As I write the log today, Father Gareth has just returned from Wales, laden with chocolate for the community, where thankfully his mum is doing well; and Brother Antony has just left to make an 8-day retreat in preparation for his ordination on 21st December.
Antony is making his retreat in Minsteracres, a Passionist Retreat Centre in County Durham, where I spent three very happy years, from 1992 until 1995, when I was the novice director for the Passionists in North Europe. A while back I was watching an episode of Vera, a crime drama series set in the North East of England, starring the wonderful Brenda Blethyn in the title role, a detective obsessed with her work and forever battling her own inner demons. At one point, in the investigation of a murder, she has to visit a nursing home. As she and her trusted colleague, Sergeant Joe, drive through the gates of the nursing home and on up the avenue, I nearly jumped out of my chair. “That’s Minsteracres”, I roared, half scaring my viewing companion to death.
The entry to Minsteracres is easily recognisable, and unforgettable. You enter off the A68 and are immediately greeted by an awe-inspiring drive of giant redwood trees that winds on up to the community house, a beautiful historic building with adjoining church that was once owned by the Silvertop family who played a big part in Catholic emancipation in the early 19th century. The present retreat centre, opened in 1967, was lovingly constructed out of the old stable block by volunteers from nearby Consett, where ironically my father had died when he went there to find employment in the steelworks, after being made redundant from the Anchor Line Shipyard on the Clyde, where he worked as a time-keeper in the dry dock.
Getting back to Vera. When she and Joe were welcomed in the nursing home, after stating the purpose of their visit, they were led through the house to visit a certain resident in her room. As they walked along a corridor, I recognised it immediately as the corridor where I had lived during those years, in the room at the very end, with two large windows facing towards Scotland, out of which I had gazed frequently and longingly. Lo and behold, this was the very room that they entered. I couldn’t believe it. It was like a stroll down memory lane, and happy memories at that, and it’s hard to believe it is almost 25 years since I left there, with most of the wonderful community I lived with having left for other pastures or gone to God.
This will be Antony’s first visit to Minsteracres, and I’m sure he will find a very peaceful and prayerful environment in which to make his retreat. I know he won’t be in my old room as he has booked into the Poustinia, a hermitage space (poustinia is a Russian word for hermitage) on the ground floor with its own chapel, study room, en-suite bedroom and dining room, a perfect place to find the space and silence he needs to prepare for his ordination. Our prayers are with him, and I know his prayers are with all at St. Mungo’s who have supported him and encouraged him on his journey of faith and vocation these past few years, as well as with many others, family, friends and companions, in what has been a long and winding road to where God has brought him now as a Passionist. Watch out for the next edition of the Flourish where Antony will give his own personal account of that interesting journey.
Thankfully, the church will be well and ready, after the recent refurbishments, to host this happy event. We had a plan B in case the work ran over schedule, but thanks to a great pulling together from all involved, we are now preparing to open the church again and normal services will resume on Saturday 14th December, a week before the ordination. Deo Gratias!
God of the past, the present, and of the future, God who is, who was and who is to come;
we give thanks for 150 years of St. Mungo’s church; may it forever be dedicated to your purposes, so that you continue to be glorified and honoured in the years still ahead.