We have now been here a month; and in all that time, I think there have been only two days when it hasn’t rained, so no photos yet (the rainless spells were used to mow the lawn and do some essential outside work). Is there anything worth sharing from our experience of moving from Hendred to Herefordshire?
Inevitably, one thinks first in terms of loss and gain. We made many good friends in Oxfordshire and miss them all. Here making friends will be a slower process, for we no longer live in a village and the opportunities for getting to know people will be fewer. Against that, we are delighted by our new home and its situation. To wake up every morning without worrying about damp or mould is a joy, and the countryside around us is breathtaking in its beauty.
In practical terms, we face a steep learning curve. We are in an entirely different geographical location, and a different diocese. Our most immediate challenges will be the ordinary ones of everyday life. At first, just finding our way around the city and major villages was a lesson in patience: finding out where to shop, where to park, where to obtain those innumerable little things that suddenly become necessary when one moves.
Religious communities don’t fit into any convenient category when it comes to utility companies and the like, so there has also been much to-ing and fro-ing to ensure that essential services are maintained and billed in the correct manner. Then there are the alterations and repairs which are needed. The barn has been carefully looked after, but even so, one or two things need attention and are beyond the strength and skill of the community. In Hendred we knew who the reliable tradesmen were; here we don’t. Consequently, our oratory is still without the Blessed Sacrament while we seek out someone who will secure the tabernacle to the wall for us; our library remains in boxes while we try to find someone who will build good, plain bookshelves for us (Ikea flatpacks don’t fit well with old walls); and so on. We know we shall sort it all out in time, just as we shall get a vegetable garden going again and launch a new website and online services.
In the meantime, the experience of dislocation is probably good for us. Monasteries can become too comfortable, too complacent. Being faced with a completely new situation will call for new talents and new responses. The Hendred years brought development and graces of their own. We became a community; we formulated a clear vision of what it means to be contemplative Benedictines; we began our internet outreach and our service of the blind and visually impaired. Who knows what Howton Grove will bring? The prayer goes on.