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Articles Real Lives Exploring Celtic Christianity, as a family

Exploring Celtic Christianity, as a family

How did you come to be involved with the Northumbria Community?

We'd been inspired by the "Northern Saints" for some time - people like St Cuthbert and St Aidan. Partly because of that we were drawn to visit the beautiful countryside in Northumbria, and the Christian historical sites in that area. The children could relate to historical characters like Cuthbert when we visited a place, and looked at where he prayed, or went to places mentioned in the early accounts (Bede, for example), or when we visited the priory on Lindisfarne.

We'd also enjoyed reading David Adam's books about Celtic Christianity and in particular a book by Ray Simpson on the message of Celtic Christianity for today's church. Our Vicar at the time was very keen on these things, and encouraged our interest.

As we learnt more about this part of the church's history, we felt a real sense of resonance and belonging, not with a romanticised and idealised Celtic Christian past, but in what the message is for us today.

Simplicity of lifestyle was a key theme. This included freedom from busyness and resisting having an "activity-based" church life.

The desire for spiritual discipline and having a rhythm to life appealed to us too and thinking about how we can present Christ to those who are unfamiliar with church. Another central idea was respect for the environment.

We were drawn to the Northumbria Community, specifically, because of the liturgy, and because of the people we met who were already members. When we went to the Mother House (Hetton Hall, in Northumbria) for the first time we all had a strong sense of belonging, that we were "coming home".

We had looked at a number of similar groups who also offered daily prayer/liturgy, and "a way of life" to encourage more daily spiritual discipline. They each appealed to some extent, mainly intellectually, but when we came across the Northumbria Community we knew in our hearts that this was for us.


What does belonging to the community mean, in practice?

Only a few members of the community actually live at the Hetton Hall. Most of us are spread across the country, living in our own houses, doing ordinary jobs. What draws us together is the rhythm of daily prayer, and the "rule of life", or common values that we agree to when we join.

A lot of the focus is on "spiritual discipline". What I mean by this is a daily rhythm of prayer and Bible study. It creates regular spaces to reflect and listen to God, as a framework which puts our responsibilities and work into perspective. We use a liturgy called Celtic Daily Prayer. This is a short set of prayers, readings and meditations three times a day, morning, midday and evening, with an optional compline for each day of the week at bedtime.

One of the attractions of this way of life is that the whole family can be involved. So often spiritual things are seen to be for adults, and we arrange some alternative "entertainment" for the children while we pursue it. But in using the Celtic Daily Prayer we can all take our part. The children can learn the prayers by heart, listen to the sung version and sing along (in the car, as well as at home), and do the Bible readings.

In practice, it is often only me who uses the daily liturgy every day. But sometimes as a family, or with the children, we do morning office, or a compline together, and the children read out the Bible readings, take part in the prayers, or write a name for the "prayer pot". We feel free to participate as frequently or as infrequently as we feel, it is not intended to become a burden, or something to feel guilty about if you haven't said office that day!

The Northumbria Community has a "rule of life", as well. This has two strands: availability and vulnerability. Availability is both being available to God, to seek His face, and also being available to others, in hospitality, intercession and mission. Vulnerability is being teachable. This is expressed in the disciplines of prayer and Bible reading and in being willing to be accountable to others. It also means putting valuing relationships more than reputations, asking questions, and living openly. A phrase often used for this is "church without walls".

The Northumbria Community is a form of "new monasticism". It's a way of living life in common with other members of the community, without necessarily being under one roof. It is not meant to replace church, but to complement it.

If there are enough "friends" or "companions" of the Northumbria Community in an area, they may meet once a month in someone's home. There is a group near us in Bradford which does this. The children can participate in this too, and go off to bed when they are tired!

There is a programme of retreats at Hetton Hall, which look excellent, but you cannot attend unless you have sorted out child care, because Easter is the only time when child care is provided. We haven't been able to go on any yet.

Having said that, the Mother House is very child friendly (although those with under-fives may struggle a little more). The children play in the gardens, can go to chapel, light the candles (older ones), and sit and eat with the grown ups. They are valued and encouraged.

The Easter Workshop is the main event for community members at Hetton Hall. The children get very involved with that. They can join in with activities such as dance, storytelling, music, and prayers. They like to carry the cross when we do stations of the cross on Good Friday, and hold candles at the Easter vigil.


What difference does belonging to the community make to your day to day life?

I value the way that the offices give structure to our day, and creates regular times of quiet within which we can listen to God, and that we can share in this as a family.

It has really widened our horizons, and brought us into contact with Christians of other denominations. It's very easy to become too parochial, and concerned with the "hierarchy" within a particular church or denomination. The Northumbria Community is refreshingly free of all of that.


What resources would you recommend to someone wanting to find out more about this way of life?

The Northumbria Community website is a good starting point for those wanting to know more. There's a brief history of the community, as well as some useful summaries of their shared beliefs, mission and rule. There are a variety of links to the other related sites on the Internet, and the text of the daily office is available online.

There are good resources in the Celtic Daily Prayer book that families can use. The daily offices are there, as well as the bible readings and meditations for each day. There are also liturgies for other occaisions, such as blessing a new house. We also like the music C.D.'s produced by some Community members. Some of these are sung versions of the daily office which are very easy to use. These are available direct from the community. The easiest way to find out more is to email the Northumbria Community via the website above, and ask for a mail order catalogue.

More generally, there are a number of good books available on the history and message of Celtic Christianity. Those by David Adam and Ray Simpson are worth looking out for. I'd especially recommend Michael Mitton's book "Restoring the Woven Cord". When I read that, it put into words all that I felt God had been speaking to us about for several years.

Article written by Sue McWhinney