Community of St Anselm – Two Weeks In

This article first appeared online in the The Melbourne Anglican, September 29 2015 as well as the October 2015 print edition.

Before moving to Lambeth Palace, I had been taking a six month break after a decade of study. In that time I worked two days a week as an office administrator for a church, hoping to spend the rest of the week reading and rediscovering the hobbies I had enjoyed before I started a Masters of Divinity.

The reality was a different story. I spent my days pendulum swinging from slothfulness to busyness, as I tried to work through my to-do list and achieve a perfectly ordered life – albeit in vain. While sorting out my things one day I came across a new year’s resolution list from 2006 that has pretty much been the same every year. Read the Bible from start to finish, pray more, get my driver’s license, learn to cook, read x number of books, get fit and healthy. I’m a perfectionist who wants to be more disciplined, so joining a monastic community for a year might seem a logical step. However, this is not my motivation. I have come to realize the negative side-effect of perfectionism is control and anxiety. At the vision night for the Community of St Anselm, I found my goal in coming here articulated in a profound way. Archbishop Justin Welby shared about stability being one of the vows of Benedictine spirituality. “Stability is about being stable in Jesus… the sense of whatever happens around you, you don’t rock around, you’re not knocked off your feet”.

It has been two weeks since Jonathan and I moved into Lambeth Palace. We all arrived at various times during Friday 4 September, the other 14 resident community members coming from Kenya, USA, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Scotland and all over England. It was wonderful to begin to get to know each person and a little of their story as to why they are here. The logistics of a community of 16 moving into a working palace has meant a steady accumulation of colour-coded timetables and schedules; a far cry from our usual day-to-day life; now in this large group cooking, eating, cleaning and sharing tasks together. However, it did not take us long to realise that prayer and worship are the top priority here in the Community.

The 16 of us join in the three daily services held here at Lambeth: Morning Prayer, Eucharist (before lunch) and Evening Prayer. As well as these times together, time is set aside for Bible reading and personal prayer in the morning, and also an hour in the evening for silent prayer. It is a struggle to communicate what a dramatic lifestyle change this is for me; adjusting to this new way of life has been tiring, and I cannot use jetlag as an excuse as we arrived in England mid-August! Much more energy is needed for such devotion to scripture and prayer than my usual go to unwind mechanism of passively watching the TV.

I have been surprised about the variety of worship in the services here. In the one service we can have a variety of different expressions: from a hymn led by a Cantor to times of extended worship led with a guitar, and from liturgical prayers to times of spontaneous prayers from across the congregation.

This is a reflection of the diversity of those already working and living here, including those leading us. The Prior of our Community, Anders Litzell has encouraged us to broaden our perspectives on worship and find treasures from every corner of the earth throughout history. As we come from a range of contexts, this is sure to be a challenge in the year ahead.

Each individual in the Community is assigned a charity to work with for two days a week. Jonathan and I are most excited about this aspect of monastic life, which was exemplified by St Francis. Jonathan will be working with the chaplaincy team in a hospital, and I will be with a team helping women who are homeless in London. This is important, as we believe monastic life is not just about our personal relationship with God and building Christian community, but also it is about our input into the world and giving our time to work in the local community.

There are also 20 other members who live in London and its surroundings, who join us twice a week and on retreats. They are challenged to live out the same commitment but in their homes and workplaces. In the opening service, the 16 residents and 20 non-residents were all commissioned in quite possibly the largest event held in the Chapel at Lambeth Palace. Though we were far from our home church in Melbourne, St Mark’s Reservoir, we were blessed to have our Minister the Revd David Jones and his wife Gretta alongside us to witness our commissioning. All 36 of us lined the centre aisle as our Abbot Archbishop Justin called us to commitment. We answered the call to love God in this Community, by responding one by one, standing and saying “Here I am.”

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