Some six years ago, I was set to embark on a career with the United Nations. Then, I decided to spend six months in an abbey in France, in order to build a strong personal spirituality before starting a busy professional life. Or so I thought.
As time went by, I discovered that God was calling me to serve him in a more explicit way than I could have done by realising my career plans. I felt he was calling me to be a pastor and to join Chemin Neuf, the monastic community running the abbey.
Why? The short answer is in the first words of the Community’s rule of life: “Brother or sister, if you commit yourself with us, it is only ‘for the sake of Christ and the Gospel’.” Mark 10:28
That is both a call and a warning. Keeping Christ at the centre of my commitment demands a lot of discipline, and I would not pretend I always manage.
But what initially drew me to the monastic life – and still does – was the daily rhythm of prayer, both collective and individual. It sustained and deepened my relationship with God more than I ever imagined. And Chemin Neuf’s charismatic openness to the Holy Spirit made my faith come alive and taught me to listen to God when making choices, whether big or small.
Community life also enabled me to use and share all my talents and capacities, be it by singing, plumbing, or studying theology. I had been thinking about what “fullness of life” was and where to find it – for me, this was where it started.
Living daily with people from many different countries and churches is part of that fullness, and is also a constant call to conversion. It is a permanent encounter with people who are different from me, and who challenge me to let go of my own ways of thinking and of doing things. That is hard at times, but also very liberating, as is the sharing of possessions with those I live with.
I have now been living at Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, for over a year. We are a small community of five: a married couple of English Anglicans, two Catholic celibate sisters, and me. Life here is regular and unpredictable at once. The regular part is, for example, that morning prayer will happen every morning at 8:40. The unpredictable bit is that you might meet a handful of staff members there, just as well as a Pakistani Bishop, a group of Japanese youth or African women, or an English nun.
While life at Lambeth can sometimes be busy and tiring, I find it very exciting to experience the truly global dimension of the Christian faith. People regularly write to the Archbishop asking for prayer. Every day, we pray for these people and situations, which connects us with Christians all over the world.
There is also a sense of a deep renewal of the Church, and it is a huge privilege to pray and serve alongside an inspiring and humble leader like Archbishop Justin. As we help prepare the launch of a new year-long immersion in communal Christian life for young people at Lambeth Palace, we try to work out how this programme will make use of the centuries-old buildings, and how we can combine in our worship elements from the Anglican and monastic traditions, from other churches, as well as contemporary elements.
I am really looking forward to the roll-out of this new project, and to continue discovering the riches and radicality of Christian community life in this extraordinary place.
Applications are open at today to spend one year in a radical Jesus-centred community of prayer, study and serving local communities – all based at Lambeth Palace in London.. Check here for details.