October has been a very busy month with unusual activities. The Bishop of Tonbridge spent a week in the local area visiting the Malling Deanery and presided over a fantastic Confirmation Service in which 32 people of all ages from around our local area were able to proclaim their Christian faith and be confirmed, receiving Holy Communion for the first time in front of a jammed church (see p.13). With the Bishop around, the Clergy of our area gathered for a couple of days of much needed rest and social time. I learnt that one local clergyman has a thing for shoes, another local Vicar knits and another one is into Arsenal!
But in the middle of October, I was hauled over to Bruges for the second part of a leadership course that I started in the Summer (see July parish magazine). We were hosted by the Sint Andreu (St Andrew) Benedictine flemish-speaking monastery on the outskirts of Bruges. It’s a monastery that first came into being in the year 1100 and has had a long and varied history since.
At first, it took some getting used to. There was a very rigid routine that meant Prayers at certain times of day (in Flemish), meetings at certain times, meals at certain times – always conducted in silence except for one of the Brothers reading in Flemish to all present. Rest and free time was also strictly timetabled. The routine, the long periods of silence and also eating without speaking were all so different to my usual lifestyle that I struggled to adjust. It may sound like a nightmare to you.
But by the end of the week, I was benefitting. I was sleeping better and longer, despite getting up earlier than I usually do. Rather than eating on the run at crazy times of day, often standing up and shovelling something in while I rush off to something else, I ate at set times, I ate very well (the Brothers like their food) and eating in silence means you take your time and you also think. I even started to appreciate that timetabling rest and relaxation may sound daft but actually it means you do get some! On my little tablet computer, I started watching Homeland and discovered a fantastic TV series that I’d heard about but never had time to see.
For a great number of people in this part of Kent, we could do a lot worse than learn from the wisdom of St Benedict and his monks. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t live their particular lifestyle over the long-term. It is a calling after all. But that sense of rhythm, of ensuring that you attend to the basic necessities of life like eating, sleeping, working and rest is a lesson that is always good to re-learn. In the Christian faith and its many and varied different expressions and traditions, there is often great practical wisdom for living that works, even when the times are very different to the ones in which such wisdom was first discovered or first taught by Jesus himself.
It’s one of the reasons why I’m looking forward to our new Emmaus course that starts in November and is intended as a ‘beginners’ course for those who are just looking to explore what Christianity is about and encounter this person Jesus, and see if he has anything to say that might benefit them. If you’re thinking of coming, do let me know. Everyone is welcome.