Sacred Spaces 10: A SACRED SPACE – THE CHAPEL AT NETHER SPRINGS
In October 2009 I went on a two day retreat to Nether Springs, the mother house of the Northumbria Community. The Northumbria Community are part of a movement known as 'new monasticism'. Although they live out in the world (as "church without walls") they share core values and follow a Rule for Living. They keep to the monastic rhythm of the day, observing morning, midday and evening offices and compline and devoting time to quiet prayer, study and reflection. The Mother House is where members can come together for renewal.
The Community call their Mother House The Nether Springs as a fulfilment of Joshua 15:17-19, a foundational scripture about the Father’s gift to us of both the Nether Springs and the Upper Springs. We will be rejuvenated by the springs that bring the water of life from every direction into our lives, which are otherwise like parched fields. Situated in peaceful Northumbrian countryside, Nether Springs welcomes people from all over the world and from all kinds of backgrounds, whether they are part of the Community or not, and wherever they are on their journey of faith.
The Community offer opportunity for anyone to join them on retreat, as they put it,
"That is, time consciously set aside for God, a change of focus, a deliberate act of stepping outside of normal routine by withdrawing (not running away) from the noise and pressures; the immediate and insistent claims of our social, domestic and workaday responsibilities, in order to be in a quiet place where all our senses are open and ready to listen to God."
Life at Nether Springs revolves around a monastic rhythm:
9.00 am Morning Office
10.00 am Retreat, instruction, study, work
12 noon Midday Office followed by Quiet for sacred reading, prayer and reflection
1.00 pm Lunch
2.00 pm Work, pottering, creativity, walking
5.30 pm Evening Office followed by quiet reading
6.15 pm Evening meal
7.30 pm Rest, recreation, reading and reflection
9.30 pm Compline
10.00 pm House in Quiet
The Chapel at Nether Springs was a small, simple wooden A-frame building set in the wooded grounds. Inside were two rows of plain wooden chairs on either side of the aisle. An altar was formed of natural wood, with a small Celtic cross the only adornment. Light streamed in through a window above the altar and small side windows gave views of the glade and hills beyond. At the entrance to the chapel, a prayer net contained the prayers of those who had visited and a bowl of sand housed votive candles.
I remember most the service of Compline that evening. Held at 9.30 pm it was the last act of the day, with 'house quiet' commencing immediately after at 10.00 pm. A single bell rang to call us to worship. Silently, we all filed outside into the grounds. As we entered the Chapel, two rows of tea lights had been lit down the aisle. The building looked magical lit only by candle light and as we sat there listening to the quiet and comforting words of the service we could hear the wind whistling and the trees rustling outside. It was a wonderful feeling to be worshipping in the simplicity and intimacy of that environment: to feel so closely connected to the whole of creation outside.
Unfortunately, the lease on Hetton Hall, where the Community were based when I visited, ran out in 2012, so the original Chapel is no more. The new Mother House, located between Alnwick and Morpeth, offers a range of guided and individual retreats. For more information see www.northumbriacommunity.org