Over the last few weeks I’ve had a very similar three-part opening to conversations with friends. It starts with stage one: I tell people I’m going to be a part-time nun. There are a mix of reactions, the most common being, ‘you’re what?!’. (A favourite was when a friend mis-heard and thought I said ‘part-time mum’ which elicited a whole different reaction, but that’s another story.) Then I go on to stage two: I say that in September I’m joining the Community of St Anselm at Lambeth Palace (where the Archbishop of Canterbury is based) for ten months as a non-resident, and they generally look slightly more confused, a little intrigued by the idea and say ‘you’re not leaving your job are you?’. And finally stage three: I explain that being a non-resident means I will stay in my job but go to London every Monday evening and one Saturday a month as well as have three week long retreats between September through to the end of June next year.
By this point in there are usually a lot of things people want to know about, so here are some answers to a few common questions I’ve been asked…
Are you teaching a group of unruly youths to sing?
As much as I love Sister Act, I doubt very much that my year will bare much comparison to that of Sister Mary Clarence. Which is possibly a good thing.
Do you wear robes?
This has been a pressing question for nearly everyone. And the answer is yes. Although I may be known for enjoying fancy dress, you’ll be glad to know it isn’t the main reason why I’m joining the community – but it’s definitely a plus! The community website has an explanation about why we wear white robes – I’m particularly drawn to the idea of unity and that when we meet together from all different backgrounds and churches, we are united as one group belonging together.
Who else will be there?
The community is made up of sixteen residents and a group of non-residents (that’s me!) who join for ten months of the year. We will all be aged between 20-35 years old, and from all over the world and different denominations. There are also staff who oversee the programme who live there permanently. Lastly there is another small community called the Chemin Neuf who also live at Lambeth Palace full time and who help run the Community of St Anselm as well.
My experience as one of the non-residents will obviously be quite different to if I was one of the residents. If you want to know how the other half live, my friend Katy (we’re both from the same place and have mutual friends but have only met since finding out the other one is joining the community) is going to be a resident and is also writing a blog, so feel free to follow her here.
So what will you actually do?
If I’m honest, I’m not entirely sure what the structure of an evening/Saturday involves. But I know that the time involves joining with the residents and eating together (always good if food is involved), worship and prayer. We’ll also have small groups where we can discuss what we are learning as well as regular meet ups with someone much wiser to guide us through the year and help us get the most out of it. We will also help at a local community project/charity mid-week.
Do you have to follow rules?
There is something called the ‘Rule of Life’ which all the community members agree to when they join. It’s there to help us have a starting point for boundaries and what we are committing to for the time we are there; this is always helpful when a large group of people who have never met before spend a lot of time together. It also helps us think through some things we may find easy and some more challenging, and how others may be feeling at the start of our time together. How it applies to each of us will be different – both for the residents and non-residents, but also between individuals. For example, what ‘sacrifice’ looks like will vary – for me, this includes giving up my free time and maybe missing things on Saturdays when I’m in London. Feel free to ask me more if you want to!
You can’t be quiet for five minutes, how are you going to cope?
If this is assuming there are times of silence then you are correct. One of the retreats is a week of silence…challenging for a chatterbox extrovert like me. I’m strangely looking forward to the opportunity – that might be partly because I want to prove I can cope without talking all the time, and maybe even learn to appreciate silence, who knows?!
Do you have to pay for the year?
Yes, the community is self-supporting so each member contributes towards the running costs. As a non-resident, it costs around £4800 per person which covers everything for the time I’m there (including food, the retreats, visiting speakers etc). As I’ll be travelling by train each week I’ll also need to cover those expenses.
Is there anything I can do?
I’m so thankful to all my amazing family and friends who constantly put up with (and are amused by) my wild adventures. Sorry this one may have come a bit more out of the blue for some of you, but your support is so appreciated. I apologise if over the coming months we don’t get to hang out as much or I’m not so good at staying in touch – giving up a substantial amount of my free time is part of the sacrifice, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like you any more. Please do keep me posted with your news, I still want to hear it! For those who pray, I would love your prayers. And if you want to help contribute towards my fundraising target, you can find the page here. If you want to join my email mailing list for updates, let me know.
Why on earth are you doing this?
Well that is a very good question! I first heard about the community on twitter when it started two years ago. I had a little read about it and thought it sounded really interesting, but I didn’t have the time then to think about it much more. It stayed in my mind, and I was really interested in the idea of being able to see how a community of people could learn from each other and work together to then be able to go home mid-week and see how this applies to ‘normal life’. I’m also really looking forward to the time and space carved out in our busy lifestyles for prayer and reflection. I was reminded about it a lot last year when I was moving house and felt like it was the right time to do it. I’d met some of the residents over the last two years when our church has hosted them on visits, and had some great conversations with them which made me really want to see what it was all about. Living a monastic lifestyle wasn’t what I thought I’d be doing the year I turn 30 but the chance to be part of this unique opportunity was something I had to go for.
When do you start?
Early September is our first Monday evening together, and we have our first retreat at the start of November.
PS. What is it about St Anselm that means he has a community named after him?
Not going to lie, had to look the answer to this one…according to the Community of St Anselm website:
Saint Anselm, a Benedictine monk and brilliant scholar, was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093-1114. His motto of ‘faith seeking understanding’ reminds us that the faith journey begins with an active love of God – and from this love a deeper knowledge of God follows. Anselm became a monk when he was 27 – when he first enquired about the possibility, aged 15, he was turned away.