New Monasticism: Brother Sam

Interview number three is with Brother Samuel, from Hilfield Friary. I’m sure he has a surname, but after much searching I couldn’t find it! He’s just known as “Brother Sam” around Monastic circles in England! My husband and I, along with four others in the Community of St Anselm, went to Hilfield Friary – a Franciscan community in Dorchester. While centered around 6 Franciscan brothers, Hilfield is unique in which there are over 20 people – singles, couples and families – who live there also. Some permanently and some as volunteers for 1-2 years.

The 6 of us were given our own thatched cottage for the week, and we joined in with the 5 daily services in the Chapel. Works included cooking, cleaning, chopping wood, painting a cottage and searching for lost library books. We learned about Franciscan life from Brother Samuel and how this relates to sustainable living from Richard, the Friary‘s farmer. We were all challenged to think more about food sourcing and food wastage and our impact on the environment.

Before we get to my interview with Brother Sam, here’s some photos of our week at Hilfield.

unnamed.jpgTop: The cottages on the Friary, some lived in my community members and others available for hospitality
Middle: Richard, the Hilfield farmer, took us on a tour of the property where we saw saw the animals, veggie patch and the eco-friendly heating system
Bottom: On a very muddy walk to the village of Cerne Abbas, where our New Yorker community member’s family is from.

Brother Sam, First Order of the Society of St Francis, Hilfield Friary
Interview via email, February 2017

  1. Tell us a little about Hilfield Friary and your role there.

There have been Anglican Franciscan brothers at Hilfield since 1921 and it is the registered address for the European Province of the Society of St Francis. For many years it was a place a sanctuary and rehabilitation for homeless men and also the main ‘formation house’ for men who were joining the order and who moved on from there to other SSF houses after their initial year. However, with both falling numbers of men joining as brothers and changing patterns of homelessness it was decided in 2005 to refocus on the care of creation (though people are still referred to the Friary for periods of respite care) and to widen the community to include others – men and women, married and single, who would share in the life, prayer and work of the Friary. I have had the main role in this transformation and hold the title of Guardian of the Friary. There are now seven brothers and twenty others living as part of the Hilfield Friary Community.

  1. In what ways is your community both traditional and new?

Traditional in that we remain a house of the Society of St Francis (our legal status and financial account is held within the wider SSF – i.e. we are not a separate charity). The fourfold Franciscan daily office continues, with a particular commitment to that by the Franciscan brothers who are in life vows. We are accountable to the Provincial Chapter and the Minister of the Province (who lives in a Friary elsewhere).

New in that all those with us who are not Franciscan brothers are considered to be ‘members’ of the Hilfield Community, sharing full responsibility for the day-to-day running of the Friary, the care of the guests and other work and ministries of the house. The Local Chapter consists of the brothers plus all the other longer-term community members and has responsibility for decision making. A daily meeting of the community includes all those with us (including guests if they wish to attend) and keeps people in touch with each other’s needs and all that is going on.

  1. How have you found being involved in the new-monasticism movement in the UK? Are there particular circumstances that lead you on this journey?

I’m cautious about the term ‘new monasticism’ because I don’t think it adequately describes the breadth of the pattern of Religious Life which is emerging today. Over the years we have established contact with a large number of new communities and both draw upon their experience and also share our experience with them.

  1.  One of Archbishop Justin Welby’s priorities is ‘Prayer and the Renewal of Religious Life’. In the last few years, what fruit have you seen come of this priority in the Church of England?

I think that Archbishop Justin has recognised that many people are searching for a deeper and more committed spirituality than is often found nowadays within the life of an average ‘parish church’. His encouragement has given an added impetus to this new movement, witness the huge number of new communities that are being established at this time.

  1. Do you have ideas on how Archbishops and Bishops around the world can make this a priority also?

I think that the Church needs to embrace this as a ‘normal’ way of life for Christians, at least for part of their lives, c.f. the Buddhist tradition in parts of SE Asia where young men will often spend part of their early adulthood living within a Buddhist monastic community, before leaving to embark upon marriage and a career. The encouragement of new patterns of Religious Life needs to be a major focus for the Church.

  1. In what ways would you encourage traditional communities to keep their charisms alive by embracing new monasticism?

Within the wider SSF beyond Hilfield Friary there has been some considerable caution and even opposition to what we have been doing with the fear behind it that we are ‘losing control’ and even our identity as brothers. However, for the brothers at Hilfield the development of the Hilfield Friary Community has been almost entirely positive. The Friary would almost certainly have closed without it and broadening the community to include others has allowed us to embark upon an important new ministry – creation care. But the welcoming of others – men and women, young and old, married and single to the community has also enriched our own Franciscan vocation and life. Far from it intruding upon us or diminishing our Franciscan witness, we feel that it has enriched our life and has affirmed our identity as brothers. It has been really important for us that those who are joining us in this way come not to help traditional religious life ‘survive’ but to enable it to develop and grow. Without losing its traditions Religious Life needs to be continually re-imagined.

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