I wasn’t looking to leave Canterbury. I enjoy my life here. I love my friends, my community, my church and my professional networks. But life sometimes springs surprises on us and I am now one month away from moving to Lambeth Palace to join a monastic community for 10 months. I love telling the story about how this came about because for me it is evidence of someone with ways that are higher than mine and it also shows me that our life’s status quo can be interrupted in timely, positive and surprising ways.
In September 2016 I read an article in a magazine about the Community of St Anselm, a year-out scheme for people aged 20-35 based at Lambeth Palace in London (the Archbishop of Canterbury’s home and HQ). In a nutshell, the scheme involves 16 people from across the world and Christian tradition living in community for 10 months, spending their time in prayer, bible study and service to the poor and vulnerable. You can read more about the community here.
As I read the article, what captivated me was the sense of full-immersion in both community life and faith that this experience offers, and that the result of this was a depth, authenticity and reality of relationship between the participant and other community members, God and the poor. However I was knee deep in running a charity and so I stored the idea up for future reference – this really wasn’t the time to be running away with the monastery!
Fast forward to 1st April 2017 and I had just made the decision to leave the charity (for that particular story you can read this article). Something that week must have jogged my memory and so that night I googled The Community of St Anselm and read that the application deadline for September 2017 had passed a few weeks ago. So I re-stored that idea for September 2018. However, you don’t set up a charity without possessing an appropriate level of audacity, so that week I went on the website again, set up an application profile, channeled my entrepreneurial spirit and sent a message asking if I could apply anyway. They said ‘Yes-if you get it in quick’ and so two written applications and a Skype interview later I was offered a place. It was one month and four days since I decided to leave my job – you could say that someone somewhere had it all planned out.
So, I really am running away with the monastery for a while and just incase you’re wondering, here are some answers to the questions people ask me, as well ones I have myself, about the whole thing:
Can you have your mobile phone?
Yes, I’m not going to be going cold turkey on the rest of the world. But one of the values of the monastic lifestyle is simplicity and space – because without these it’s harder to listen to both God and our own inner world. So I’ll be restricting my use of devices and the internet in order to cut out the unnecessary noise in order to focus on high quality noise (which may well include a phone call to the outside world every once in a while)!
Do you have to wear robes?
Yes! Why do you think I applied?! Long gone are my days of drama student fancy dress parties so I have to satisfy that urge some how! Joking aside, we wear robes when we gather as a whole community. The robes symbolise our unity as a diverse group of people, our forgiven status before God and our future hope. You can read more about it here.
Is there lots of silence?
Yes, there is some silence and yes, that will be a challenge for me (as many of my sweet friends have pointed out). When I had my interview and we were talking about the subject of silence the Prior of the community said “We believe that when we make space, God will fill it”. I’m sure it will be a challenge, but who knows, I may discover that silence can be an extrovert’s best friend.
Who else is going?
All together there will be 16 people – both men and women- aged 20-35 and from all over the world. We will all be Christians, but from different traditions and denominations. I don’t know any thing else about them, apart from the fact that in signing up for this experience, we have all signed up to this Rule of Life and we are all choosing to love, respect and care for one another, irrespective of difference and personality.
Why are you doing this?
I’m doing this primarily because I honestly believe that God had led me to it. Secondly, I’m doing this because I want to be closer to God. Thirdly, I’m doing this to have a break from the ‘rat race’ and re-evaluate life. Fourthly, see below for some questions that I hope to explore whilst I’m there.
Will it be like Sound of Music?
Well, I am taking my guitar and I do have a voice that is on-par with Julie Andrews* but that’s probably where the similarities end. I doubt I’ll be falling in love with a grumpy captain and looking after his seven unruly kids (even if they can nail a 7-part harmony).
How can I support you in this adventure?
Well, I’m so glad you asked (yes, ok, I wrote that question myself). Well, assuming you’re reading this because you know me, your continued friendship and love is the biggest support – I will always appreciate receiving snail mail! If you pray, you know what to do! And I do have a fundraising target to meet to help pay for the year, so you could donate here if you wanted to.
A lot about the next year is unknown to me. But one thing I know for sure is that I will learn, experience and grow a lot and in ways that I cannot anticipate. So, the following three questions are things that I hope and think I will gain insight into, but by no means are an exhaustive list. One of the things I have learnt over the years is that God rarely does what you expect Him to!
What does it look like to live in community with others?
Lots of us both in and outside of the church truly value community. We say truthfully that we want to live in community with other people. But to what extent are we experiencing community in all its fullness? And in the face of disastrous community living experiments such as Eden, what are the best conditions for creating genuine and authentic community with flawed human beings?
What will it be like to cut out the ‘noise’ of normal life?
I like to live life at a fast pace. My mind is often focused on a number of things at any given time. I multi-task at work. I watch TV whilst playing on my phone. I’m listening to music as I write this blog. I get bored easily and I need a lot of stimulation. But as I rush from one thing to the next, as I have a task-orientated approach even on holiday and as I seek constant stimulation, what do I miss out on? I definitely miss out on enjoying things as much as I could. I definitely don’t notice small pleasures. And I don’t listen to God, myself or my circumstances in any meaningful way – and so I’m hopefully curious about what will happen when I do.
What does God want to say to us when we in a place to hear?
I believe God speaks to us today. I really do. I believe he speaks to us in a variety of ways, but that he always wants us to discover more of who He is and more of who He has made us to be. So, when I’m cutting out the noise, what will I discover about who He is? What will I discover about who I am? What wrong trees am I barking up? Where should I be digging for ‘treasure’?
Thanks for reading this far! I’m planning on writing about my experiences throughout the year, so if you want to keep up to date on my monastic adventures, you can click the ‘follow’ button on the task bar on the right and get an email every time I post (don’t worry, it doesn’t allow me to spam you). And if you’re looking for your own interruption to life’s status-quo, just remember the wise words of our favourite nun Maria: “When God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window”.