One thing we have all valued during these past months of lockdown is the sense of community we have enjoyed in the village. My own life experience has taught me how important community is and how important it is that members of a church work together as a community. This grew out of what was one of the most important and influential events in my life, when I decided to join the Lee Abbey Community way back in 1964. At the time I had little understanding of community life, but I signed up for a minimum of two years and embarked on a new way of life…
The Lee Abbey Community originated in 1946 when seven men came together to purchase the house with the vision of establishing a centre for training and evangelism in response to Archbishop William Temple’s report: ‘Towards the Conversion of England’. The intention was that the house be used for Christian house-parties, holidays and training courses, but it was almost by accident that the community exists there at all! The house opened at the end of 1946 with a group of people whom God had brought together, and they began to work out their relationships, though knowing virtually nothing about community life. And so, it has developed that, ever since then, ordinary people whom God has called to live and work there have been ‘working out the implications’ of what it means to be a Christian community.
By the time I arrived it was well-established, and I joined an international community of about 90 people of all ages. Lee Abbey is rooted in Anglican tradition, but community members come from a wide range of denominations. The community’s role was to offer hospitality, rest, activities, worship and teaching to thousands of guests each year, based on a threefold vision: ‘to renew and serve the church; to be God’s welcome and to build community’.
All community members abide by a rule of life, working and praying together, with a weekly Corporate Communion as a central act of worship. After a probationary period, they make promises which include affirming a personal faith in Christ, promising to persevere in daily Bible reading and prayer, and to be loyal to the Community in its aims, its standards of behaviour and its disciplines. Each new community member is also asked “Are you prepared to learn to live in fellowship, being open to be known for who you are, accepting one another in love, and saying of others nothing that could not be said to them personally if love and wisdom required it?” Working this out in community is not always easy but the bonus is fellowship, friendship and fun and growth in the Christian faith. (to be continued next month)
Being part of the Lee Abbey community changed my life! I had been brought up in a Christian family but it was only when I went to Lee Abbey that I found a personal faith in Jesus Christ. As soon as I entered the building, I sensed that there was something different about the place; it was so welcoming it was like a home-coming. That is how Lee Abbey works: the guests are welcomed into a family and become part of that loving community during their time there. It seems that this is what a church (the gathered congregation) should aim to offer to people as they enter our church buildings.
Has Lee Abbey changed in the last 70 years? I would say no, it hasn’t changed in essence as its aims are the same, though it is a much more comfortable place to stay. In the early days it was fairly patriarchal with all the teaching being undertaken by the Warden and chaplains. Now the whole community is encouraged to be more involved in presenting the Gospel to the guests, through music, drama and leading worship. In the same way, we can see how parochial ministry has changed over the years. Once all the worship and preaching was done by the incumbent, who was an ordained minister. Now it is part of the role of the leadership team to discern people’s gifts and to offer training to develop these gifts. In this way members of the congregation are much better equipped for whole-life discipleship. Lee Abbey community members are equipped to be ‘sent out’, to take the good news of the Gospel into their own churches as they return to their homes in this country or elsewhere in the world.
Can our church community be a place where people develop the skills needed to take the gospel message to their family, friends and work colleagues, wherever they are during the week from Monday to Sunday?
Aurea Hart LLM