It’s been a busy month for the Way2Community. On top of the usual busyness of parish life, placements, and the rhythm of community life, we’ve been enjoying spending time as a community while supporting events going on in the local area – from Falmouth’s Sea Shanty Festival, to Stithians barn dance (with resulting sore legs), to the pride on tour event Come Out For Cornwall Pride (with resulting sunburn). It’s also been a month of making steps forward in discernment as we look ahead to our futures.
For two weeks at the start of June, I went and stayed at Mucknell Abbey, an Anglican, Benedictine monastery in Worcestershire. The intention of my stay was to experience Benedictine life, meet members of the community, and get answers to many of my questions as I began to test out my vocation to the monastic life. After a slightly chaotic journey at the end of which I realised I’d managed to get to Worcester using a ticket booked for the wrong day, I arrived at Mucknell Abbey in time for Vespers, the 5:30pm prayer which is one of the 6 daily offices (plus Eucharist) that Mucknell observes.
I spent the first few days mostly adjusting to the monastic rhythm – sung offices, silent meals, and early nights! The first office in the morning is Readings, at 6am. I have to admit, I only made it to Readings three times across the two weeks I was there! But I still got a good experience of the pattern of the daily offices, ranging from the second morning service, Lauds, at 7am, through to Compline at 8:30pm. In between the offices, I spent my time out walking, doing my cross stitch, journaling, and doing lots of thinking, praying, and reflecting! I also was able to meet with a number of the community one on one, to hear about each of their journeys of vocation, how they came to be at Mucknell, and how they experience monastic life in all of its joys and challenges. I went armed with a pretty thorough list of questions to ask while I was there – I did try not to load all my questions on one person at one time!
I also was able to spend time with the community as a whole, seeing a bit of the community dynamics (and hearing a few of the running jokes!). On two mornings a week, they invite guests to help with some of the garden work, so I went out and worked in the kitchen garden – once I had been shown what was a weed and what was a plant – and had the chance to chat with some of the community then. I also was privileged to be let into a number of the community’s activities, which guests are not usually invited to. ‘Lectio and tea’ – I am told that the corporate Lectio Divina cannot happen without being followed by tea; Sunday evening talking supper followed by community recreation; and joining a couple of the community members in their daily work.
My time at Mucknell was full of new things, new experiences, new thoughts, but as I commented during a meeting with Abbot Thomas just a few days into my stay, ‘It feels very ordinary here.’ Once I got used to singing the offices, I really enjoyed the simplicity and rhythm that they hold – and I think it is because they are so central to the life of the community, that the whole of the days likewise feel gentle, meaningful, and ordinary. Spending time informally with the community showed me the sincerity of the more formal times that the community comes together, and having a taster of monastic life at Mucknell made me sure that I want to carry on exploring and testing my sense of calling to monasticism.
I say that I want to carry on exploring this calling, and not that I am 100% sure of this calling, because my time at Mucknell highlighted the ongoing nature of discernment in the monastic life – growth and discernment happen gently, little by little. For a start, the multiple stages someone seeking to enter monastic life goes through before taking solemn vows for life show that this process is not to be rushed through or undervalued. Each stage, from alongsider, to novice, to simple vows (3 years), to solemn vows (life), is important in testing a monastic vocation and so it is a gradual process of discernment, rather than a one time decision. Furthermore, as I am only 19, I was advised that taking a few years doing something else, before committing to joining the community full time, would be wise, as so after some thought and weighing up my options, I have decided I am going to apply to university.
I am planning to apply to study theology starting in September 2020, so I’m currently in the process of comparing courses and universities and deciding where I want to apply. An important aspect for me in looking ahead to three years at uni is that I don’t want to spend three years feeling like I’m delaying following this calling to monasticism. I want to carry on intentionally exploring this call while studying, living the Benedictine life ‘out in the world’ almost like an oblate. I am aware this is going to be challenging, so I am hoping to hear how other people have followed a personal rule of life or lived an intentionally monastic lifestyle by themselves, and so gather advice, guidance, and suggestions that will help when I come to attempt it for myself. Before then though, I’ve got to go through the process of comparing courses, filling out my application, writing my personal statement, working out where I’ll live… lots to think about!
In the meantime, the months are rushing on and my first year down here in Falmouth will be over before I know it. We still have over a month left before we each leave for summer, after which will mean the new year for the Way2Community and new members starting. I’m looking forward to being back in York for a few weeks in summer and catching up with people – but I don’t want this last month to go by too quickly either! While I look to the future with thoughts and ideas buzzing around my mind, I also look to the present, with all its times of busyness and calm being held in the rhythm of our community life now.