Although the Axminster Circle closed in 2019, The Catenians have members within our church congregations. Some have joined Circles at Exeter and West Somerset. We would be happy to answer any queries people might have about our work or about joining us.
Telephone number: 07977 411121
Statement from the Presidency of the Bishops’ Conference on the National Day of Reflection for COVID-19 Tuesday 23rd March 2021
We welcome the designation of Tuesday 23rd March as a National Day of Reflection to mark the anniversary of the first national lockdown with a minute’s silence at midday and doorstep vigils of light at 8pm.
We ask you all to make this not only a Day of Reflection but also a Day of Prayer. In reflection we ponder on all that has taken place; in prayer we bring this to our Heavenly Father. For all who live by faith in God, reflection and prayer always go hand in hand. Prayer completes reflection. Reflection informs prayer. Prayer opens our life to its true horizon. Without prayer we live in a foreshortened world and are more easily swamped by its clamour and tragedy. Throughout this difficult year, so many have been inspired by prayer, so much effort sustained in prayer, in every place. So let us make the 23rd March truly a day of prayer.
March 2020 was the first time our churches had to be closed. It is our hope that on this day, every one of our churches will be open. We invite everyone to enter a church on this day, to reflect and pray in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. We know this will involve an extra effort, but this can be part of our important contribution to a significant moment in the life of our country. Indeed, we ask that you might invite a friend, neighbour or colleague to come to church with you as you make this visit.
There is so much on which to reflect and include in our prayer.
We reflect in sorrow on all those who have died, whether family members, friends or those unknown to us personally. We pray for them, asking our Father to welcome them into their heavenly home, the destiny for which God first gave us the gift of life.
We reflect with compassion on all those who have suffered during this last year, whether through illness, stress, financial disaster or family tensions. We pray for their ongoing resilience, courage and capacity to forgive.
We reflect with thanksgiving for the generosity, inventiveness, self-sacrifice and determination shown by so many in this most difficult of times. We pray for them,
thanking God for their gifts and dedication, whether they are scientists, politicians, health workers, public servants of every kind, community leaders or steadfast family members and friends who continue to show such love and compassion.
We reflect in hope that, as the pandemic is controlled and we open up our lives again, we will gather in the lessons we have learned and build our society into a better shape, more compassionate, less marked by inequalities, more responsive to needs and deprivation. We ask for the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us in this endeavour, whether we are focussing on overcoming family breakdowns, economic recovery, or building political consensus.
Christian prayer is, of course, centred on Jesus Christ, the one who is “lifted up” before us “so that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him” (John 3.13). We pray with Jesus, in him and through him, for he is the one who carries us, and our prayers, into the embracing presence of his Father. He is our comfort in sorrow, our strength in the face of need, our rejoicing in the gifts we celebrate and our hope in the face of the weighty darkness of death.
May Tuesday 23rd March be a great day of prayer that this pandemic comes to an end and that the gift of God’s Holy Spirit will carry us all forward to a new and better life, both here and in the world to come. Cardinal Vincent Nichols Archbishop Malcolm McMahon OP President Vice-President
Bishop Mark has invited International speaker Michael Dopp to present to the clergy and laity of our diocese. Drawing on the themes of missionary discipleship that are emphasized in the document, we will explore how to concretely live this out in our own lives, as a parish, and throughout the diocese.
Join us on Saturday 1st May, for the two part presentation 11am – 12noon. 1pm – 2pm.
You will need to register via the following link. Please click to join us:
By Liz Lynn
In September 2017 my friend Betty and I arrived travel-worn and weary on the island of Iona after 4 trains, 2 ferries and a bus – and that was just from Huddersfield! A smiling young man standing beside a van at the top of the causeway and holding a sign up saying ‘Iona Abbey’ was a very welcome sight especially as he gave us a lift up to the Abbey where we were amongst the last arrivals.
We had both wanted to visit Iona for years but only really looked into the possibility when we discovered that it was on both our bucket lists. We had signed up for a week living in the Abbey, sharing in the life of the community and receiving input from the resident team about environmental matters which are such an important focus for this interdenominational Christian group.
We knew that sharing in the life of the community could involve peeling potatoes or washing up and this was expanded closer to our arrival date as including cleaning duties, potentially even cleaning toilets! It was with some relief that we found ourselves allocated to the team that laid the breakfast tables, washed up and peeled and chopped the veg.! It was important that we worked together to build up our sense of belonging to the community, a sense which was inadvertently augmented by suffering together; namely the wet and windy cloisters and the cold, wooden seats in the beautiful thirteenth century abbey church! Needs must, Betty and I quickly located the warmer cushioned seats in the choir of the church and, like good Christians, got down there early for the twice daily services so as to bag them before anyone else could! The mattresses with the springs coming through took a little longer but a folded duvet eventually sorted that out too and the hot water bottles were a nice touch.
Now for the positive stuff! Iona is a very beautiful, pristine island in the Hebridean sea. It feels as though there are only two roads and six cars on the whole island and that, in itself, is heavenly. Add to that the white sandy beaches and the turquoise sea and you begin to get a picture of the peace of the place. The small farming community is dominated by the Abbey and the visitors that flock to visit this pilgrimage place where St. Columbus and a group of companions founded a monastery in 563 AD as a base for missions to the mainland.
In the sixth century they would have lived in small beehive shaped huts, farming the land to support themselves. In the ninth century they were finally driven away by marauding Vikings to Kells in Ireland where it is generally agreed that they completed the beautifully illustrated gospels, the ‘Book of Kells’, now kept on display in Dublin. In the thirteenth century the Benedictines returned to this holy isle to build an abbey which was destroyed by Henry VIII and restored in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
There were about 35 guests from many different countries and numerous young volunteers as well as the permanent staff who maintain the worshipping community in Iona. The music and liturgy were wonderful as anyone familiar with Wild Goose Publications will be very much aware of. To many people, John Bell who speaks regularly on ‘Thought for the day’ on Radio 4, is the most well-known ‘spokesman’ for the community as well as the author and composer of many of the songs.
Often the services highlighted some of the environmental issues that confront the world today. At one service the sound system played shrieking, gale force winds as we reflected on the unusually fierce hurricanes which have been terrorising the Caribbean islands as a result of global warming. Another time, a suitcase full of clothes was used to highlight issues such as how our responsible buying can affect the environment and how overuse of washing machines wears out clothes prematurely; all part of our Christian duty to walk gently on the earth for the sake of generations to come.
All the food was delicious and mostly vegetarian so as to cut back on meat and make a contribution to saving the planet gastronomically! We also had a session in the Chapter House where we learned about the way plastics are clogging up our seas and killing our wild life: apparently 40% of the seas are covered in floating plastic and 40,000 dolphins and porpoises are killed every year by plastic waste.
If all this sounds deeply depressing, we were encouraged by the work being done to offset this damage, for instance the ocean cleaning array which is being developed, and actions we ourselves can take like using as little plastic as possible. I am trying not to use those handy plastic bags available on vegetable counters in shops! It was suggested that we could even return to stores all the excess packaging used to market goods! A website called plastic-pollution.org gives a lot more information if you are interested.
We left Iona, sad to say goodbye to all the new friends we had made, challenged by all we had learnt but refreshed by the peacefulness and spirituality of a place which is claimed to be one of the ‘thinnest’ places on earth, where heaven and earth feel very close. I would recommend it to anyone especially if they are committed to live, work and pray for the future of our beautiful planet.
John 2: 13-22
The Cleansing of the Temple.
The Temple was at the heart of what it meant to be a Jew. It was not only the centre of Jewish worship, but it was the political and legal centre as well. It was, according to Holy Scripture, the place where God had promised to live with his people. And it was the place to which Jesus dared to come to turn things upside down.
We’re so used to hearing this story that we can easily forget just how shocking it was. So why did Jesus act like this? Why did he turn the money changers tables upside down and drive the animal traders out?
Animal sacrifice makes us feel sick, but for the Jews of Jesus’s time, animal sacrifice was at the heart of their worship. And because the animal had to be without blemish, if you had a license from the Temple Authorities to sell animals, you could make a lot of money.
Now we might be tempted to use this story to criticise modern day examples of religious commercialism. You know the kind of thing, tacky plastic statues sold for ridiculous prices at religious shrines. But we also need to be clear that Jesus was, and is, against all types of exploitation, whether it shelters under a religious umbrella or not. And so today, he would probably be upsetting Law Courts and Parliaments. Palaces and Banking Centres and all of those places where people with power and wealth so often use their positions to feather their own nests at the expense of ordinary men and women.
But, although it’s right for us to reflect on all of this, we should also try to see the deeper point of what Jesus was doing.
You see, through his actions, Jesus was announcing God’s condemnation of the Temple itself and all that it had become in the national life of Israel.
The Temple was supposed to be a sign of God’s presence with Israel for the sake of the world. The way through which God would welcome all nations to himself. Israel was supposed to be a light for people who weren’t Jews. For gentiles, like you and me.
God had chosen the Jews in order to bring men and women everywhere back, to himself. And the Temple, with its sacrificial system, was supposed to stand at the heart of this loving act of God. But it had moved from this to become an Institution which was content to see violence taken to foreigners, whilst its own people were exploited.
And as it became more and more corrupt, those who led it were also increasing their personal wealth.
So, by stopping the entire process, even just for a few symbolic moments, Jesus was saying more powerfully than any words could express, that the Temple was under God’s judgement, and the reason for its existence was being taken away.
Jesus knew that he himself was going to defeat evil and unite men and women with each other and with God by taking upon himself the task which the Temple had turned away from.
He said: “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up in three days”. But he was speaking of the Temple of his body, and so this was the language of sacrifice. The death of the lamb of God, the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, would bring about that which the Temple had failed to do.
Jesus is the true Temple, the place where the glory of God dwells in all its fullness. Jesus took the Temple traditions and applied them to himself. He became the reality to which the Temple was pointing. A One-Man Temple System, if you like.
The glory of God dwelt in Jesus for everybody to see. God became incarnate in Jesus and the Glory of his presence was seen in his life; in the life of the living Temple. The Temple which would itself become the perfect sacrifice as Our Lord gave himself to God, for us by his death on the cross.
As we walk the way of the cross with our Lord through, Lent may our prayers direct us towards this truth. May we be filled with God’s Spirit and have our eyes opened. May we recognise the sacrifice of God in Christ. The sacrifice which tells us that God loves us despite all that we’ve done. And may this recognition draw us closer into his heart, and make us fit to live with him, as part of his new living Temple, for ever.
By Peter Porteous
We had talked of going to see Lindisfarne and in one September past, we managed to get there! It is 400 miles from Axminster so after staying with friends for the first night and a hotel in York for the next, we arrived on the North Sea coast of Northumberland for a week’s holiday. Lindisfarne or ‘The Holy Isle’ is twelve miles South East of Berwick-Upon-Tweed and once home to the medieval monastery of St Aidan and St Cuthbert.
The main part of Lindisfarne is about a mile square and lies a mile off-shore. The route across the sands is a tarmacked causeway which is exposed at low tide for about six hours twice each day. There is a population of about 200 on the island which, as you might imagine, is focused on tourism with the three main attractions being Lindisfarne Castle (National Trust), Lindisfarne Priory and museum (English Heritage) and the Lindisfarne Centre (Local Community Development Trust). In the summer it gets crowded with thousands visiting by day in the height of summer.
Much of what we know of Lindisfarne comes from St Bede who lived less than 100 years after the founding of the Church and Priory in AD 635. The king of Northumbria was Oswald (634 – 642) who had been brought up in Celtic Iona and was reportedly a pious man. The local Anglo-Saxon population had reverted to paganism and the king sent for Aidan, an Irish Monk from Iona to re-introduce Christianity. Aidan became the first Bishop and Lindisfarne became the seat of his Northumbrian Diocese where his relationship with Oswald at Bamburgh Castle were cordial. Aidan was an inspired missionary and the Island became an important centre for the evangelization of Northern England. Aidan died at the church in Bamburgh Castle in AD 651.
In AD 665 St Cuthbert, an Anglo-Saxon monk from Melrose Abbey arrived at Lindisfarne as the Prior. It took 4 days of walking a route now called Cuthbert’s way, a pilgrimage route of about 65 miles which apparently is very beautiful. Cuthbert was a powerful evangelist and travelled the length of Northumbria and was held in very high regard. He became Bishop in Lindisfarne but chose to live the life of a hermit on the Farne Isles where he died. In AD 687.
Although from the Celtic church, it was St Cuthbert who accepted the dominance of the Roman tradition which was agreed at the Synod of Whitby in AD 664 and helped to settle the rift between the Celtic and Roman traditions. After his death, the island became a place of pilgrimage and within 30 years St Cuthbert had a cult following.
An early Viking raid on Lindisfarne in AD 793, shocking in its brutality, entirely destroyed the first community which rocked the Christian world and has unsettling parallels to our present time with the persecutions of Christians in the Middle East. The Island was a targeted for attack by Norsemen whose own culture was under threat from Christianity in the Low Countries.
To avoid desecration by the Viking invaders, St Cuthbert’s body was removed by the monks from Lindisfarne and there it began a long and eventful journey, finally arriving in Durham, causing it was said, a Cathedral to be built. St Cuthbert was an important figure in a united England’s fight with the Danes and was said to have inspired and encouraged King Alfred.
I became captivated by the story of The Holy Island which is well told at the Lindisfarne Centre and there is also a section on the Lindisfarne Gospels of AD 698 (the originals are in the British Museum). One day on the island is not nearly enough!
Northumberland is full of castles from the days when the English were subduing the Scots as well as protecting themselves from them. Lindisfarne Castle, built in Tudor times (AD 1550) was no exception in the task of keeping the unruly border people at bay but in its recent history it was converted to an Edwardian family home by Lutyens and has a great feel and character about it. Looking west from the battlements we could see the ruins of Lindisfarne Priory which was constructed in AD 1150 during the time of the Norman kings but destroyed at the Reformation. The Priory was left a ruin and its stone plundered for the harbour defences.
Lindisfarne is not the same place as the Farne Islands which on a reasonably clear day you can see eight miles to the south east as a cluster of rocks that sit off the coast at Bamburgh. The Farne Islands are an uninhabited nature reserve which can only be visited by boat from Seahouses. The remains at Farne is a Chapel and the hermitage to which St Cuthbert retreated and eventually died but that is for another visit. The National Trust advised us that the best visiting months for the Farne Islands are in the summer when you may be able to land and see the nesting sea birds (May to July).
The Roman Catholic Centre on Lindisfarne comprises a youth hostel belonging to the Society of St Vincent de Paul where groups of children can come and enjoy their summer holidays. The Parish church of St Mary the Virgin (C of E) is built on the site of St Aidan’s early monastery and well worth a visit to see Fenwick Lawson’s large sculpture of six monks carved in elm carrying the body of St Cuthbert on a journey across the North during the time of the Viking raids.
Matthew 9: 14-15
When I was a seminarian, I remember being advised to watch television soaps. “If you do this” we were told, “you’ll always have a topic of conversation for any pastoral visit which you might make.”
I’m not sure the advice was good, but I am able to blame the adviser for the fact that I do watch both “Coronation Street”, and, I’m ashamed to say “Emmerdale.”
And I’m continually amazed at the way in which the residents of Emmerdale live. Murder, robbery, rape, deceit, lies and sexual immorality is the lifestyle in which I think, every villager is immersed And this includes the lady Anglican vicar who’s just condoned the murder of the man with whom she was having an affair, before secretly burying him in a fresh church yard grave and subsequently digging him up for reburial in a local wood!
And yet, would you believe it, in one episode this week, I heard a particular villager claim that she was giving up chocolate, for Lent!
I’m glad I saw that episode because it reminded me just how common it is for people to say that they’re giving something up for Lent. Often when they have no idea what they’re talking about.
And it was with these thoughts going through my mind that I began to reflect anew on the whole business of “giving something up “for Lent. What does it mean? Why does anyone do it? How necessary is it? And should we perhaps bring a fresh look at the whole practise of fasting? Because “Giving something up for Lent” is just that. It’s the practise of Fasting as a part of your religious commitment.
Now, the Gospels recount how the followers of John the Baptist came to Jesus, in the earlier part of his ministry, and asked him why his disciples didn’t fast in the same way as they did. They also pointed out that the Pharisees practised fasting as well.
Jesus replied that wedding guests didn’t fast whilst the groom was present, but he went on to say that when the groom was taken away, then they would begin to fast. Jesus was saying that after his death, those who followed him would fast, and in the next part of the conversation he pointed out that this was a new time and called for a new approach. You’ll probably remember his teachings about new skins for new wine.
So; should we practise fasting?
The answer is “yes”, but we need to be very clear about what fasting is and why we should do it.
We don’t do it just because it’s the kind of tradition often practised in Lent. We don’t give something up in order to tell other people what we’re doing this year. That would put us right back into Emmerdale, and who wants to go there?!
We do it because Jesus said that his followers would fast after he’d been taken away, and the only reason this makes any kind of sense to me is that fasting is a way of drawing closer to the Lord whose historical bodily presence was taken away by his death, and whose presence we long for.
It means going without something in order that its loss will be a way into a greater awareness of the presence of Jesus in those new ways which God has given us.
There’s a strong tradition in the church which advocates the pain of fasting as being a sign that we put God before the hunger for physical food, and that therefore in some strange way, prayer in this condition is somehow more valid. I don’t personally find that particularly helpful. I don’t think that hunger for food would bring me any closer to Jesus, but I do think I could get up a bit earlier and start to say the morning office without convincing myself that I should first read my emails and look at the news headlines. And in this case, the giving up of the pleasure of an extra half hour in bed and the luxury of an early cup of tea and a biscuit whilst flipping through my iPad, would indeed help me to get a bit closer to Jesus.
This would be a Lenten Fast for me and `I’ve no doubt that you could think of Fasts which would suit your own particular journey as well. You see, I think we need to listen carefully to what Jesus is saying. We fast in order to get closer to him and it might be good to begin to think how this understanding of fasting fits into the story of fresh skins for new wine.
And perhaps we might also consider what other bodily habits we might deny ourselves in order to get closer to Jesus. Maybe we might consider a fast of speech when we meet someone whom we feel needs to be put straight with a few well-chosen words.
Or indeed, maybe a fast of the eyes from viewing Emmerdale would draw us nearer to the Lord by giving us some extra time in which we might reflect more deeply, on just what God has done for us through his Son.
May God support you all through your Lenten observances.
by Peter Porteous
A hooded boy stands in front of the Cistercian wall painting of the crucifixion in the North Undercroft. We were sheltering from the humidity and fierce July sun during the Forde Abbey Summer Fair in what may have been a chapel for the novice monks built more than 700 years ago.
The frieze was discovered in 1990 during renovations and is thought to be the earliest Cistercian figure painting in England. It is on the East wall of the Eeles’ pottery shop, in buildings that have been radically altered since the Reformation and the visitor must look hard and use imagination to understand the history and the original layout of the old Abbey.
If the Cistercian monks and lay brothers returned today, they may still recognise their quarters, their kitchen, refectories and their chapter house but their abbey church and many other buildings are gone with the stone reused to build the English Baroque architecture of the main house.
Today, those monks might have been amused to see people of the 21st century watching the ferret racing, the falconry displays and their participation in archery and fly casting (all leather and prunella), but no doubt would be bewildered by the display of classic cars and people’s mobile phones!
It was by happy chance in 1141 that a small group of dispossessed monks on foot and carrying a lofty cross were spied making their way over the ford on the old Roman Road by Adelicia de Brionne. Adelicia lived at nearby West Ford (near South Chard) and was none other than their former patron’s sister and heir. She offered the monks land by the River Axe on which to build a monastery which, after much prayer and fasting they dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Adelicia’s descendants were the Courtenays, Earls of Devon whose bones still moulder in the earth about the house and were the abbey’s munificent benefactors.
Forde Abbey flourished as a monastery for four hundred years during which time it became one of the richest and most learned institutions of its kind in England. By the end of the 13th century, around 30,000 acres were owned by the abbey. During its 400 years, Forde had 32 abbots, some achieving greatness like Bishop Baldwin who became Archbishop of Canterbury and who is thought to have accompanied Richard the Lionheart to the Holy Lands.
The last abbot was Thomas Chard, born near Awliscombe in 1470 and educated at Oxford. Though a man of influence under the Bishop of Exeter, he resigned his various duties to become a monk at Forde Abbey and was then elected Abbot the following year. Abbot Chard devoted himself to a comprehensive overhaul of the abbey and much is owed to him for how it appears today, in particular, the Great Hall and Chard’s Tower.
But the times were troubling and would have kept Abbot Chard in a constant state of alarm with the unscrupulous character of Henry VIII. The Reformation in England was driven by the rise of the new English middle class with its disaffection with Church authority but the catalyst for upheaval was the Henry’s petulance with Pope Clement over his marriage difficulties. His attack on the Church led to the theft and redistribution of its wealth. In 1536, the first Act for the dissolution of the monasteries was passed and within two years, over 3000 religious’ buildings, colleges and hospitals were annexed to the Crown.
To win over the population amidst this destruction, the people were promised to be relieved of their taxes and that there would be raised and maintained new earls, barons and knights for the better provision of the poor with new preachers to proclaim the new religion. Needless to say, these promises were wholly unfulfilled and led to great mischief and extreme poverty, particularly in Devon, not seen before. There was great increase in domestic hardship by the oppression of poor tenants at the hands of new landlords who were as harsh and exacting as the monks had been kind and generous. The Reformation brought with it, widespread poverty and wretchedness.
On the destruction of ‘the old religion’ and dissolution of the monasteries, John Bale said at the time: “…that neither the Britons under the Romans and Saxons nor yet the English people under the Danes and Normans, had ever such damage of their learned monuments as we have seen in our time. Our posterity may well curse this wicked fact of our age, this unreasonable spoil of England’s most noble antiquities”.
It was also said Abbot Chard had “built himself a dwelling on a scale to justify the reformation and dissolution”. He succumbed to fate and surrendered Forde to the Crown in 1537. For the next 100 years the Abbey had various owners who dismantled the Abbey church. In 1649 it passed to Edmund Prideaux, Esq., but that’s another story!