The Parish Weekend 1999
After an exceedingly easy journey thanks to first class directions, Jessica and I arrived on Friday evening to a warm welcome. Jessica was taken upstairs to be shown her room and I was led to the Old Dairy! This was a ground floor three-bedroomed building at the back of the house which was very pleasant and quiet. Arriving in the dark on my first visit, I had no idea what the house or grounds looked like, and on rising on Saturday morning to a beautiful blue sky on a sunny day I was shown the full splendour. Launde Abbey is a lovely house, founded in the 12th century, surrounded by rolling fields where sheep graze and clean their ears with their tongues and polish them with their thick woolly coats. It was quite amusing to watch. At supper John, having unwittingly ‘pinched’ my seat at the table started off for me what was a very happy, relaxing and enjoyable weekend, with lots of laughs.
The main impression was of an extended family gathering together to enjoy each other’s company in a warm homely atmosphere. Eileen had brought a collection of cards from all over the world depicting images of Christ - and what we saw on the cards was quite revealing and surprising, especially when we were given the actual descriptions of the pictures. This exercise would be good for extended discussion, for example at a Monday Group meeting. The informal Eucharist was a shortened version of the evening Eucharist at St Peter’s in which we all joined with Eileen in the said parts and communicated each other in a circle. Michael Austin and the Saturday group arrived after breakfast and the ‘family’ felt almost complete. We did miss those who could not be with us.
Before the first session Michael introduced his book "Almost a Dream", - a collection of letters written by soldiers in the First World War to their vicar at home. In this session, Thanksgiving in Creation, Michael talked about co-operating with creation as the primary role of mankind, using as examples the three Hebrew Pilgrim Feasts of thanksgiving. This involves being responsive to each other. Every congregation must be thankful for its diversity, not only of age, range of life experience and interests, but also temperament. Some clergy undervalue this diversity but, thanks be to God, not at St Peter’s. People have to co-operate with each other to co-operate with God in creation. We are ingathered by God as we ingather our crops. Fruitful harvest means life.
During the second session, Thanksgiving in Art, we were shown various perspectives through paintings. Ann made a ‘funny’ when Michael told us of how when some artists used mathematics to try to draw the perfect body form, of course it was all out of proportion. Ann replied, "it still is". Another amusing comment was ,"Women can’t possibly be ordained priests because grace won’t stick to that particular form.". This of course was not Michael’s thought - or ours.
The session on Thanksgiving for our life Together in St Peter’s had as its main theme ‘The congregation is God’s sacramental gift to itself’. We are the first fruits of God’s harvest, but a free people. For freedom, God has set us free. He described the congregation as Priests of the secular Sacrament of Service, with a ministry which always means more than we imagine it to be. I thank God for the clergy at St Peter’s - for their openness, for their boundlessness and for the boundaries which are not imposed by dogma.
Our free afternoon showed a diversity of those who attended this weekend. Some went for a long walk, some for a short walk, others strolled around, rested or read books. Some went alone, others in groups of two or more. We each ‘did our own thing’. Another thing I noticed was that there was no pressure at all to follow the programme - in fact, had we so desired, we could have spent the whole weekend in bed. None did of course, but we joined in or not as we felt at the time.
Sunday dawned a bit grey, but not enough to dull the spirits. Our talk on Thanksgiving in the Eucharist was, as were all Michael’s talks, so fascinating that we did not even notice when the hour was up. He described remembrance as bringing the past and future into the present, making the extraordinary out of the ordinary, and presented the challenging idea of forgiveness coming before repentance. In our final Eucharist we again communicated each other, then went our way after lunch.
The food throughout the weekend was absolutely delicious, and masses of it. Of earthly food I am more than replete. The spiritual food I am still digesting. Thank your Eileen for organising a wonderfully relaxing, friendly and rewarding weekend in a beautiful setting.
A quiet day at a retreat house. The meadow, all colour and bustle throughout the summer, had been mown. Nothing but dry stalks close to the ground, an off white square amid the preen of the surrounding grass. All very appropriate, it was how I felt at that moment.
Wandering over the apparent barrenness I spotted what appeared to be fallen cherries, bright red berries on the ground. Toadstools. Now that the meadow had been cut there was room for these undercover plants to flourish and be visible. I went away to consider what might be their message.
The list ran as follows:
I have not yet found a personal message in this but it strikes me that this list is uncannily descriptive of the Christian Church!