Laying spiritual foundations – 2017 in review.
2017 has been a year of invisible spiritual preparation. Whenever God begins something new with a group of people, allowing God to breathe identity and purpose into you is often a task of slow and patience listening. For us, a fledgling new monastic community, 2017 has been exactly that, listening and understanding what it is that God requires of us? Learning what is our task, our place and purpose has been an exercise in a rare commodity in todays western church – slow church. Allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us has required a deliberate approach to our spiritual life that is responsive rather than predictive. A recognising that we must proceed with a light touch, rather than an assumed knowledge of how things work in God’s creational economy, is not always an easy thing. The spiritual life is not a linear process, it is an eternal one.
We are a diverse group consisting of Anglicans, Copts, Evangelicals, non-conformists and individuals whose faith journey would not really know what any of these words mean. Spending time listening to each other has been deeply refreshing as Gods’ deposit of wisdom and life experience in each of us has deepened and strengthened us in our common purpose of ‘being formed in the image of Christ’. It has equally taught us that we have so much more in our ‘spiritual commons’ than historical theological differences may state we should have. This perhaps is the most significant work God has done with us this year, teaching us to listen, respect and work with one another.
In 2016 Larry and Deborah Littlebird visited us from New Mexico and spoke to us about starting all over again. This had a profound impact on many of us. If the life affirming message of Jesus Christ is to systemically take root once again in the British Isles, we must not assume we know what this means. The aggressive secular socio-political challenges that Britain and our wider western world face will not be resolved through a business as usual ecclesiastical approach to churchmanship and economics. We sense there is a wisdom in the slower more agrarian sustainable ecclesiology as practiced by the Celtic Monastic Church and exemplified by St. Columba. Hence our call to join us in establishing this most ancient of ways in a contemporary setting.
We feel called to get our hands dirty and build from the ground up, literally. To plant, to care for creation, to rebuild and re-purpose the ancient landscape. To dig out old wells and drink from them, to walk together in pilgrimage, to pray and listen together and to learn from one another under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. At Great Farm in Chanctonbury these words are not prophetic platitudes, conceptual spiritual ideals that fit nicely in with existing comfort filled lifestyle. These are actual physical manifestations in the land of what God is speaking in three dimensions. We will plant a market garden, orchard, vineyard, tend our livestock, re-establish the old well, renovate buildings, prepare food for people and establish a library and learning centre. These tasks speak of starting over, establishing a rhythm of heaven on earth and a table of hospitality where everyone is welcome to come and eat. This is not a short term project, this is an ongoing work that will always be in development, as it is heavenly community formation. Jesus said to us, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty’.
Sheep – growing together as a community.
This year we began the no small task of shepherding sheep. Or should we say trying to shepherd sheep. Our flock – whom we refer to as the Wild Ones – are a mixed group of Shetland, Hebridean, Soay, Manx, Icelandic cross breeds. These rare primitive island breeds are hardy little things, full of character, personality and presence. They are in every way a part of our fledgling community. Having sheep has taught us we are not in control and need to work closely with others in order to care for them as best we can. The Wild Ones have also helped us forge new relationships with other community groups. The MeadowBlue Community Solar Farm hosts our flock on its 30-acre 5 megawatt site. We have also placed a small flock with the Rock Farm Community Garden, a therapeutic market gardening enterprise run by the One Church in Brighton. As with all start-ups, there have been teething troubles, or in the case of the Wild Ones foot problems, caring for sheep is a full-on task, and we are learning to work as a team, as we round them up, treat and inspect feet, administer antibiotic injections and all the other aspects of animal welfare. If you know of any good grazing fields in and around the Steyning, Wiston, Ashington and Chanctonbury area then please do let us know, we always need more grazing.
Great Barn Farm, Chanctonbury.
The planning application process on Great Barn Farm has been a very slow process indeed. Having submitted our plan back in December 2016, as many have told us, be prepared for delays and changes of direction. Quite rightly we have had to look carefully at the heritage of the historic farmstead. The Great Barn first appears on the Wiston Tithe map in 1841 and became a Grade II listed building in 1980. The Great Barn Farm is an organically certified (with the Soil Association) small holding with 11 associated buildings. Its location on the north side of the Chanctonbury Ring ancient monument provides the perfect geographical location for the spiritual drama of our new community to take place. When establishing a new foundation, the Celtic Monastic Church would seek out places that are both isolated and accessible where they could be alone with Christ, as well as offer hospitality to the stranger and the pilgrim. The Great Barn Farm provides exactly this liminal yet hospitable location, being situated on the South Downs Way, an ancient pilgrims’ way, as well as at the end of a no through country road. As a 25 acre site we are aiming to become a hub of ecological conservation and biodiversity, sustainability with solar PV, ground source bore holes, reed bed sewage, all supporting the spiritual retreat rooms, artisan kitchen, and organic farmstead. St. Columba’s chapel and library study centre will provide us with the necessary quiet, stillness and intellectual growth that every human being needs. There is a lot of work to be done, work we are all looking forward to getting stuck into.
We continue to work diligently and prayerfully to meet all the expectations of the planning authorities and would ask you to all pray alongside us that we can conclude this lengthy process in January of 2018.
Night Prayers – We gather together to be alone with Christ.
Every month we gather together to pray. Our monthly night prayers are now in their 4th year and continue to be a place of sanctuary, reflection and silence, where God speaks to us. In the quiet of compline, we continue to learn to listen. Our gatherings take place at All Saints Church, Water Lane, Wiston on the first Thursday of every month starting at 8pm. This rhythm of prayer has been a most creative time and is the context into which God spoke with us about establishing the Society of St. Columba and beginning the process of re-awakening the Monastic Church. As we pray so God leads us forward into the purposes of the Kingdom.
Columba’s Kitchen – meeting and greeting people.
Food and hospitality are a spiritual discipline as well as a wonderful way of celebrating life and all that is good in the world. At the beginning of the year we brought an old 1960’s styled kitchen trailer that we used to visit a few Christian events as a way of beginning to introduce ourselves to the wider Body of Christ. Alongside this we erect our prayer tipi so as to create the axis of prayer and food. Over the years to come, we will take this simple combination out into the country in order to be a blessing to people across the land. Good food, honest conversation and heart felt prayer is a recipe for life and community.
The challenge facing us, as it faces all small start-up faith based communities and Churches is the never-ending question of money. Where will the income come from to sustain us in our activities. We faced a number of biblical challenges in looking at this question. Firstly, how can we be self-sustaining? Secondly, how can we be inclusive and create an economic model that allows us all to benefit? Thirdly, how can we avoid the unbiblical principle of funding the whole development through debt? In our modern society debt and debt bondage are so systemic no one questions its morality. We felt that in starting over we needed to do just that.
So, this year we launched Columba’s Barn Community Benefit Society. This is a for profit structure in the tradition of the co-operative movement. Members, supporters and participants in the vision of the Society can become share-holding members of the CBS. Their investment will in turn be invested into developing the economy of the Society and growing the economic potential of the Great Barn Farmstead. In return members will receive a smallish interest payment based upon the value of their shares. For more information on how to become a shareholding member and become a participant in our community please download the Prospectus at the bottom of the Columba’s Barn page. Whether you are local to Chanctonbury or a distant admirer of what we are seeking to build here, the Columba’s Barn CBS is an inclusive way of being a part of what God is establishing among us.
To conclude, 2017 has been a year of community formation and foundation laying. Who we are, what we do and what we will become, is a process and exercise in following God and not getting ahead of ourselves. There is a very ambitious road ahead of us. Establishing a Monastic Church community at the Great Barn Farmstead will take time, hard work and most of all developing an ability to listen to each other and the Holy Spirit. Please do join us on our adventure, and stay in touch by signing up to our mailing list below. We wish you all a very blessed Christmas with great adventures to come for 2018.