Jamie Jauncey

 

A VOICE FOR THE ABBEY

Ampleforth Abbey is the largest Benedictine community in the UK. Recently the monks made public their need for support, not only for money for their buildings and their work as teachers, priests and missionaries, but also because they badly need fresh blood; their population is ageing and new vocations come few and far between in these secular days.


But what tone should they adopt? Certainly not pious, that would antagonise people. Not even overly religious, that was their internal business, their process and procedure. But spiritual, most definitely. Compassionate? Yes. And contemporary? A little, perhaps, though timeless seemed better.


Then how should they put their case? Some would argue that in the 21st century a community of monks is at best slightly peculiar, at worst irrelevant, an anachronism. But there are others who understand their purpose clearly and feel its need more keenly today than ever.


I grappled with the voice for a long time and in the end – as always – it was the research that gave me what I needed. The sunlight on the monastery lawns, the simplicity and majesty of the church, the fine old faces of the silent monks at their meals, the contemplative calm of the cloisters, the gentle conversations about monastic life in the 21st century, all fed into something which, through the action of imagination, became a form of empathy or understanding, if not actually a shared belief. And from reading and re-reading the notes of my visit, something eventually emerged that seemed to everyone to sound right:


“Each day, in the words we recite, the chants we sing, the cycle of prayer we observe, we repeat the instructions set down by St. Benedict in the sixth century. This is the deep and enduring pulse that regulates our lives. In all that time, even in the darkest moments of our history, it has never wavered.”