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franciscan - September 1998

© Copyright, The Society of Saint Francis, 1998

Community Routes

Thinking Honestly

Brother Justus writes:

The title ‘America’s Greatest Thinker’ was awarded to Brother Clark Berge when he won the Great American Think-Off at the New York Mills Regional Cultural Center in rural Minnesota. One of eight hundred people submitting an essay on: ‘Is honesty always the best policy?’, he was chosen as one of four finalists who participated in a debate in New York Mills that was broadcast live on national television, with two later re-broadcasts of the debate. Clark argued that compassion overrides the norm of honesty. He cited a situation in a junior high school civics class, when the teacher asked what you would do if during World War II you were harbouring a Jew and the Gestapo came and asked if there were any Jews there. He also told of how he was only able to get a newly recovering addict into a treatment program by passing him off as an active drunk.

While several members of the live and television audience questioned how a priest and a Religious could advocate lying, many others expressed relief at hearing such an articulate explanation of moral theology. Since winning the debate, Clark has become a bit of a celebrity, with radio, television and press interviews and numerous invitations for speaking engagements.

Shepherds Law

Back in 1971, the vision of Brother Harold SSF and others led to the establishment of Shepherds Law Hermitage in rural North-umberland, overlooking the Cheviot. Harold was released from SSF prior to his reception into the Roman Catholic Church in January 1996. Has SSF then ‘left’ the hermitage? Not at all! Part of the original vision for this place was that it should be an ecumenical hermitage, with an emphasis on prayer for the unity of the Church, and this vision remains. Whilst Brother Harold Palmer continues the life of prayer, the guests he receives include Roman Catholics and Anglicans, Religious and lay. Last year the Bishop of Newcastle laid the foundation stone of a new chapel on the site and it may surprise some to learn that Anglican celebrations of the Eucharist still outnumber Roman Catholic celebrations. The guest ministry is more limited than that in the larger SSF houses, but Shepherds Law is a valued place of retreat used by members of both our First and Third Orders and one that remains, in the long term, an intended permanent expression of the contemplative life of SSF.

In tune with heaven

Gina writes:

‘Well, you see I play in an orchestra on Saturday mornings ...’
‘An orchestra, really? Which orchestra is that?’
‘The ELLSO.’
‘Wow! You hide your light under a bushel. I had no idea you were in the London Symphony Orchestra!’
‘No, not quite. Not the LSO – ELLSO – The East London Late Starters Orchestra.’
‘Oh, I see ...’

What do they see? A glorified junior school orchestra laboriously and discordantly rendering Twinkle, twinkle little star to a meagre audience of embarrassed or smirking friends and relations dragged along to lend support?

Sister Rose came to our Christmas concert out of a sense of loyalty and was so enthused by the experience she decided to join. In most of our concerts there is an opportunity to have a ten-minute lesson and then actually to play with the orchestra. Amazing! But it is possible to weave the playing of two open strings into something exciting. You can actually play along with Strauss’ Emperor Waltz at the end of your very first ten-minute lesson.

ELLSO is a teaching string orchestra, specializing in helping adults to learn the violin, viola, and cello in a friendly and supportive atmosphere. Though it is based in East London, people travel from the home counties and even further afield to attend. We play in various orchestral combinations and have lessons according to our ability. The last rehearsal of the morning always includes everyone, complete beginners to really accomplished musicians.

Our repertoire this term has included the second movement of Haydn’s Surprise Symphony; La Cumparsita by Rodriguez; Delius; Telemann; Mortand; Adagio by Albinoni; and the Hornpipe from Handel’s Water Music. People pay according to their means and they can hire instruments if they don’t have their own.

I actually learned the violin at school but it had hardly ever been out of its case since. However, I soon discovered that playing the fiddle is like swimming – you never forget, and I have had lots of fun taking it up again. So, if you have a violin gathering dust in the attic, get it out and come along to ELLSO or look for an orchestra in your locality. Happy music-making!

Revealing secrets

Brother Tristam writes:
ARCYB is a new acronym to learn: it stands for Anglican Religious Communities Year Book and, in his Foreword to the book, the Archbishop of Canterbury talks about the Religious Communities of the Church being ‘one of the best kept secrets’. Monday 6th July saw the revealing of some of those secrets.

At the official Launch of the ARCYB 1999 at the General Synod of the Church of England in York, David Hope, the Archbishop of York, spoke movingly about his own associations with the Religious Life from his childhood onwards, and how he knew instinctively that it formed an integral and essential part of the life of the Church. Archbishop David went on to say:

‘This is the first time the Church of England has had a Year Book listing all the Religious Orders and it now makes me want to ask why?: seeing this excellent book, why have we had to wait for what I can see will become an essential resource!?

‘What the book shows, almost accidentally, is the tremendous range there is in the way the Religious Life is being lived out in our own church as we move into the third millennium. Active and contemplative orders are here, mission and ministry is clearly one of the central tenets of the communities, but what so obviously undergirds all this is the common life of a commitment to prayer, to making space and making place for meeting God. And not only for the enrichment of the spiritual lives of the individual members of the communities, but for all who come to share in the life as guests and retreatants, for those looking for healing and those simply looking for welcome rather than rejection.

‘I noticed on page 112 of the Year Book, Important Advice About Going On Retreat, some very wise words: ‘In chapel, be thoughtful in participating at the Office and other services. Follow the lead of the community and join in with discretion, even if you think your way would be an improvement.’ So obviously written with loving wit.

‘In commending this book, all I really want to say is thank you: thank you to all who helped produce it, particularly to Dr Petà Dunstan, whose vision it was and who put so much hard work into its production; to the Editorial Group that actually prepared it, who’ve certainly set themselves a very high standard for the next edition in the year 2000; but particularly I want to thank all those members of the Religious Communities, all those men and women who have heard God’s call to them to follow him on this particular path to the Kingdom, all those brothers and sisters whose life of commitment and prayer are a constant reminder to us all of what it’s all about.’

Woman of Degree

Sister Elizabeth has been awarded the degree of Master of Theology from Westminster College, Oxford. Her dissertation was on on the theme of ‘Authority models in Religious Communities’.

Silver for Harry

The brothers and guests at Alnmouth helped Brother Harry to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his profession in vows on Saturday 27 June. A thanksgiving mass was followed by the kind of lunch normally reserved for feast days, and a special cake was cut at tea. Harry was also delighted by the many cards and letters sent for the occasion.

Passage to India

Sister Helen Julian writes:

If it’s culture shock you’re after, arriving at Delhi Airport at half past midnight has a lot to commend it. I touched down on 2 May and one of the first things I saw was a very large group of pilgrims, men and women, all dressed in white, reclaiming their luggage after a pilgrimage to Mecca. The sheer numbers overwhelmed me. Then, outside the airport, people sleeping and begging and, as we drove through Delhi, the huge contrasts between palatial houses and huts on the pavement. Not to mention the buffaloes sleeping on the central reservation!

I was in Delhi to spend some time with the Ashaniketan Community, whose founding member, Sister Jothi, had spent six months with us at Compton Durville. She, along with Brother Amos of the Brotherhood of the Ascended Christ, are pioneering a new form of Religious Community, closely linked with the Brotherhood, but providing for both men and women, separately and together, celibate or married, to live a life dedicated to Christ in serving the poor.

The Brotherhood’s social work arm, the Delhi Brotherhood Society, runs many projects in and around Delhi: including a boys’ home and a girls’ home for street children and orphans, several schools, a clinic, and work with old people, are based in Shahid Nagar, a mainly Muslim community, just over the border into the state of Uttar Pradesh. It was there that I joined Jothi and Amos and a number of volunteers and paid staff. I was able to join in the chapel life, where daily prayer, from the office book of the Church of North India and The Daily Office SSF, are said daily in English, which is the only common language of the community.

The eucharist on weekdays was also in English, but the Sunday service, which could last up to two hours, was in Hindi. Staying alert through an entire sermon, of which I understood not a word, was quite a challenge. As a guest, I had a place of honour at the front of the chapel – right in front of the drum, so staying awake during the hymns was not a problem! Most people, including the girls in the home where I was living, spoke only Hindi, so communication was very limited.

I was able to visit one or two of the other projects, and to meet the other members of the Brotherhood at their Delhi House. They are a small group of only six brothers (two English and four Indian) but I was impressed by the work they were carrying out and sponsoring. As the only Religious Community in the Church of North India, they also have an uphill task in making the Religious Life known, especially in a culture where marriage is very much the norm and living away from a family home, whether of parents’ or of husband, is very unusual for women.

Sadly, the heat (it was unusually hot for May) defeated me and I had to cut short my visit. I came home with a greater appreciation of the enormous needs of just one small part of one country in the ‘two-thirds’ world; unbounded admiration for those who give their lives to alleviating poverty, ignorance, need and sickness; a better understanding of the difficulties of translating a European model of Religious Life into a very different culture; and a desire to go back one day. Less seriously, I can now have a bath using only one bucket of water – if our water shortages return, this could prove very useful!

Priestly Vocation

Sister Pat, the Guardian at Compton Durville, has been recommended by the Advisory Board of Ministry to commence training with a view to eventual ordination to the priesthood. Pat hopes to begin her training this autumn with the South West Ministerial Training Course (non-residential).

Round Up

Jackie expects to make her life profession at Compton Durville on 10 September. Alan is now living at Alnmouth Friary ... Arnold has moved from Birmingham to Plaistow ... Benedict has returned to the UK from Zimbabwe and is now Guardian of Glasshampton ... Bruce Paul returned to Australia in August, after spending a very happy sixteen months in the Province ... Jason Robert, from the USA, is in the Province for one year, living in various houses ... Jennie moves to Brixton from Newcastle under Lyme in September ... John George arrived in the UK from the USA on 6 July for six months ... Jude is due to move from Paddington to the USA in October ... Moyra moves in September from Compton Durville to Newcastle-under-Lyme ... Paul has returned to the UK from the Pacific Islands Province ... Rowan Clare moves from Newcastle under Lyme to Compton Durville in September ... Sue moves from Brixton to Compton Durville in October.
Francis Alan has withdrawn from the noviciate at Hilfield. §


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