This article was published in the September to December issue of Rapport magazine.
Simon Holland reflects on the spiritual power-house that is Lee Abbey at 70
In July 2016, as many gathered from across the world to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Lee Abbey being dedicated, we reflected on what an exciting moment that must have been! With many other Friends of Lee Abbey I continue to be filled with excitement and a deep sense of thankfulness that the adventure goes on. The past mingled with the present directs this article as we continue to tell the story of Lee Abbey through pictures and words.
In his book The Lee Abbey Story, Jack Winslow describes the beginning of Lee Abbey and reflects on the developing ministry:
‘By June 1946 the day of the opening ceremony, all was ready … That day the Bishop of Exeter came and dedicated the house and grounds, the garden and farm and workshop, and the whole enterprise, to the glory of God and the service of His Church. Lee Abbey was launched upon its way.
… ‘It is a wonderful thing to look back over the (70) years at Lee Abbey. A great stream of humanity has passed through our gates … they have come with their varied hopes and needs, their problems and perplexities, their fears and anxieties, their doubts and sins. Others have come in the serenity of an assured faith, with happy expectation of further blessings.’
The Lee Abbey Movement
The vision to renew and serve the church continues to this day. The Community are united by a desire to share the love of Christ with whoever visits. Members of the Community live, work and pray together, hosting conferences and retreats, holidays and summer camps as well as sending mission teams to rural and urban churches.
Lee Abbey London began in the 1960s and has since provided ‘a home from home’ for hundreds of international students. Small Missional Communities – also part of the Lee Abbey Movement – settled in Aston, Birmingham and Knowle West, Bristol; whilst a ministry partnership has been established with the Missional Community in Acton Vale, London.
Groups of the Lee Abbey Friends of Jesus gather all over the UK, and in other countries, for fellowship and to stand with the work of Lee Abbey.
Hope and restoration
Testimony was a major part of the ministry of encouraging faith in God in those exciting early days. Although 70 years have elapsed, there continue to be testimonies which witness to God’s faithfulness. Sally, a guest at Lee Abbey Devon in June 2016, shares her experience:
‘I am sending the whole Community at Lee Abbey my love in the Lord Jesus Christ after one of the most wonderful and transforming five days of my life. You will never know the effects of your love, support, care and friendship towards me at a time of immense emotional and personal pain. When I arrived last Wednesday I felt broken, but when I left, I felt restored in Jesus, and loved by Him so much. Your part in the healing process was crucial and gave me a sense of hope, self-worth and focus for the future.’
Coming to faith …
I came to faith in Christ by love bidding me welcome through the witness and life of the Community at Scargill House, a Community that both en-fleshed and encouraged me to sit down and feast on the banquet that is the grace of God.
At the heart of Lee Abbey is a Community that bids all welcome, ‘come in you are so welcome!’ A Community rooted and established in the love of Christ, the love of Jesus Christ that came not to be served but to serve:
‘… by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance
as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross! ’
Philippians 2:7–8 NIV
We choose to follow Him on the descending humbling way of love and in doing so reveal His loving service today, in this our home, Lee Abbey.
Jean Vanier in his book How to recognise Community describes how a group grows into a Community:
‘So many people enter groups in order to develop a certain form of spirituality or to acquire knowledge about the things of God and of humanity. But that is not a Community; it is a school. It becomes a Community only when people start truly caring for each other and each other’s growth.’
Jesus commanded us ‘to love one another’ and in so doing we build Community, with each other and the guests God sends. Lee Abbey throughout its 70 years has been constant in offering God’s welcome to thousands of guests.
We look back in this 70th anniversary year, not with some romantic sentimentalism of days gone by, but with amazement and awe at the mercy of God who has worked in many different ways in thousands of lives. This must surely unite us in a desire to re-dedicate all our efforts to serve Him well, who came to serve us and in so doing, showed us the way to follow Him, reveal Him and obey His command to ‘Love one another,’ in the spiritual power-house that is Lee Abbey at 70!
The poem below written by Anne, reflects the spiritual well that Lee Abbey is to all who come, centred around our vision to communicate Christ through relationships, as Community and guests meet face to face in the beauty of this place.
Warden, Lee Abbey Devon
He beholds my face
He meets me at the well,
asks me for a drink
in this, my usual place,
and his enquiring face greets
my weary weathered face,
my dirty dusty face,
my midday mid-life face, yet
he beholds my face.
He has no water jar
but he pours words
into my pain filled space,
my guilt filled place,
inviting me to face
my deep avoidance place, yet
this prophet man of grace
beholds my face.
So, this well within
becomes a spring,
a bubbling babbling watering place,
an ever drawing deeper place,
my Messiah meeting place,
my whole life’s breathing space, because he beholds my face.