The Minister's Letter

 

I was fortunate enough this year to be granted a sabbatical, and part of that was to spend four weeks during April and May at Hilfield Franciscan Friary. This is a place I have known for many years, but my stays have never been for more than a few days. Now I could really absorb the Friary, its life, worship, work, and community.  Hilfield is in the depths of the countryside of Dorset, between Dorchester and Yeovil, nestling at the foot of Batcombe Down.  The brothers live alongside a lay community who come and live there for a year or so from all over the world as well as the United Kingdom.  They are men and women, mostly young, mostly single, but some married and with a smattering of small children.  The community lives according to the Franciscan principle of caring for God’s Creation, so the place is run on ecological grounds and living lightly on the earth.  Food is mostly grown in the Friary gardens, and meat, which is only served a couple of times a week, is mostly from their own animals. All around the land is cultivated naturally so that the fields are full of wild flowers, especially orchids, and wildlife is flourishing. The neighbour farms in a similar manner, and the Downs above are covered in woodland belonging to the Dorset Wildlife Trust.  I was delighted in my first week to see Yellowhammers just down the lane, which are such a rarity these days, and the air was full of swallows.

My time was spent reading theology and being part of the community, and as well as the books the place itself taught me some important theology.  Before I had always experienced Hilfield as a wonderful community in a beautiful place. Now I was experiencing the community of both people and place.  St. Francis spoke of all living things as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’, and I came to see the profound truth of this.  We do not just live on the land, we are part of it and it is part of us.  At Hilfield the land flourishes, and the community flourishes with it.  The two go hand in hand, and are in fact not two, but one.

The Church in its worship has begun to think about this time of year when we celebrate Harvest as ‘Creation Time’.  If the planet is to flourish and humanity survive we need to get back to this understanding that we are not separate from Creation but a part of it.  Where God’s earth prospers the people prosper, and where God’s people prosper the earth will prosper too if we are true to our nature as God’s Creation.  Good stewardship of our planet is not an optional extra, rather it is an outpouring of the bountiful love which is at the heart of the Holy Trinity.  That outpouring begins with our own relationship with God’s Creation in the place where we each live.

With every blessing

               Nigel