Moving from Hendred to Howton Grove

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?

Quietnun packing up to leave East Hendred
Quietnun packing up to leave East Hendred

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.

Part of our library, still in boxes
A Library in Boxes: Howton Grove Priory

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.

The prayer goes on: the oratory at Howton Grove Priory
The Prayer goes on: the Oratory at Howton Grove Priory

Famine in the Midst of Plenty

This isn’t about what you think it will be. (Part of me hopes my blog posts are never predictable, but that’s one more vanity to be worked on.) No, this is domestic and small-scale: a reflection on the process of moving and unpacking.

We spent several weeks before we moved clearing out superfluities — things we needed in Hendred but wouldn’t here. We also discarded lots of things we should have liked to have kept but which had been ruined by damp and mould, books especially. We pruned the rest of our library (painful!); we rationalised the stock of items kept for garden parties and mass catering; we still seemed to have masses of stuff and were slightly shame-faced that we needed two vans to transport it all. Little by little we are unpacking, but always with one eye on what we can reduce further. The problem is, surrounded as we are by boxes and boxes of stuff, all neatly labelled and ordered, we can’t actually find whatever it is we need at any particular moment. There are times when we can’t even find what has already been unpacked because She Who Unpacked It (let the reader understand) forgot to tell me or Bro Duncan where she had put it.

So, we are experiencing famine in the midst of plenty. There is one good thing to be said for it, however. It has reminded us powerfully how little anyone really needs. Much of what we have — chapel and library apart — is for comfort or convenience. We have always had the rule that anything not used in twelve months should be given away or otherwise disposed of, but, of course, we become lazy or forgetful. Somehow, I suspect the local recycling centre will be seeing more of us in the coming months.