A weekend in a ‘thin’ place.
It’s the end of the day and (at the time of penning this, I typed it later) I’m at Lee Abbey International Christian community, for a Renew, Refresh and Resource weekend. I arrived in time for afternoon coffee and tiffin, in the gallery from where it is possible to see across the lawns of the house, to the lower sheep fields and right down to estate’s small bay, where there is a hidden rocky beach and where there is only sand at low tide.
It wasn’t a pleasant journey to get here, driving through heavy rain and with spray from other vehicles it was quite hard to see at times. Then, after getting caught behind a tractor on a narrow country road, it took nearly 3 hours to drive here from Bristol, but we arrived safe-and-sound to a warm welcome. One of the first people I met was Claire, the daughter of my friend Louisa. Claire is working at Lee Abbey for six months in her gap year before university.
After a hot and tasty evening meal, the table I was on served by Claire and the beef having been reared on the Lee abbey estate (280 acres of beautiful Devon) there was an introductory session for first time visitors and the first presentation of the weekend’s theme, Outward Bound: taking the church out to the people (instead of expecting them to come to us). The day ended with what Lee Abbey calls Christ In Quiet. 15 minutes of quiet readings and reflections, set to soft music in the lovely, candle lit chapel.
Today was a much nicer day with bright, sunny weather for most of the time and with just a little wind later in the afternoon. The morning we spent in the octag (Octagonal Lounge), which is the main room for holding most of the bigger community events, where Steve, one of Lee Abbey’s indigenous chaplains who lead the introduction the previous night, lead this morning’s sessions, interspersed with plenty of tea/coffee breaks.
In the afternoon we had the choice of a selection of laid on activities, which included a beach bonfire with toasted marshmallows, or just doing our own thing. I elected, with a few friends, to take a walk through the spectacular Valley Of Rocks into Lynton at the top of the hill and then on down a steep footpath to Lynmouth. After a pleasant stroll around Lynmouth and fortifying ourselves with ice cream for the re-ascent back up to Lynton, we walked as far as the Lynmouth stop of the water powered cliff railway to go back up again.
After another tasty evening meal, we were entertained by a quiz night in the octag and followed again Christ In Quiet, in their chapel.
It’s just after 7:00 am and I’m writing this sitting by a window, alone in the Gallery with a hot coffee looking down to the small bay. I can see that the tide is out and just outside the window, on the grass, are two tiny pied wagtails. After breakfast and before the communion service at 10:30, I will take a walk down to the beach.
I didn’t get to the beach; it started raining just after breakfast. Not heavy rain but the wind was driving it hard, so going out in it I would have got soaked very quickly. Instead of going to the beach (this must be the first time I’ve been to Lee Abbey without visiting the beach) I spent a pleasant, relaxing morning and browsed the bookshop, buying some of Adrian Plass‘ poetry and a Proverbs study, for the Growth Group.
Lee Abbey’s Sunday morning communion service is quite informal, with music I would like to hear, and sing, in my own church. Informal it may be but is none-the-less beautiful, with a sense of the presence of the Holy Spirit. The singing was joyful, unlike some of the almost dirges I hear in some churches.
After Communion, there is time to relax and chat over coffee with friends old and new before lunch. A traditional roast Sunday lunch today with pork which, unfortunately but sometimes can’t be helped, was a little bit tough but tasted good. After lunch, a final cup of coffee and then the drive home. The weather was even worse than Friday.
From time-to-time, you might hear one of the community members talk about Lee Abbey as “a thin place”. What they mean by this is that, the boundry between our world and heaven seems to be thinner there, perhaps almost blurring a little at times, a place you you can feel closer to God. It’s really something you need to experience, to feel for yourself and I think it might feel a little bit different for everyone but that feeling is worth visiting Lee Abbey for.
The photograph of the three crosses, the header image of this blog, was taken by me at Lee Abbey.