There were 47 adults, children and young people on the weekend, including three from Willand church. We also shared the Abbey with groups from the Methodist church at Sampford Peverell/Halberton, and from Wellington, as well as others from further afield, including some individuals and couples, on holiday looking for refreshment. One of the delights of a Lee Abbey weekend is the chance to talk, sometimes in depth, to others in a way that is just not possible for most of us most of the time. We were grateful once more to David and Rachel for all their pre-weekend organising, making it easy for all of us to arrive (despite the closure of the North Devon Link Road) and find our accommodation.
As always, we were treated really well by the Lee Abbey community including volunteers from all over the world. The food (and drink) was excellent, plentiful and frequent, and it was a pleasure to talk to the different young people serving us on our tables at meal times – I had conversations with volunteers from Spain, Brazil, Ukraine, and Uganda for example. The rooms were very comfortable, with special mention of the secluded Tinkerbell Cottage as a romantic retreat. The Saturday afternoons are a time for recreation, and, as last year, quite a number from Uffculme, of all ages, took the opportunity of intrepidly descending the zip wire across a valley, some twice or even three times. Walks were also available – the weather was good most of the time – and Tony Lane led some of us on a ‘sensio divina’ walk in the gloaming (apparently the Devon word is ‘dimpsy’) teaching us to look closely at natural objects (trees, lichen) and meditate on God’s presence in creation and in ourselves. The Lee Abbey community members entertained us on Saturday night with some wonderful singing, music, and dancing, alongside ‘Chinese mimes’ (a variation of Chinese whispers) and poetry ranging from Walt Whitman to Roald Dahl’s version of The Three Little Pigs – with a surprising denouement. Later on Saturday evening many of us had a chance to talk and to relax over a glass of wine (and the occasional nip of sloe gin), mulling over the lessons and teaching of the day.
The teaching this year was led by Rob Eastwood Dewing, the Pastoral Director of Lee Abbey since 2011 (before that he was vicar in Petersfield, Hampshire), with the theme of the Christ-shaped life – renew, refresh, resource. The first session on Friday evening did not include any newspaper fashion dressing-up (unlike last year), but Rob did show us various depictions of Jesus, ranging from the traditional ‘Jesus meek and mild’ to artistic representations to a black Jesus, pointing out that all aspects of our life should be ‘Christ-shaped’, and that there should really be no distinction between ‘spiritual’ and ‘secular’ life.
On Saturday we were able to see some examples of a Christ-shaped life in action, and the cost that can be involved. Rob showed us excerpts from a couple of films: Invictus, where Nelson Mandela tries to persuade the ANC not to dissolve the Springboks rugby team; and Dead Man Walking, where the nun Helen Prejean meets the parents of the teenagers murdered and raped by the prisoner on death row that she is counselling. Rob was telling us that doing the right thing can come at a cost, that it can be impossible sometimes to get everything right, and how important it is to have a strong and living faith. Films played a prominent role through the weekend, with Erin Brockovich quoted as again illustrating the importance of perseverance in doing the right thing, and listening to individual human beings. Finally, we were treated to an excerpt from Groundhog Day, where Bill Murray gets things wrong time after time, but finally learns a better way – we do not have the ‘luxury’ of repeating our behaviour until we get it right, but we do have the opportunity to seek the presence of Jesus in our lives, and to learn from him directly, from the Bible, from prayer, and from relationships with our fellow Christians. In small groups, we shared how we thought our own churches could develop a Christ-shaped life, bearing in mind that the church is made up of us as individuals.
At one point, Rob put up the St Mary’s Way of Life on the screen – we had each been given a copy on our arrival at Lee Abbey – and he did suggest that we could move towards a Christ-shaped life by growing in faith (prayer, biblical reflection, worship), being connected (the importance of relationships), and respecting and serving others (an attitude of service). The weekend did reinforce the vitality of all these elements in everything we do in our lives, and we all came away from Lee Abbey on Sunday afternoon with much to ponder on, much to be grateful for, and much to try to retain from the peace of a place close to God as we return to our daily lives back in Uffculme.
Selina has already booked a weekend for next October – I hope that as many as possible will be able to sign up for a few days that can provide a literal re-creation for each one of us.
19 November 2014
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