From the Rector

Dear Friends,

 

The sharp-eyed amongst you may have spotted that “ObSB” now appears after my name in our church publicity.  This means “oblate of St Benedict”.  I became a Benedictine oblate at the start of Advent 2019 which is a great honour and responsibility.  Essentially, it means I am an associate of my local Benedictine monastery, Ealing Abbey, accompanying the monks there on their journey of faith but outside the cloister. There are 50 oblates attached to Ealing Abbey and a huge and growing number of us worldwide.

Becoming an oblate took me years of preparation and climaxed with my “oblation” in December when I promised to live my life guided by the Rule of St Benedict.  This is the most comprehensive of all the monastic rules of life and dates back to the sixth century.  It is based on three principles – obedience, stability and the rather old-fashioned term “conversion of manners”. 

For Benedictines, it is stability that lies at the heart of everything.  Once a monk or nun is admitted into a particular monastery in the Benedictine tradition, they remain attached there for life.  The same goes for oblates.  I won’t be transferring when I retire – I will always have a spiritual home in Ealing Abbey. So, it is usual for Benedictine monks to live and die at the same monastery. I visited Worth Abbey, near Crawley, in 2017 as part of my oblate preparation.  That abbey was founded from Downside in Somerset and became an abbey in its own right in 1957.  Of the monks who started it, one only is still alive.  The rest are buried in the abbey grounds.  The sight of the line of simple grave crosses is both remarkable and extremely moving.  Benedictine spirituality is an object lesson in staying put, committing to live together with the same group of people for life, for better or for worse with all the compromise and sacrifice that involves.  In this regard, it’s not unlike marriage. In other respects, though, it is entirely counter-cultural in a world that has become very much about the individual, where our sense of community life has become decidedly thin and where we have become transitory in almost every respect, whether that’s our relationships, where we live and work, and even where we go to church.  St Benedict has short shrift in his Rule for wandering monks, whom he calls “gyrovags”.  These, he says, are “always on the move, never stopping long, slaves of their own wills and the enticements of the bely… Of the wretched life of all these it is better to say nothing more.”  Naturally, it’s rather dated language, but it’s also a very contemporary challenge to what has become the norm in modern life. 

For a Benedictine to achieve stability involves both obedience and conversion – obedience partly to the abbot, but chiefly to the community and each others’ needs; and conversion from that selfish, self-destructive unrooted way of life to one that is secure, contented and conforms to the way of Christ. 

Embarking on Lent, I have decided to read the latest book by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.  It’s called “The Way of St Benedict” and I hope I have given you a taster.  I’m sure you will find a copy easily if you want to read it too.  But, whatever you decide for Lent in terms of discipline and preparation for Easter, I hope you will find time to reflect on the Benedictine value of stability and what this might mean for you.

Wishing you a happy and holy Lent,

 

Nick

 


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