Community of St Aldhelm

A New Beginning

On 25th May 2016, the feast of St Aldhelm, a group of about 30 people, of all ages, began a year long journey together as the Community of St Aldhelm. Their journey began with a simple service of Holy Communion and was led by the Visitor to the community, Revd James Pettit. Below Catherine Price, the Lay Prior of the Community of St Aldhelm shares the founding vision of the community. If you have any enquiries, and might even like to talk to her about joining the community, please contact her via the Abbey Office.


About the Community of St Aldhelm

The Community of St Aldhelm is a ministry of Malmesbury Abbey that seeks to strengthen the discipleship of individual believers through commitment to an intentional life of prayer and service in community with fellow disciples. It draws on the Abbey’s monastic tradition and seeks to apply its principles in a 21st century Anglican parish church setting. It takes as its foundational text Colossians 3:12-17 in which St Paul characterises the patterns of behaviour, worship and relationships that should characterise the children of God. The aim of the Community is – through shared spiritual disciplines and shared learning – to attain more closely the ideal that Paul sets out, not just in patterns of worship and prayer but, crucially, in the quality of the relationships that members have with each other, with other Christians, and in the families and communities in which they live. It aims to build a community which is characterised by ‘compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience’[1] in the way that its members interact with each other and with their wider circle. Without leaving our homes to co-locate, we wish to build a community which is held together by love for God and for each other, in order that we should be able to offer an authentic expression of our Christian commitment.


A Rule of Life

Prayer and Worship

‘Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom’ Col 3: 16a

At the heart of the Community lies a Rule of Life for each individual member, which has as a common thread a commitment to a rhythm of prayer – a Daily Office - based around Common Worship. The Office places a special emphasis on the Book of Psalms.

‘The Psalter is central because it is the hymnbook of the church throughout the ages; the only hymn book Jesus ever used; the hymn book of every generation since and today, the only hymnbook every part of a divided church uses. These words shaped the prayers of Jesus…’[2]

Those members who are able are encouraged to meet for prayer, either at the Abbey or in small groups or with prayer partners, as often as they can. Morning Prayer is said at the Abbey on most weekdays, and if members are in Malmesbury they are encouraged to make it a priority to come to that service each day, or to say Morning Prayer alone or in a small group. Members who find themselves away from Malmesbury should try to say Morning Prayer where they are. Members also commit to a second time of daily prayer which can be in a form which is most helpful to the individual member. It might take the form of saying a second office such as Evening or Night Prayer, or an office from a different tradition, or it could be a time of extempore prayer and praise. Members are expected to attend Sunday worship and to receive Communion, if it their custom to do so, regularly.

This is not a matter of legalism: the rhythm of daily prayer provided by Common Worship enables us to pray the scriptures and to ‘let the message of Christ dwell among us richly’. In his Rule, St Benedict emphasises the importance of being especially mindful of God’s presence when saying or singing the Daily Offices so that ‘as we sing our Psalms let us see to it that our mind is in harmony with our voice’. [3]

Besides joining our voices to the worldwide prayer of the church, the Office provides a ‘holy interruption’ to our daily routine, an opportunity to pause and refocus on God. Sister Hilary Francis OHP, drawing on Fr. Mark Barrett OSB, suggests that the office ‘is in practice…a series of interruptions which force us to continually review our priorities and attitudes’.[4]

Following the example of St Paul, we believe that ‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work’.[5] The reading of Scripture is the second lynchpin of the Office. In reading the Scripture at Morning prayer ‘we set forth publicly what God has done for us, [and] give thanks for what God has done by telling the story from the Garden of Eden to the New Jerusalem’.[6] The second Office of the day, in whatever form it takes, also provides opportunities for daily Bible reading. Members are also encouraged to attend Home Groups or take other opportunities to meet and study the Bible together.

Community

‘Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’[7]

The fellowship of the early church was strengthened by eating together. The Abbey Leadership Team eat together once a week. Members of the Community are encouraged to take opportunities to eat together, as a means of strengthening the bonds of fellowship, whenever they can, either by sharing meals at home or in the Abbey Kitchen. We will also organise Community Days from time to time to give opportunities for deeper fellowship together, and some Home Groups may wish to incorporate a community meal into their regular meetings.

Within the community our aim is to treat each other with kindness and generosity of spirit, determined to neither give nor easily take offence, and to bear patiently with each other’s’ shortcomings. Where offence is given, differences encountered or hurt suffered, we should seek reconciliation wherever possible and do not bear grudges.

Members of the Community are expected, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to set themselves the highest standards of conduct, showing probity in all their personal and business dealings, faithfulness in personal relationships and having respect both for the natural world and the laws of the land.

In Acts 2, we read about the community life that characterised the early church: ‘All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.’[8]

Benedict’s Rule forbids personal possessions and says that, within a monastic community, ‘everything should be common to all’. Benedict’s monks lived lives of holy poverty. Within the Community of St Aldhelm we aim to live as simply as we can, modelling values of generosity rather than acquisitiveness, so that we encourage each other to be generous in sharing our resources within the Community and outside it, for example, by being ready to gift or lend items that are needed by others. [9]

As we are generous and welcoming to each other, so we offer the same welcome and generosity of spirit to the wider community. The Rule of Benedict devotes several chapters to the reception of guests and pilgrims: ‘All who arrive as guests are to be welcomed like Christ, for He is going to say ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’.[10] All members of the Order are expected to actively support the welcome teams, sides-persons, congregational pastors and stewards in providing a warm welcome to friends and strangers, newcomers and established members, young and old, rich and poor. So, for example, at the end of services, members of the Community should ideally look round for new faces, and for those who seem to be alone, before going to speak with their existing friends. Members of the Community are expected to set an example to the whole church in offering hospitality, friendship and, where appropriate, practical assistance to others.

The Cellarer, as Abbey Catering Manager, will have a particular role in providing food for larger occasions and through the Abbey Kitchen. Benedict saw the role of the Cellarer as a holy office in its own right: ‘With all compassion [The Cellarer] is to have care for the sick, the children, the guests and the poor…[and] must regard the chattels of the monastery as if they were the sacred vessels of the altar’. [11] Similarly, members of the Community should see the act of welcoming and caring for all who come through the doors of the Abbey as a vital and Christ-like part of the ministry of the church.

Holy Imagination

‘Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.’

The Abbey has a rich musical and artistic heritage which, as Abbey Arts, will continue to be a vital part of our distinctive character as a church. The Creative Response group is already encouraging members of the church to respond to the word of God in various artistic media. Members of the Community are encouraged to support and participate in the artistic life of the Abbey and to develop their own creative gifts in worship, mission and in the wider life of the Abbey.

Accountability

The Community as a whole is accountable to each other, to the Lay Prior, and to the Vicar of Malmesbury Abbey. In addition, the Community – following the example of the monastic orders – will have a Visitor independent of that structure who will act both as spiritual adviser and ‘critical friend’ to the Community. The Community’s Visitor will be the Revd James Pettit.

We recognise that we will all regularly fall short of God’s standards, and so we commend a discipline of confession and personal accountability to all Community members.

‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ [12]

Some Community members will already have relationships – with prayer partners, spiritual advisers or mature Christian friends – within which they make themselves accountable and seek God’s forgiveness. For those that do not, we will try to arrange a suitable partnership within which this can happen.


What Does the Rule Look Like?

The Rule of the Community of St Aldhelm is designed to support and nurture the believer, to build up each individual member and the church we serve. It is intended to be a ‘well-fitting yoke’ in the spirit of Matthew 11:30, which is shaped to the individual and can be adjusted over time as personal circumstances change. The advice from one member of a monastic community was to ‘keep it simple at the beginning. You can always build more in later.’ However, it will undoubtedly require an intention and commitment on the part of the individual to keep it. The Rule of one Benedictine order puts it like this:

‘The religious life is a journey in which we press forward to our goal, supported by all who have gone before us…Our task is to remain steadfast and unswerving in the way’ .

A simple rule is found below. This Rule has provision for flexibility in the way the individual components of the Rule are drawn, to accommodate individuals’ needs. Unlike the monastic vows, this Rule is not unchanging but can be adjusted, over time, to accommodate changing circumstances.


Common Rule

Rule One: We commit to saying Anglican Morning Prayer each day, either in Malmesbury Abbey at 9am, or using the Abbey liturgy, or at other times with others elsewhere, or alone.

Rule Two: We commit to a second period of personal devotion, shared prayer and Bible reading each day.

Rule Three: We commit to prioritising Sunday worship, and to receive Communion if it is our custom to do so.

Rule Four: We commit to meet regularly with other members of the Community of St Aldhelm, to eat together and share fellowship

Rule Five: We commit to lives of holiness, kindness and simplicity, and to make ourselves accountable to others.

Rule Six: We commit to serving God in mission with holy imagination.

Rule Seven: We commit to a day of rest at least once a week, where possible.


The Personal Rules

Up to three personal rules can be added, and these might relate to spiritual reading, physical exercise, work, family life etc.

The intention is that the first seven Rules will be common to all members of the community, but that each member will then include additional Rules that are personal to them. It will be the Lay Prior’s role to meet with each individual member to help them develop their personal Rule of Life, and to offer them support and encouragement as they seek to keep it.

It is our intention to dedicate to keeping the Rule one year at a time, beginning on 25 May 2016 which is the Feast of St Aldhelm, and renewing our commitment annually thereafter.


Who Can Join?

The Order is open to any members of the Abbey congregation, or wider members of the Christian community, who feel that their Christian discipleship would be strengthened through keeping a simple Rule of Life, and who are excited by the prospect of joining in the worldwide prayer of the church, and encountering God through saying the Office, on a daily basis. Some of the questions which are asked of those exploring a vocation to the monastic life might also apply to people as they consider whether they are called to join the Community of St Aldhelm.

If, for you, the answer to a number of these questions is ‘Yes’, then you might want to consider joining.


The Invitation

This, then, is the invitation. If you are excited by the prospect of a life which is surrendered to God under a Rule of Life, which takes as its rhythm the daily cycle of monastic prayer with its opportunities to join in the prayer of the church, and to encounter God regularly in the ‘holy interruption’ of the day, then we invite you to consider whether the Community of St Aldhelm is for you. This is a new adventure for the church – none of us has done this before and we invite you to come on the adventure with us. But Benedict called his Rule ‘a rule for beginners’ and we will all be beginners together.

Catherine Price - Lay Prior, Community of St Aldhelm


Joining the Community

If you would like to consider joining the Community of St Aldhelm in the year ahead please contact our Lay Prior, Catherine Price, on catherine@malmesburyabbey.com or leave a message for her at the Malmesbury Abbey office

There are no charges for participation in the Community of St Aldhelm, but there may be cost involved in community meals over the course of the year.

The Community of St Aldhelm is not a church itself but a ministry of Malmesbury Abbey. If you are a member of another church, of any denomination, you are welcome to join us, but we will be asking for the blessing and support of your own minister as you join the Community. If you are not a member of a church currently, we will be asking you to join an Abbey congregation or a congregation nearer to your location as part of your new Rule of Life.


Notes

[1] Col 3:12b

[2] ‘The Daily Office’, Ralph Martin SSM, p1

[3] Rule XIX, Parry, p41

[4] ‘The Religious Life’, Hilary Francis OHP, taken from a paper delivered at ‘Companions on the Way’

[5] 2 Tim 3:16,17

[6] Ibid p2

[7] Acts 2:46,47

[8] Acts 2:44,45

[9] Some churches have established Acts 2:45 Facebook pages, where surplus items can be offered for free, or loaned, and those in need can advertise for help from other members.

[10] Rule LIII, Parry, p81

[11] Rule XXXI, Parry, p55

[12] 1 John 1:8,9