Northumbria Community

We have been here at Hetton Hall, the mother house of the Northumbria Community, for five days. We traveled from Bath to London and north to Berwick Upon Tweed, the last stop before the border of Scotland. A volunteer staff picked us up and brought us to the house where we met the couple who serve as priest and overseer of the community. Amy and I were given a tour of the house and shown our room, which is Brendan named after the Celtic saint Brendan the Navigator.

The hall is an old farm house, some if it built in the 14th century as a military tower. It has bedrooms and shared bathrooms for twenty people, a well stocked library, reading room, bookstore, a large dining room, garden and kitchen. It is surrounded by farmland with wheat and ranches where cattle graze. A store is many miles away, so we are fairly isolated. It has rained off and on until last night when we finished our walk and saw the sun shine brightly through the clouds. A new mother house is being built out of a 200 year old farmhouse 20 miles south and opened in October. Since this is the last summer at Hetton Hall, community members are taking memory pictures and talking about what will be new, what will remain the same. Oddly, the two items most talked about are the chapel and the auger, the gas burning oven/stove that is always on for tea and for baking, and hanging towels or clothes to dry. These are both very holy places of prayer and hospitality. 

As we have met people in the house we have discovered everyone has a story how they found the community. Some are "core staff" who live here, but all the others make up a dispersed community of those who live a few miles away or continents away. God has drawn different the community of thousands together for different reasons, but all have found a community that helps them connect with God and with others in a place of love and hospitality and commitment to seeking God together by asking the three questions:
   Who is it that you seek?
   How then shall we live?
   How can we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

Our days are marked by the rhythm of community prayer: morning prayer at 9am (after breakfast), midday prayer at 12:00 (then lunch at 1pm), evening prayer at 5:30 (then dinner at 6:15) and compline at 9:30pm. Morning and evening prayer are longer with scripture reading and prayer for the community companions or friends. We meet in the chapel which looks more like an A frame garden shed. We all enter and exit the chapel in silence. The liturgy is simple: the words are recited slowly so as not to rush and to let them sink in. The compline is done by candlelight; each person takes a candle held in the top of a liter bottle and lights it from another's or from the center candle. Candles are always lit in the chapel, and the stands and votives are always placed differently. The prayer guides are on each chair and people come in silently and leave silently.

As we leave there are places to leave prayers or light a candle. In between community worship there is time for walks, baking, chores around the grounds, reading, or napping. This week is family week, so there is no teaching or input and everyone can choose for themselves what they want to do. We picked raspberries in the garden one afternoon and walked a few miles to see the ocean from a distance and to feel the cold wind of the North Sea. We spent time reading books and reflecting on our experience here. 

Amy and I packed a lunch and went on a four mile round trip walk to Cuthbert's Cave (born in 635ad) through farmland and marked trails. Cuthbert (born in 635AD) had a vision at the cave when Aidan died. He went to Melrose where he prepared for monastic life. He came to LIndisfarne as bishop. Now there is a week long pilgrimage from Melrose, Scotland 100km (62mi) to Lindisfarne, England.

When we were in Orvieto we wrote poems that began "I put on Pilgrim Shoes" so I wrote Part 2:

I put on pilgrim shoes
And walked to Cuthbert's Cave
A place that led to calling
A limestone resting place
From Melrose to Lindisfarne
Preaching the good news
Modeling the life
For monks and wayward souls.
I put on pilgrim shoes and walked a grass road
Along a bridle path
Cows and bulls grazing
Farmland waiting for the sun to ripen its grain
Harvest months away
And the grain stands at attention
Yellow and green and golden
A stream meanders through the fields
A forest shades the road.
A well worn pilgrim path
A harvest of souls
Looking for growth,
Seeking God with a humble heart
"Jesus my only desire"
The spirit my only guide
Calming my heart
Opening my eyes
To his presence.

I read about the community's rule and history, which can also be read on the website of the community. The author says the charism or gift this new monastic community offers the church is the rhythm of their life: alone and together, mission and monastery, and their values of availability and vulnerability to God and others. The mission of the community flows out of the pilgrimage of journeying with God becoming attractive to others and hearing God's heartbeat for the world. The rhythm of the tides does influence the life of the community which is loosely structured around the offices and allows for individual engagement and growth.

We walked today from the causeway to the Holy Island. You can only walk along the causeway at low tide. Even the road that crosses over the causeway is covered in several feet of water when the tide comes in. This is how the monastery on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne created their rhythm of community (when the tide was in) and mission (when the low tides allowed them to cross over to the mainland). This image of the ebb and flow of life has been on my mind for the last year as we have continued to contemplate what it means to have a missional rhythm to our lives. The wet mud/sand is squishy between our toes and makes the pilgrimage very tactile.
Aidan is a key figure in the evangelization of Northumberland from Iona in 635AD. He established the monastery on Lindisfarne with King Oswald supporting him five miles away in Bamburgh Castle. They worked together to develop local leadership, preach the gospel, evangelize and live out the faith. Here is part of Aidan's prayer we used on our walk along the causeway to the Holy Island:
As the tide draws the waters close in upon the shore, make me an island, set apart, alone with You, God, holy to You. Then with the turning of the tide, prepare me to carry Your presence to the busy world beyond, the world that rushes in on me, till the waters come again and fold me back to You. Lord, give us the desire to love goodness, to passionately love goodness; teach us moderation in all things; teach us to love wisdom, and to greatly love your law. So often we hold too tightly to our belief. May we plant the faith patiently, calmly and untiringly in the good ground of hungry hearts. God and the angels guard us! May he bring us home rejoicing!

We came back to the house and Amy and I baked scones (which in the north has a short "o" like in shot) and had tea at 4pm with raisin scones with cream, homemade strawberry and red current jam. We also made cheese scones served with chutney. It was nice to spend the afternoon together with others in the kitchen and to contribute to the hospitality of the house.

We will be here till Sunday, when we train to Oban, then ferry on Monday to Iona.


  1. I love the image of the ebb and flow of the tide and it's role in the missional life of the monastery on the Holy Island.

  2. While we are all not able to take the physical journey with the two of you, thank you for allowing us to share your journey, your learning and growth. Laura


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Sending and Blessing

Camino de Santiago Day Thirty-seven and Thirty-eight: We made it!

My Love of Spain