Stephen Taylor: Monks and marmite

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I’VE never stayed in a monastery before, so the few days I spent last week with the Community of the Resurrection in Mirfield was really interesting.

I was there because the course I am inspecting was having a residential training weekend, and I needed to get in a few interviews with key education providers, so arrived 48 hours earlier and was a guest of the Mirfield Fathers.

At the heart of the community is a huge house set in 22 acres of land.

The day began, not unreasonably, at 6.45am with Mattins, and the first of the meals (all eaten in silence) follows.

From All Saints (in November) to Easter, the community has porridge for breakfast, and is self-service.

I followed the youngest member of the order, who at 25, had become a novice just the week before.

In the evening I returned in time for the service and the evening meal followed, this time during the meal one of the fathers read a few chapters of a book which they were right in the middle of, so although interesting, it wasn’t quite the serial experience it was for others.

The meal this night was a piece of boiled fish and a piece of fruit to follow.

I was the only guest of theirs that evening and tried to do some work in my room, but with no heating it was too cold. I returned to the warmth of the guest lounge where they had a newspaper (no TV) and a few of their quarterly news magazines.  

In one there were a few photographs of Sunderland where they had a house called ‘Emmaus’ in the East End (now the Watermans) and almost all of the older members of the community spoke of it with affection.

Rowan Williams, the current Archbishop of Canterbury who trained for the ministry with the Fathers, did his pre ordination retreat there.

Just after 9pm one of the community was doing the lights out locking up routine, and I was back to my room where the only way to keep warm was to go to bed.

My presence with the community up until Friday had only been in the chapel services and the silent meals, so the Prior kindly invited me to join them for coffee and half a slice of bread at 4pm when talking was permitted.

The community crisis discussed was a split jar of marmite in the kitchen, but the rest of the conversation was warm and friendly.

They were keen to hear about Sunderland, as the last time any of them was there was about 20 years ago and they shared a good few happy stories of their time among the ‘garths’. Does anyone remember them?

They have imaginative plans for a new monastery adjacent to the old house in Mirfield, which they are very excited about.

One of the fathers is organising a fund-raising auction in October, which, among other things, will include some Georgian and Victorian furniture of the original house.

I think that people called to a religious life have a huge amount to offer our communities, and I’m grateful for those men and women who still feel called to serve us in that way, not least those who live among us in Sunderland.