franciscan - May 2004
© The Society of Saint Francis, 2004
Compton Durville - an update
Tucked into a sheltered hollow in the heart of rural Somerset is the hamlet of Compton Durville. The Manor House, largely seventeenth century, retains elements from a former house, and is Grade II listed. In the early twentieth century, the then owner, Captain Firth, added a wing to include kitchen, bathrooms and a small chapel, originally a chapel-of ease to the parish of South Petherton. Captain Firth's wife was a relation of Fr. James Adderley, co-founder of the Society of the Divine Compassion; and the property was left, eventually, in Trust for the use of a religious community.
Not long afterwards, post-war planning in London forced the Community of Saint Francis (CSF) at Dalston, with a compulsory purchase order on their convent, to look elsewhere, and they were directed to Compton Durville by the late Br. Charles SSF, then Warden of the Community. The sisters moved in 1962, and a nursing home and chapel were built. The work with the elderly was relinquished as changes in legislation occurred, the ward modified for a conference facility, and the old barn converted to accommodate guests. The hamlet has grown, and some redevelopment taken place, while the community house has become 'a place for people'.
A dynamic group of sisters here, eight plus the Minister Provincial, Helen Julian, makes real community and tackles an enormous range of ministry. Helen Julian finds it works well to be based at Compton, where she can join in the group's life and work, but is free to go and come as needed. When at home, she manages to snatch time for writing, her second book being due for publication in August, and contributes regularly to New Daylight bible reading notes published by BRF. She is on the National Committee for 'On Fire'; and at a different level has recently acquired Black Belt status at Aikido.
The house ministry of hospitality, its attendant cleaning and cooking, and the chapel duties, are shared by all. Jennie and Beverley share the role of Guest Sister, with Sue and Phyllis assisting when needed. Jannafer copes with the laundry and the shop; Phyllis is the house bursar, and Sue, as Guardian, co-ordinates and tries to exercise appropriate care for everyone with great patience and humour.
Up to eighteen guests can stay, singly or in groups, for quiet holiday and space, for study or reflection. A wide range of people value the rhythms of prayer central to the sisters' life, the friendly peaceful atmosphere, and gentle hospitality offered. There are two chapels; the more traditional Blessed Sacrament Chapel at the top of the old house, and accessed via the garden, being normally available at all times for personal quiet and prayer. Retreats may be conducted, private and with or without help from a sister, and Individually Guided Retreats which some of the sisters direct are also available. With prior arrangement it is usually possible for a sister to be available to listen and talk pastorally with a resident guest or day visitor who requests this. The large garden is important for this extensive ministry of hospitality. Currently Graham provides some regular paid help, while those attending 'Gardeners Practical and Prayerful', make valued occasional contributions.
The variety of groups which use the accommodation here, to stay or just for the day, is considerable. As well as retreats and quiet days - some led by sisters -, there are staff team meetings, training events and educational groups, including regular visits from a local Sixth Form College Religious Studies course. Interface, a project working with marginalized men, brings a small working party from time to time, which is eagerly anticipated by those involved. Sue co-ordinates the South West Spiritual Directors' Network and an annual meeting of 60 or 70 convenes here. The house is well placed for Salisbury, Exeter and Bristol as well as Bath and Wells diocesan events. It is used for parish days, clergy cells and other small groups, some occupying the cottage for self-catering. This cottage is available for family holidays and is five minutes from the convent. There is a hermitage, for one person wanting solitude, also self-catering.
So much ministry demands that attention is given to the needs of the sisters. A whole day with two nights is ruled off every week, to facilitate community time, study and creative pursuits. The balance is good, and sisters are also encouraged in ministries of their choice. Some engage with spiritual direction, others in missions and Holy Weeks or the local parish. Phyllis is a member of the PCC and secretary for the deanery synod, which she finds 'computorily challenging'; and is in her fifth year of visiting old people at a local Care Home. Jennie takes services at another Care Home and is on the rota of shop trolley ladies at the hospital. She is also the CSF representative for the Justice and Peace Links. Beverley attends the deanery chapter and is a Cruse bereavement counsellor. Sue is part of the diocesan team for the on-going Exploring Spirituality course. Jennifer from Malaysia, joined the household earlier in the year after beginning her noviciate in San Francisco.
Many requests for preaching and talks are met, Phyllis and Jackie make school visits and the latter is a governor of South Petherton Junior School. Her primary interests are with special needs children and with the work of the Yeovil night shelter. Sue and Liz, both ordained, share priestly ministry, while the house is still served by local clergy and contacts maintained.
Being the largest of the sisters' houses, Compton is often the venue for wider Community occasions: Chapter, Sisters' Meeting, professions and anniversaries, as well as being the place where sisters' ashes are buried, on the top terrace. New members begin here, under the care of Beverley, the Novice Guardian. She and they take part in group novice training with Roman Catholics and other Anglicans. Closeness to Hilfield allows co-operation and sharing with the brothers there in different aspects of life. The community values its ecumenical contacts, notably with the Lynton Poor Clares, and, locally, with the Baptists in Yeovil, a long-standing friendship. Just recently a book launch was held at Compton Durville through the sisters' contact with Peter Vardy, the Vice-principal of Heythrop College, who with Julie Arliss brought out two new philosophy of religion titles, one dedicated to CSF.
The Third Order are frequent guests, for meetings, retreats, and singly, and their support is much appreciated. For a while now the sisters have encouraged working guests, and more recently 'Sojourners', those interested in community life, wanting to stand back from their day to day life, and share for up to six months in the life and work of the sisters.
So many come to this house, and find something, someone. I thought to myself, 'Come and see'. I also thought, 'Stay with us'. f
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