Recently I had the opportunity to visit the brothers and sisters in Europe. I arrived in Newcastle on Shrove Tuesday and was in England until April 2.
My first stop was at Alnmouth Friary. Seeing Alnmouth Friary and the adjacent village for the first time made me question why any of the English brothers would come to the United States to live. The smell of the residual incense in the main chapel, the view of the sea, the quaint homes and businesses surrounding the friary all made Alnmouth one of the prettiest little places I’ve ever stayed. I appreciated meeting the newest brothers, Vincent Paul and Ethan Gabriel, on my visit. During my time at Alnmouth, I was able to observe the resting places of the great northern England saints like Cuthbert, Aidan, and Bede. Seeing holy sites like Durham Cathedral, Holy Island, St. Paul’s Monastery at Jarrow, and Barter Books makes one fall in love with a country even if it’s not your own.
After Brother Reginald’s funeral, Brothers Malcom, Amos, and John drove me to Glasshampton. We first dropped Brother John off at Birmingham where I met Brothers Eric Michael and Edward as well. I was also introduced to the Kurdish residents of the friary.
We arrived at Glasshampton just before Compline. I spent the next five days in the most silence I’ve ever experienced. It’s a good thing to have a place like Glasshampton in our order. I wish all our brothers here in America would have the opportunity like our European counterparts to spend 8 to 9 months in a contemplative environment like what I experienced at Glasshampton.
From Glasshampton, Brother Peter drove me to the train station in the busy metropolis of Worcester. I took a train to Sherborne where Brother Clark Berge picked me up to take me to Hilfield. Going in, I had no idea what Hilfield would be like. Back home, I had heard about the brothers living alongside regular folks. Until I actually saw it, however, I really could not accurately imagine the idea. I was taken aback by how community-oriented the friary was. It seemed like all the residents contributed their own part towards maintenance and upkeep of the little village and retreat center. Although, I was only at the friary for three days, I felt Hilfield surprised me the most during my trip. The work of the brothers and community made me stop and think about the environmental impact the brothers and myself have here in the United States.
From Hilfield, I met Brother Thomas Anthony at Waterloo Train Station. He took me to the Balaam Street home in London’s East End where I would stay for the next couple of days. The Balaam Street house reminded me of our home in San Francisco. The brothers live in the heart of the East End and provide a valuable witness to the Christian life in a very diverse part of the city. When we prayed Compline together in the house, I saw how literally the brothers were living out the words of the Prophet Isaiah: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? (Isaiah 58:6-7)
From London, Brother Finnian and myself met up with Brothers Tobias, Vincent Paul, Ethan Gabriel , and Joseph Emmanuel to attend a novice formation course hosted by the Roman Poor Clare sisters in Arkley. The theme of the course focused on the environment and Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’. In Arkley, I interacted with the Roman sisters, our own Franciscan sisters, and a Roman Franciscan brother. I was excited to meet the Poor Clares as I grew up near one of their convents in Kokomo, Indiana.
I want to thank everyone I visited for their hospitality. I hope in the future, one of the American brothers or myself will be able to visit England again.
Brother James Nathaniel can be contacted at email@example.com.