Anniversaries always invite reflection, but memory plays artful tricks, sometimes allowing us to appreciate the good things better but also, sometimes, allowing the bad more scope than they should have. When, on 6 September 2004, Bishop Crispian Hollis signed the decree canonically establishing us as an autonomous monastery of diocesan right, we had no idea what the future would hold. Our finances were perilous; we lived in a rented house; we had been covered with obloquy by those who did not know the full facts but were certain of the unassailability of their own position. Our friends were few but true. It was an excellent starting-point but perhaps not one we ourselves would have chosen.
The next few years can be described as a gradual unfolding of the community’s vocation. We took on the work of providing free audio books for the blind and visually impaired (St Cecilia’s Guild, now Veilaudio), the editing of the Catholic Directory for England and Wales, and much typesetting and book production for the diocese of Portsmouth and others. At the same time we began to develop our online ministry, building our first set of web sites with what were then innovative features such as weekly podcasts, online conferences, video talks, a blog, online retreats and so on. All this to the accompaniment of the community’s regular round of public and private prayer, the building up of a library and the slow acquisition of the wherewithal to furnish our oratory. I sometimes wonder how we managed it, but along with the unfolding of our vocation came the gift of friends.
Our years in East Hendred were happy but we came to realise that we needed more permanent accommodation, free of damp and mould. To raise funds to buy a house we were greatly helped by our friends and by the oblates and associates we now numbered as part of our community. Our move here to Herefordshire in 2012 signalled the beginning of another chapter in the life of the community, one that is still being written. My illness has, unfortunately, made demands on the community we did not expect, but we have also learned from it — and if I am able to finish the revision of our web sites, you will see what I mean by that.
The strapline to our community web site is ‘Sharing a vocation with the world’. It wasn’t dreamed up by us, but I think it expresses very neatly soemething of the dynamic of our monastery, rooted in the traditional Benedictine disciplines of prayer and work but also engaging with others as openly as possible in a modern form of hospitality. It isn’t always easy to maintain such openness, and there are times when we disappoint those who seek more than we can give, but it is worth trying.
As we give thanks for all who have helped us over the years, please pray for us that ‘following the guidance of the gospel, we may walk in His paths’ and may be found worthy of the great vocation entrusted to us. Please pray, too, for all those with whom we are connected: our friends, oblates, associates and online community. We may be few here at Howton Grove, but world-wide we number thousands. Thanks be to God.