Moderator’s Blog 53 24th August 2011

Turvey Abbey and Westminster College

I found the worship at Turvey Abbey while on personal retreat surprisingly easy to enter into. Prayer times were spent mainly in chanting the Psalms, with brief Bible readings and sometimes other readings from writings of the saints and brief intercessions.  I even entered into the routines of bowing to the altar and to each other, which is the practice of the community. We also bowed while chanting the response to the psalms ‘Glory to the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit’, and while the Superior led in the Our Father.  I say, ‘surprisingly easy’ because this is quite different from the normal reformed style of worship and I have found prayers in other retreat houses sometimes very frustrating. I think it was the fact that most of the content was Bible texts, which were almost always sung. I was able to enter into the flow. Even the difficult parts of the Psalms, which have often caused me to stop and think hard, did not seem to be obtrusive. It was the positive experiences in the psalms that made an impact on me.

There was a Eucharist each day, and on Friday, we celebrated the anniversary of the Founder of the Olivetan Benedictines, Bernard Tolomei. He left his role as a lawyer for the silence of the hills and later formed a community of monks in Monte Oliveto, near Sienna, Italy in 1313. (For full details about the monks and nuns visit www.turveyabbey.org.uk ) The monks in Turvey helped to found the Emmaus Village in Carlton where homeless people live and work together. The nuns are well known for the posters they have designed on Bible stories and themes.  I found the rhythm of the day very peaceful and it enabled me to read, reflect and worship in a very satisfying way. It is not a pattern that I can sustain at home, but I was able to think through a pattern that I can use.

For the last three days I have been at Westminster College, Cambridge one of our Centres for Learning in the URC and where I trained for the ministry forty years ago. I was attending a conference organised by the Churches Network for Non-Violence. It is a Charity, which campaigns for an end to all forms of violence against children, including corporal punishment. (For more information go to www.churchesfornon-violence.org.uk ) It has been a fascinating time in which I learned a great deal and appreciated the passion with which a small group of people are managing to change the law of thirty countries worldwide to end corporal punishment. It was good to have this conference in a URC college, with a member of staff of the college leading morning and evening prayers, and a Children and Youth Development Officer and the former Children’s Advocate of the URC fully involved in the planning and leading of the conference.

There were participants from many different Christian traditions and from India, Bangladesh and Australia. On Tuesday evening, we held a Vigil in St Bene’t’s Church one of the oldest churches n Cambridge. We were really focussed on the theme of ‘Faith and Vision into Action – ending corporal punishment of children’. We identified priorities for action and ways and means of achieving progress. I was particularly involved in thinking about creating new worship resources, which explicitly refer to corporal punishment. I was also invited to offer a theological reflection on the conference, and I picked up the insight presented by one of the powerful and well-qualified speakers that children are human, are persons. Yet the law in some countries, include the UK, refuses to recognise that children should be protected from violence even in the home. There still exists the legal defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ if a parent hits their child. I think that children as well as adults are made in the image of God. Jesus command to love one another includes children and that means not hitting them.  It was an inspiring and challenging conference.

Terry Oakley