF campaign hailed the commitments as a major breakthrough. … “That’s one big IF down, another two to go,” he said.’

A crowd of 45,000 gathered

A crowd of 45,000 gathered


Br Hugh SSF & Caroline Ugbo TSSF

Br Hugh SSF & Caroline Ugbo TSSF




A Good year for Orchids at Hilfield Friary?

We’re having a very late spring, but the Early Purple Orchids have been brilliant this year – more than we can ever remember – and it looks as though the other varieties may well be going to flower prolifically. There is a massive number of Twayblades appearing on our meadows and in the hedgerows, and we’ve had two sightings of the much less common Birds’ Nest Orchid, so we’re hoping for a good showing of the later varieties, Butterfly, Bee and Fly orchids as well as the Common Spotted and Pyramid Orchids. We live in a great treasury of nature!Orchids Hilfield

New Nature Information Boards at Hilfield Friary

During her time with us from September 2011 to September 2012 one of Becky Vickers’ tasks was to prepare information boards on the flora and fauna of the Friary land to be situated around the grounds. With input, too, from Richard,  and with the mounting and fixing being undertaken recently by Jonathan and Freric, the boards were in place for the Hope out of Chaos Weekend held here, 24th – 26th May. As part of this weekend celebrating the signs of hope for conservation and care of creation happening around us, those who took part visited the boards and reflected on the continuing conservation work at the Friary. Thank you, Becky, for all your work with us during your time here. The boards will be informing and encouraging us and our visitors for many years to come.

Nature Information Boards at the Friary

Nature Information Boards at the Friary

Alnmouth Open Gardens May 2013

The gardens in tip top shape

The gardens in tip top shape

Seasonable weather finally arrived just in time for the latest ‘Open Garden’ event at Alnmouth Friary on the  last Sunday of May.  Stephen Kerry, as always, had worked hard to bring out the best of the beauty of the gardens and he was joined by a host of other ‘Friends of the Friary’ who erected gazebos, manned stalls and served teas.


Helping hands in the kitchen

Helping hands in the kitchen



Browsing the stalls

Browsing the stalls








Over £1400 was raised for friary funds (on alternating occasions monies go to other local charities) but it is the strengthening of ties with local people and visitors on such days that are particularly valuable: the opportunity to join ‘Tours of the Friary’, led by brothers, was as popular as ever.

visitors enjoying the gardens

visitors enjoying the gardens

The crowds enjoying the sunshine

The crowds enjoying the sunshine

Jason Robert showing some of the guests around the friary

Jason Robert showing some of the guests around the friary

New House opens for SSF in Newcastle

St Anthony's Friary, Byker

St Anthony’s Friary, Byker

The establishment of a satellite house to the Friary at Alnmouth in Newcastle upon Tyne has been discussed for decades. Finally in April 2013 SSF received the tenancy and began this new work from the house recommended by Bishop Martin Warton down at St Anthony’s in the Byker/Walker district two miles to the East of the City Centre.

Byker Garden

The Garden at the Friary



The new Friary has four bedrooms and an attic room, two decent sized livings rooms, one being used as a chapel. The house is surrounded by trees which hides two open spaces where the Methodist Church was recently demolished and the junior school relocated to the main Walker Road. The Vicarage is in Enslin Gardens, somewhat in a corner, the last in a rather quiet cul-de-sac of four dwellings.

The more recent story of Byker is one of loss, of jobs (unemployment is very high), and of community.  The famous ‘Byker Wall’ of the 70’s is beginning to look tired but the housing has generally improved, with only one high rise block remaining.  The place appears reasonable today but there is a lingering hidden legacy of defeat and abandonment.

St Anthony's Church, Byker

St Anthony’s Church, Byker

The Anglican Churches have been very tastefully modernised and now have dual purposes, with the exception of St Anthony’s, which is a traditional Anglo-catholic church with a hall attached.

Under MINE (Mission Initiative Newcastle East) there is a strong link between the Byker Churches; St Martin’s which is set in a newly built Community Centre, St Michael’s, surrounded by the Byker Wall, needs another Lottery Grant to make it useable and currently has a temporary centre in shop premises, St Silas has been imaginatively transformed inside, and St Anthony’s. Christ Church Walker is also a part-player in MINE.


The brothers are open to possibilities in their ministry, but hope to make themselves available to MINE and to encourage this local initiative; to provide placements for novices sent to various projects locally, and perhaps wider into the City scene of depravation; Street Pastors is an other possibility; support to the neighbouring clergy;  to live a strong common life and hoping to attend to the somewhat massive garden!

Damian arrived in April, Malcolm arrives at the end of July, and Micael Christoffer and David are expected at some point in September. Please keep the brothers in your prayers as they set out on this new venture.