How it all began......
In the March 2005 edition of CAIM ( The Northumbria Community newsletter) we submitted an article which shows how God has entrusted us with a vision, to set up and run a Northumbria Community-style Christian Retreat Centre in Normandie, France.
This is an update on events since then…….
At the beginning of July we went over to L’Abri à Suvigny in the company of a family from Loughborough, a young girl from New Zealand recently attracted by the Community and having a few weeks in hand before returning to New Zealand, and friends, who had felt led to France about 4 years ago, and are currently in the Dordogne.
While we were there, it was obvious how God was working in the people’s lives.
Although initially, we were disappointed that the works that were to have been carried out on the driveway/ septic tank system and water supply hadn’t been completed before our arrival, this actually turned out to be a very good thing. Certain alterations could be made, and the workmen were willing to do some extra bits like putting in the electrical earth trench, making a hole through the flint wall for the bathroom pipes, and using the excess soil to help build the bank at the end of the garden where the pond will be. This was only possible because we were there to supervise. God’s timing was better than ours!
Community life took off most successfully with the regular monastic rhythm of the day and plenty of time for sharing stories and ideas over the mealtimes. Some lasting friendships have begun, not least with the previous owner of the land who has really taken us under his wing and, through Diane’s superb translation skills, we were able to build up a huge amount of entente cordiale. We had a grand tour of their farm, met their son and grandson, and have discussed ways in which he will help with digging holes in the orchard, as well as maintaining the land at Suvigny, and organising the ordering of fruit trees etc. He is also an influential person in the local community and this should enable the reaching out to the French people to be eased as well as our acceptance into their midst.
While we blessed the bell, and during conversation and prayer times, more than one of our number received pictures and guidance on what their future journeys with God are likely to entail, as well as what God has in mind for France. This was very exciting, as was the contact with the roofing contractor’s wife. She said that they had just bought a new property quite close to us which had a barn which she had a very strong feeling would be used as a meeting place. When I shared with her what we were doing and about the Northumbria Community, she was extremely interested and asked for the website. She duly perused that while we had returned to England, and on our second visit at the end of July, asked to see us. We had a most helpful meeting.
It was a real blessing to meet Brian and Cathy from the Dordogne. They felt very much at home, and have since said that they feel they will be an integral part of L’Abri a Suvigny in the future. Unfortunately their visit was cut short by their daughter’s ill-health and they had to return after only two days.
Paulette (from New Zealand) gained a lot of confidence over the week, which was lovely to see, and so did Diane. She had been very trepidatious about life in general following her surgery and treatment for cancer since April, and the week saw her coming out of her shell and daring to live again.
I returned with Paulette again for a couple of weeks end of July/beginning of August, when we were able to link up some more plumbing in the bathroom, plant some cut-price trees from the July sales at Mr Bricolage, generally work on some redecoration and domestic items, and enjoy a visit from my sister and son from the West Country of England.
The next project is a possible link up with some senior school pupils at the school where I work, to come and help to plant the orchard as part of their Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme. This is an exciting step forward, as one never knows what God will do with the spiritual seeds planted in young lives. They are hoping to do this around Easter time next year.
Arriving at midnight with one other lady, a 12 year old and a 6 year old, accompanying me, to see a jungle ahead shining in my headlights - all else pitch black. That was the somewhat daunting start to our arrival at L’Abri à Suvigny this summer! I steered my trusty car steadily where I knew the drive was meant to be, brushing over 3 foot weeds and coming to a halt as near the house as I could manage, hardly able to open the car door for undergrowth and battling through bushes to find the front door. With much hushed giggling and general hysteria at the ridiculous state we were in, we carried 6 year old Isobel to the house and battled with bedding and suitcases to get the main things needed for the night. Inside, the bunk beds were duly made up, my campbed was erected and Diane thought she would sleep on the new pine bed. As she sat on it, it broke! More giggles - and she decided to have the mattress on the floor in the diningroom. I did warn her not to go too near the door in case it rained and came flooding in as it had at Easter when we were there. Sure enough, later in the night it rained - but Diane was dry and cosy - well, apart from the noisy cows, and fighting cats, and the mysterious something that was trying to get into the bin in the small hours of the morning!
The next two days saw us unpacking the house from its dustcovers and moving upstairs to the other beds, generally
sorting things out and pulling out weeds to make it possible to move. I collected two Duke of Edinburgh Award youngsters from Dinard airport, and this began a week of much fun, and quite a lot
getting done, including the French farming neighbours taking pity on our jungle, and spending the equivalent of 3 days weeding, strimming, cutting, turning, baling and collecting 20 large cylindrical
bales of hay from our land.
Thanks to Diane’s translation abilities, we were able to get to know them
better and build a good bond between us. Next day the Dutch contingent arrived from De Spil with their leader, Victor. We were very blessed by their presence, as well as them offering so much physical contribution to the labours of the project.
The group from Holland were absolute stars in their enthusiasm, commitment and camaraderie, and we hope that long
term links with our Dutch friends are a strong possibility. One of their comments was that they wanted to come back next year, for the food, apart from anything else! Other comments showed how much
we all experienced “God with us” while we shared with one another; whether during mealtimes, work times, Offices, praying/listening together, or Compline after toasted
marshmallows round the campfire.
So, we returned to the UK at the end of the summer with many jobs ticked off the list, but far more importantly, the knowledge that we are incredibly blessed and privileged to be a part of God’s plans for His Kingdom, and that He is using ordinary people in extraordinary ways to minister to one another - in all the pain and turmoil of our lives and relationships - in orderthat His Kingdom comes, and His Will is done, on earth as it is in Heaven.
Development in 2007
As far as the house renovation is concerned, we have a whole new look to the front of the property with dormers added, and
replacement windows and doors to keep out the swallows and the drafts. The swallows were very surprised when they returned from their long flight from Africa, and quite literally did a double-take as
they neared the roof, and suddenly spotted the new outline of the dormers! What a treat it was to actually be there to see them arrive. Inside life becomes more comfortable as each new bit is done.
The chapel has now moved from the centre of the space upstairs to a garage-size shed in the grounds. It will then progress to the very large upstairs of the barn once that has been completed. A good
start on the barn was made this summer with the lovely and lively group from De Spil.
For the last evening that our Dutch friends were with us, we were able to dedicate the chapel and share wine and the breaking of bread together. It was such a blessing to renew friendships with Victor and the others, and they indicated that their group now feels like a family. Their evening campfires with Compline shared around it is a special part of their stay.
There are many plans for next year, and we hope there will be more folk from the Community who would like to join in with the fun, work and space for God that being there encourages. The regular appearance of evening BBQs accompanied by the local wine or cider, seems to go down very well with most people!
What a wonderful God we serve! I arrived at L’Abri à Suvigny in early July with our daughter Sarah plus pet rat Sylvette, but without the friend that was due to accompany us, due to her bi-polar condition deciding to put her in hospital just the week before. I felt down about that, as Suvigny would have been tonic to her soul, but felt it must be to do with the Lord’s timing and not mine….. It was not particularly good weather when we arrived, and I was utterly exhausted after a very trying term and other matters that had put me under enormous pressure in the previous few weeks. I felt down about a lot of that too, and so, my usual buoyancy was somewhat deflated. The building hadn’t progressed as much as I had hoped, and the large window that should have been installed by the French contractor hadn’t been done, so it all caught me in a spot of weakness, and I was depressed. Sarah was a great comforter (still only 14, but soon to be 15!), and then, during Evening Office in our little wooden chapel adjoining the orchard, the sun came out, and streamed through the window, and it was as though the love of God and the beauty of the surroundings poured into where the darkness had been, and I felt the promise and enveloping arms of our wonderful Creator wrap around me.
This promise of things to come proved true in the special things which stand out from this year at Suvigny. There were the special moments during the retreat on contemplative prayer at Easter, like when Cherrie felt God’s presence in a very real way, while in the chapel on her own. There was the amazing way God provided a kind Dutch lady to take us to Beekbergen when we were walking, lost and exhausted on a country road. There were the special prayer times and sharing with Cathy, Brian and others in the Dordogne in May, and the meeting of others who share a similar vision and live very near us in Normandy. Through the summer, there were important conversations, and much fun and laughter; Cherrie realizing that the Christian path is the one she is to follow, and being very committed to it ever since; the special moment when Ingrid shared her first Compline since her illness with us in our chapel; Priscille’s first Communion experience – again in our chapel – administered by Norman. We shared in the next domestic celebration of our French neighbours in the birth of their first grandson, to their daughter who was married last year.
The building work also began to take shape, and the large window was eventually installed and completed. The prayer garden has the main structure of the fencing dug and concreted in, and the shower is working (not leaking) at last. The wonderful group from De Spil, under Victor’s guidance, did miracles on the barn! They still seem to find our BBQs, Ewald’s campfires, hard work and lots of beer irresistible, because they want to come back and do it all again next year! I found it so encouraging, yet again, to find that the constant adherence to the monastic rhythm continues to heal body, mind and soul, and refresh and invigorate one in an amazing way.
Another important development this year, has been the setting up of our own Northumbria Community Trust in France, in collaboration with Roy and Trevor, so that a very close, yet separate charitable status is now recognized, and we share a Trustee with the Nether Springs in order that close communication can be maintained between both groups. We hope and pray that a close co-operation and sharing with the Mother House will continue to develop and grow in the years ahead.
At present we are busy thinking towards next year and the retreats that will be run then. There are likely to be two over the Easter holidays, and a Family Break week in the summer, as well as the usual De Spil week which is scheduled for August. We would welcome and encourage anyone from the Community, and beyond, to come and share with us in the life, learning and work that takes place at L’Abri à Suvigny in its next exciting chapter in 2009.
L’Abri à Suvigny in 2009
The Day 31 Meditation from Celtic Daily Prayer, used by so many in the Northumbria Community talks of relying on God to ‘send the workers of His choice’ even to small, out of the way places. This meditation was one of the important waymarks on our road in setting out on our journey in France. We have been most encouraged by the way God is still keeping his promise to bring the right people at the right time, and pray this may continue, both for us, and the Mother House in Northumberland, which is in the process of having to relocate.
We are still learning to set things in motion to a point, under what we perceive to be God’s direction (however
halting that may be), and then let go, and allow Him to work in people’s lives, and steer the direction of conversations and events. It’s a fascinating, and sometimes scary process.
Seeking God and keeping the sacred spaces to find Him in, continue to be a challenge, but well worth the effort. It feels so right when we can keep to the monastic
day, but this is often hard to achieve in the mad working world we all live in. ‘Being’ is so much more important than ‘doing’, but is so counter to what the world expects and teaches us. Even at
L’Abri à Suvigny,
where everything is geared up to following the monastic principles, there are still the people who come who are ‘do-ers’ rather than ‘be-ers’, (that’s got nothing to do with the aperitif either!) and the challenge is to help them to relax into something which doesn’t come naturally. Particularly when they see so many ‘jobs’ that need doing. In today’s world, perhaps Jesus would have said, ‘The jobs you will always have with you, but ………’
Buffet supper with the Dutch group This year has been one of meeting many new people, from the local English-speaking and French community, as well as new friends joining us from Holland and the UK. Each one is so special, and there is meaning and a pattern to what God is weaving in France. We have to continue to listen to His guidance, and follow where He leads, even when that is out of our own comfort zone. We are thinking about our plans for next year, and look forward to meeting new people and continuing to build relationships with those we already know. Please come and join us if you feel God is calling you. His way may be often filled with surprises, but it IS GOOD!
Summer 2010 at L'Abri à Suvigny
This year saw two weeks of people from Holland coming to assist with the renovations – the first group under the guidance of Victor van Heusden, and the second led by Paul and Jorien Visser. Both weeks were very successful and everyone had their own response to the life they experienced at Suvigny, and the impact of the daily rhythm of prayer, reflection and work. Much laughter and good eating was of course a major part of the weeks. There were major steps forward in the renovation of the barn – including the timbers being jacked up by around 20cms by the kind neighbours with a 25 tonne bottle jack. It is now not half so squiffy, and will look fabulous once the last weatherboards are attached next year. Work was also done on constructing the pond, and it should be fully developed as it fills through the winter.
The wonderful people from different nationalities who have been a part of the life at Suvigny this year, have been tremendously encouraging. Add to this, the increasing relationships and friendship of people in our Commune and local area, and the blessings of spreading God’s Kingdom become abundantly apparent.