A still centre


 

An appreciation of the life of Father Gregory CSWG, 28 November 193012 August 2009

 

 


As Fr Gregory wrote in New Directions and gave the devotional address at our National Assembly it seems konly right that his death in August should be marked by some acknowledgement of his contribution to the life and depth of Catholic faith in these islands and beyond.

He was born in New Zealand, brought up in a farming community, and trained as a scientist. Both contributed to his later life as a monk where he brought rigorous scientific discipline to bear on his theological writings and was involved in the day-to-day management of the 60-acre monastery property - as familiar a sight on top of the hay rick as standing at the altar.

Contemplative community

He was ordained in 1957 but moved to England in the early Sixties to join the Community of the Servants of the Will of God. This community came into being in response to the desire to establish a contemplative community for men in the Church of England. Fr William Sirr had tried this at Glasshampton in the Thirties but died before anything could come of it. Almost at the same time as he died Fr Robert Gofton-Salmond left a parish in the East End of London in 1938 and bought two cottages in the woods outside Crawley Down, where he went to wait on the will of God and see what he desired.
The link between these two was Fr Gilbert Shaw who advised them both and also became Fr Gregorys mentor. The three arenowregarded as the Founders of the Community. It had a chequered history, with few staying with Fr Robert, but by the time Gregory came in the early Sixties things were beginning to happen.


The One Tradition

Fr Gregory was professed in vows in 1962 but a couple of years later a blow was struck when the Superior left and the future of the community was in doubt. Gregory was not professed in final vows until Holy Cross Day 1973, and it then became possible for him to be elected Superior, a post which he held until 2008 when his deteriorating health led him to resign.

In those 35 years his great work was done. The Community, inspired by Fr Gilberts teaching and writing, sought to recover in its life and worship the One Great Tradition of the Church before the divisions between East and West. This led to a Eucharistic liturgy owing much to the writings of Alexander Schmemann and the development of a liturgical day and week that met the contemplative needs. Much time was Spent in prayer in the Cell and especially using the Jesus Prayer as the means of finding God in the heart. The Divine Office was enriched with prayers and hymns drawn from throughout the Church and each week mirrored the Paschal Triduum.

In Fr Gregorys time too, the monastery was rebuilt after a fire, a guest wing built and then extended so that instead of only two guests, eleven can stay and the facilities can be used for day conferences and meetings. Three hermitages were built in the grounds so that the semi-eremitical life of the Community could be extended into the full living of the solitary life. A convent building has also been added, for, in an attempt to restore the complementarity of men and women so sadly lost sight of in our current debates, the Community is now open to both sexes.


Anglican patrimony

Fr Gregorys teaching is an enormous resource and many of his sermons and conferences have been preserved. He will be remembered, too, by many as a wise spiritual director for religious, priests and laity. Above all he should be remembered and valued because he lived the life to which he was so clearly called. In the Rule of the Community, which he wrote, it says that, "The monastic enclosure should become a still centre in the heart of the world!

As we heard those words read in the homily at his funeral I was reminded of how often he would say to me when I was in despair about what was going on around me, 'Go home and be the Church where you are.' Clearly, he became what the monastery was to be: a still centre in the heart of the world! God grant that through his continuing prayers we may all be the Church where we are and still centres in the heart of the world.

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