Visit to Alton Abbey - October 2016

Alton AbbeyDuring October 2016, five parishioners together with our Rector, Fr Richard, spent four days at Alton Abbey in Hampshire. This is a Benedictine Order within the Church of England. We were to share with the monks in their worship and hospitality.

On arrival we were greeted by the Guestmaster, Br. John. After a cup of tea and a plate of Fondant Fancies, (a horrific pink), we were given keys to our rooms and shown to the sitting room, which was to be our base. It was good to see a log-burning stove and comfortable armchairs.

Having made ourselves at home, we joined the monks for Evening Prayer in the church at a quarter to five. Fr Richard sat in choir with the monks — he was very much at home. Supper followed in the Refectory and we quickly adapted to silent meals.

That evening Dom Anselm talked to us about prayer and in our discussion, he was easily distracted to talk about his love of opera and visits to Glyndebourne.

Night Prayer was at half past eight and for the monks, the Greater Silence was observed. We, however, made our way to the sitting room. In front of a warm fire, we made ourselves comfortable. Glasses were produced, as was a bottle of gin, kindly offered by Fr Richard. Once ice had been located, we settled down to a relaxing time.

The next morning, having been woken by the ringing of the Angelus, just as well because my alarm clock failed, we went to the church for Meditation at half past six. That was followed by Morning Prayer and breakfast. Mass was at nine o'clock, and for that we were joined by some friends from the local area, whom we met at the coffee that followed in the Guest House. The church is open at all times and at major festivals extra chairs have to be found.

We met with Dom Anselm for other talks and also with the Abbot. The topics were wide ranging and including parking fines and Speed Awareness courses. There was much laughter.

On our final day, the Abbot relaxed the rule of silent lunch and that concluded our visit. Dom Anselm produced what he described as a rough claret. I am not sure I agreed but it was certainly enhanced by an interesting decanter, which had been found at a church bazaar.

I am sure that there will be another chance to visit Alton Abbey, although those wishing to make a retreat can arrange it for themselves.

It is good to know that within the Church of England, there is this daily prayer and silent witness. We cannot achieve this easily in our busy lives, but to support the monks by a visit is something well worth doing.

Stuart Asbury