We all have our own stories to tell and our own unique experience of life in a pandemic. Lee Abbey Devon have experienced the unprecedented for our ministry, our business and our community. Read below to find out what 2020 has looked like for us so far.
The New Year begins full of promise – worship and fireworks herald the arrival of 2020.
This is followed by the Ordinands’ Houseparty, blessing and challenging the future leaders of the Church and their families.
Awareness of the spread of COVID-19 worldwide and we begin to make ‘what if…’ plans.
On March 16th, Gordon and Judy Crowther arrive from South Africa, as Gordon comes to take up the post of Warden of Lee Abbey.
On the same evening as Gordon and Judy arrive we have to ask the guests to leave. The national lockdown begins and with heavy hearts we start the work of cancelling our programme for the foreseeable future.
On March 23rd and onwards, many community members, largely from overseas, are encouraged to return home whilst they still can. This is a deeply painful journey for the whole Community and we enter into a season of mourning and grieving.
On March 29th in Corpus we make a mosaic cross from pieces of broken tile as we reflect on our brokenness as individuals and a Community, and how at the cross of Jesus that brokenness is made into something beautiful. This cross is the visual symbol we created together in our worship; it was a powerful and moving act. The names of everyone who was a member of the resident Community in March 2020 are written on the fragments.
It was confirmed that we could continue to live as one household – for this we gave thanks. But we moved much of Community life to the Beacon dining room, only continuing to use the Octag for worship and prayer.
We celebrated Easter together, recognizing that we felt very much that we were still in Holy Saturday and longing for the Resurrection to come. These were challenging days; though we have so much space in which to ‘be’ we were grieving the departure of so many friends and companions, and wondering what the future holds.
This month we begin the Immersive Meditation and Selah series of recorded walks and pauses on our estate with 3D audio. Our vision is to share this beautiful place with people who miss the views here and those shielding in their houses who can’t get out of their homes during lockdown.
May & June
We begin to do some serious work on the call and purpose of Lee Abbey both for now and for the future. Five teams are formed, looking at People, Place, Promotion, Programme and Provision.
Furloughing begins of both local workers and long-term Community members – this is a mixed blessing.
There was sadness at not being able to have the usual Tea Cottage opening in May.
There are many blessings in this time though too – we are conscious of, and thankful for, the prayers and financial support of so many friends; we have a bumper ‘crop’ of lambs; the weather is amazing; there is shared ‘fun’; a real sense of God at work in and through us and an increasing deepening of relationships.
This month would normally be when we would be welcoming ‘The Field’ and the ‘Lee Abbey Youth Camps’; both were cancelled earlier in the year and moved, very effectively, online with The Field At Home and social media updates from the Youth Camp – though we’ve yet to play virtual pudox!
We also took the opportunity of a reduced community to temporarily turn 2 of our Community houses into self-catering accommodation for key workers, with a view to opening these in August.
Having a close house pushes us into new online territory, we successfully lead our first ‘virtual houseparties’, including live streaming worship for the Diocese of Exeter.
Some of our Community managed to get away for much-needed rests and socially distanced visits family and friends.
The Tea Cottage and the new self-catering units welcomed their first guests.
More online resources are created. We present our summer speakers in the form of our online Summer Sessions and premiere our online children’s ministry in the form of Lee TeeVee. These are both exciting ventures and offer the community new creative challenges and opportunities.
Community begin to explore a division 7 ‘households’ to protect the ministry in case of infection.
Some of the Community members who had been on furlough returned to work, as did some of the local workers.
We begin to flesh out our programme and plans for welcoming guests back to the House in October.
Preparations for re-opening the House to Guests began to step up. We continued to work through all the things that we needed to do in order to operate in a COVID secure manner so that our Guests and the Community would be as safe as they possibly could be; kettles arrived for guest rooms; we practised setting the Octag out in a socially distanced way; we began to wake the house up again after its long summer sleep, etc.etc.
We worked out the practicalities of serving meals and refreshments in a COVID secure way, which meant the creation of a ‘Super Rota’! Also the whole Community was trained to clean bedrooms and bathrooms – Tuesday mornings from the beginning of October would be all hands on deck!
We had some people come on interview as we looked ahead to the future shape of Community, which was exciting and encouraging. We also had an exciting visit with one of our future partners. Both of these were glimmers of hope and the first fruits of God’s promise to us about the future for Lee Abbey.
On Sunday 4th October as a Community we re-committed ourselves to our Community Promises at Corpus, praying that we would keep following God’s call and know his blessing on the days ahead.
ACVs (Associate Community Volunteers) began to arrive to help us through the next few months as a smaller Community – some were coming for 3 months, some for a week or two; their presence and ministry amongst us was such a blessing and we couldn’t have done it without them! New Community members began to come and join us too! Hurrah!
Our first guests for nearly 10 months arrived on Tuesday 6th October. It was such a joy to welcome them; in the first week there were many familiar faces, but some new ones too, and it was so lovely to be able to share life with them again. It was certainly a different experience for us all – no Community and guests sharing tables, instead guests sat in threes at the tables and Community brought food and drinks to them. It felt slightly odd to begin with, but we soon got into the swing of it. It was a real joy too to share Morning and Afternoon Worship together – the sense of shared prayer and common purpose in seeking encounter with God was precious and tangible.
And then on 4th November the whole of England went back into lockdown for 4 weeks… programmes were cancelled, ACVs went home and a feeling of hitting the ‘dip’ of the corona-coaster came over us. Like the rest of the country, lockdown in November heading into the darker days of winter felt very different from lockdown in March with the promise of spring on the horizon. However we remained hopeful and continued to be planning for and working towards the December programme and the New Year and beyond.
We shared our Morning and Afternoon Worship, and an Epilogue on YouTube, as well as hosting an ‘online prayer room’. We held a digital Advent weekend, including sharing our Corpus on the Sunday with the Diocese of Exeter via YouTube.
As lockdown ended and the Tier system began we realised that it wasn’t going to be possible for us to welcome guests for the foreseeable future, so we reluctantly took the decision that we would have to remain closed. This was a blow to us.
We’re planning how we can celebrate Christmas together this year; its not how we thought it would be for any of us… but I guess the first Christmas wasn’t how its participants had planned either.
– Barbara Carpenter, Senior Chaplain