This is not a story of a community, family or even a married couple; it is a short story of the birth of a ‘Way for Living’. In 1988, a dream was planted in Kevin and Ellen Grimley that they would set up a house in the Midlands, a safe place where people could visit and take time to find themselves and to seek God.
Along with their children, they were an active family within their parish church, involved in various groups and societies; it was after the Sion mission team visited the parish, that they were introduced to the Holy Spirit. This meeting started to challenge them to live their Christian faith outside of normal parish service and group meetings; the idea of having a personal relationship with Christ that impacted on all aspects of their life was a new concept, a concept that was beginning to haunt them.
A Community soon developed around this common experience, not just of people within their Catholic parish but folk from different denominations within the village.
Soon there was about a fifty strong group who were meeting once a week to share prayer and food together and explore drama and liturgical dance as a way of telling Bible stories and experiences of their shared common experience.
At this time, whilst Kevin and Ellen enjoyed meeting with the Community for prayer and worship being shaped by the
Charismatic Movement, it was often very vibrant. As Ellen has commented, Kevin would often say to her that he could ‘not wait to get home to sit on his own and pray.’
Ellen describes her worry as she started to ask, ‘what was wrong?’ Was he going to leave her and join a monastery?
They both went to their parish priest, Fr Terry Fellows, in what they thought was a crisis, and he wisely told them not rush into anything, just to accept what was happening as promptings of the Holy Spirit and wait. Little did they know the wait was to be for over twenty years. It was a frightening experience at this time for them both, as they knew no language that could contextualise their experiences. Monasticism was far away from their spiritual radar.
Although Kevin and Ellen’s house was always full of people, due to what now seems an uncomfortable and challenging level of openness and hospitality, Kevin set about building a shed in their garden. The shed was called a Poustinia, from a Russian word meaning desert.
With a shortage of financial support for them, the Community agreed to release them to journey up to Northumberland to the home of the Northumbria Community in order to continue their seeking of what they started to refer to as a, ‘search for a real God, in the ordinariness of life.’
They, along with the Vine Community, had previously been guided for a few years by some members of the Northumbria Community, introducing Kevin and Ellen to concepts like monasticism, spirituality, Christianity as a ‘Way for Living’ and a personal prayer life centred around a personalised liturgy.
Ultimately, they had been introduced to the concept that God had made them unique and that it was a responsibility to understand the person that God wanted them to become. The way this was to happen was through accepting and embracing a lifelong vocation towards an internal journey that, at times, was very scary.
They left only knowing that they would return with something to pass on to the Vine Community and others who were interested and hoped it was something to do with a house in the Midlands. Despite learning what it meant to run a community/retreat house, how to look after many visitors, how to live in community with others, being schooled in the life and ethos of the Northumbria Community and its ‘Rule’ or ‘Way for Living’,
the most enduring, life-giving and valuable lesson that they brought back was the experience of being told to ‘be yourself’, amidst all the doing that was required.
They said, ‘At times we felt out of our depth, often helpless, and repeatedly asked, what to do? But we kept being told to be ourselves, in the sense of who God had created’.
Ellen describes that after a week of being told to be herself, she wanted to revert to violence towards their spiritual directors, Revd John and Linda Skinner who were guiding them both in their time there.
In recognition of who they were, Kevin was given his own little space that he was able to pray in and Ellen was given the role of guest mistress and helped in looking after guests.
Their time at the Northumbria Community started to contextualise their call to finding a ‘real God’ as individuals in community living and a deep capacity for hospitality. In being, their doing was becoming authentically entwined. In this way, the capacity for true human selfless relationship was becoming realised.