Thursday, October 27, 2016


1976 - 1978                
I arrived at the Friary on the Feast of the Holy Cross, September 14th, and was one of three admitted as a Postulant on September 15th by the Guardian, Br. Jonathan – another was Stanley who had worshiped at the same church as me - All Saints, Margaret Street in London.  There were others, including Keith Mitchell (Crispin), North Kerr, Peter (Peter Douglas), Gregory and Richard Hodgson, who had been admitted previously and we joined Fr. Bill Kirkpatirck (Aelred), Kevin Terry (Albert) and Graham who were also Postulants.  In all we numbered 15 – the highest ever number in the history of SSF!  There were so many of us that some had to live in Bernard House (where my daily Household Chore was to pump the cushions and arrange the flowers as there weren’t enough tasks for us all).  My first job was to collect manure, under the direction of Br. Giles, from Church Farm, where Keith MacDonald had a job, and take it to the Friary.  Eventually, due to the size of the Postulancy, some moved to Alnmouth Friary with Br. Rufus, who was then Assistant Novice Guardian, and Br. Keith came to look after the remainder of us who were then able to live together in Juniper House which became the Formation House once more.

At this time the Brothers would attend Evensong each month at a different local church on Sundays.  We had a particular connection with Cerne Abbas parish church whose priest, Fr. Harold Best, presided at the Friary Eucharist most weeks.  One resident of the village had been closely involved with the Franciscans in Africa and lived with her companion in a cottage in the village.  Both were early members of the Third Order and are are now buried at the Friary. 

In April 1977 twelve of us were admitted to the Novitiate by the Provincial, Br. Michael SSF, and I took the name of John-Francis.  During Lent the Novices were involved in giving short homilies at Holy Trinity, Weymouth as part of our training.  Br. Keith was responsible for our efforts.  That Spring, Paschal Worton and Philip Bartholomew were admitted as Postulants. 

At that time, and for many years afterwards, brothers  were constantly going on Mission.  In March 1978 Br. Damian sent me to preach the Lent ‘Mission’ to Ardingly College (we were used a lot by the Woodard Corporation) and in April I moved to Glasshampton to begin my six month stay.  This was also the time when many Public Schools (eg. Millfield, Sherborne, etc…) sent groups of pupils for days at the Friary with some occasionally staying for a few days and I have memories of the scores of boys from Sherborne School lining up0 to make their pre-Confirmation confession - every priest-Brother was on duty!

1982 – 1988
I returned to live at the Friary in December 1982.  I became Kitchen Brother and slept in room in Francis House to ‘look after’ Br. Kenneth.  Eventually I was given a room in Clare House  to use during the day.  Benedict was Guest Brother and there were Seven Postulants.

We continued to provide brothers for the very many Parish and School Missions which the Society ran, as well as leading Holy Week in parishes around the country.  For most of my time at Hilfield I, along with others, hitched to and from wherever we needed to travel and I often journeyed to and from London in this fashion, often getting an initial lift to Sherborne (or, if I was lucky, Wincanton) but I sometimes would see if I could hitch a lift from a (occasional) car that drove past the Friary.  

I also became involved with Dorchester CND and began to get to know some of the members.  Bernard was a member of General Synod and was keen to enable the community to explore new ways of evangelism.  Fr. John Townroe made regular visits to the Friary as our external confessor/spiritual director and I, along with others, found his wisdom and insight of great help.  The ‘new’ Carceri (hermitage) was a place where I, along with others, retreated to on a regular basis for solitude, reflection and prayer.

At some point  Br. Bernard appointed me as Guest Brother.  On February 2nd, 1982 BBC Newsnight come to the Friary to interview Bernard on the then radical Church of England Report, ‘The Church and the Bomb’ and two weeks later Paul Alexander ran a ‘Drama Weekend’  – brothers involved in learning dramatic presentations of the Gospel.  Later that summer a group of us arranged to perform the ‘Parable of the Good Punk Rocker’ in the grounds of Sherborne Abbey.  Not sure what impact this had on the town, but it helped some of us loose some of our inhibitions!

That Lent I made a Lent Visit to St. John’s School, Leatherhead, took part in a Teaching Week in Hackney - and joined the Dorchester CND protest visit to Upper Hayford USAF base.  In October Br. Ramon led a major ‘Mission to Wales’ based at Brecon Cathedral with Br. Silyn SSF and Fr. Aiden Mayoss CR.

During the next few years Paschal and I helped to organise the Sunday School at S. Nicholas’ Church, Hilfield and, along with others, led services and preached there and at Batcombe.
A Provincial Chapter around this time asked communities to explore their mission within the local community.  My involvement with the Dorchester CND Group led me to talk with them about what they might want the friary to offer to the community.  From these talks it emerged that there was a real desire to have a place where wider social issues could be explored and so I began to organise meetings with different social themes under the general title of ‘JustPeace’.  On one occasion Bp. Bill Lash talked about interfaith issues and his involvement with Gandhi in India in the 1930’s; we had a dialogue with Buddhist monks from their community near Totnes.  And, perhaps most notably, the Second Secretary from the Embassy of the USSR came to talk about ‘East Meets West’ – a visit which provoked another visit – from the Special Branch.  Some of us were deeply surprised by his open criticism of communism and stating that the system needed to change.  All this just before the concepts of Perestroika and Glasnost had emerged.  Br. Anselm had also asked me to get involved with the RC ‘Justice and Peace Links Group for Religious’ and, from my initial contact, I tried to encourage other Anglican Communities to join, which some did.

It was in 1985 that I looked to engage young people with spirituality and wanted to find a way for them to experience the insights of Ignatian Spirituality (Bernard had arranged for an 8 Day Ignatian Retreat to be offered each year for members of SSF at the Friary).  I learnt of the work being done by the De La Salle Brothers at Kintbury, Berks and arranged  to attend youth ‘retreats’ with them to discover more about their work.  From these experiences I sought to use the insights gained in developing youth spirituality at the Friary and elsewhere.  On May 18th I led our first ‘Youth Day’ for local parishes at the Friary but I’m not sure how enthusiastic Br. Bernard was for these to continue –  I think there may have been one more!

In 1986 I led Holy Week at S. Disen’s, Bradninch, Devon and, consequently, a group of young people began to attend the Hilfield Youth Camp each year.  I also led a Mission to Bristol University and St. Paul's and one to West Meon with Br. Vincent SSF and Sr. Jeanette CSF.  In September I led the Mission to St. Mary’s, Brynmawr, South Wales with Sr. Alison Mary CSF.

Bernard had become interested in the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI) and, in 1987, arranged an MBTI weekend at the Friary.  In September I led the Mission to St. Paul's. Honiton with Br. Thomas N/SSF, Ann Lewin and then a Mission to St. Peter’s, Maybush with Sr. Alison CSF, Brs. LukeN/SSF (John Phillips) and Ann Lewin.  I also assisted on the Coventry Diocesan Youth Holiday in Devon.

In 1988 a ‘Middle Group’ (middle-aged Professed) began at Hilfield.  That same year Bernard’s interest in the Base Christian (Ecclesial) Community movement in UK led to some of us attending annual weekends with the three Religious who USPG brought over to develop this form of evangelisation in the UK.  Br. Anselm (at that time the Provincial) invited Br. Paschal and I to become Vocations Adviser for SSF but in March 1989 I was moved to Birmingham. 

1994 - 1999
In July 1994 I returned to the Friary as Assistant Novice Guardian.  I continued to preach at various Public Schools including Bedales, Haberdashers’ Aske’s etc…  Br. Peter had been appointed Novice Guardian and was keen to re-develop the Novice formation programme.  He and I worked on a three-year model that began with a year at Hilfield followed by six months at Glasshampton and then 18 months in an inner-City House before First Profession.  Aspirants would be welcomed to Hilfield only in September and from then on the three year Programme would begin.  It was also during this time that Bernard (I think) drew together a group of brothers and sisters who had been involved with Ignatian IGR’s to reflect on the essentials of Franciscan Spirituality and, consequently, we developed a specific model.

After the death of my parents I had begun to develop an interest in the Holy Land and Egypt and organised a number of pilgrimages, for adults and young people, to both countries and, as a result, in October 1996 HG Metropolitan Athanasius of the Diocese of Beni Suef came to stay at the Friary.

In 1997 I was appointed Assistant Guardian at the Friary and at the Pentecost Chapter, after Br. Peter left, Novice Guardian.  I continued to implement the new Novice Formation Programme as well as leading Missions and a second Young Adult Visit to Egypt and Holy Land. 

In 1998 and 1999 there were further Pilgrimages to the Holy Land and Egypt, but in that year I was appointed General Secretary SSF, a role that took me to Australia for the General Chapter for four weeks in September.  However, in August I moved to Plaistow and thus ended my life at Hilfield Friary.


nilsc said...

Thank you, John-Francis. I was glad you mentioned your times at St. John's, Leatherhead, because your visits there played a very important part in my life. As our Lent Missioner, you gave us such wisdom and substance of faith that, for me certainly, it ignited my own faith and my vocation to the ordained ministry. Looking back after 20+ years of ordained ministry I remember your visits to St. John's with great gratitude. You also instilled in me a love of the SSF, whcih led to a visit to Hilfield, and many visits to Almouth, including a retreat before my ABM selection conference. Thank you and God bless you - and Hilfield. Nils Chittenden

John-Francis Friendship said...

Thanks, Nils. I particularly enjoyed my visits to St. John's and am glad to know it was of help to you. Blessings.

Malcolm (Petroc) said...

Thank you John Francis for your interesting account of your Memories of Hilfield Friary. I led a retreat last Autumn for members of St Johns in the Fields St Ives last September. I'm not a member of the third order, but I am one of the priest's connected with both churches in St Ives Cornwall.

John-Francis Friendship said...

Thanks, Malcolm (Petroc) - it's good to hear from you. We did meet, once, when I was Chaplain to Br. Michael SSF when he was Bishop of St. Germans and I lived at the house in Truro. But we first met, of course, when you were a young priest at S. Alban's, Holborn, in 1967???

Malcolm (Petroc) said...

Well isn't that interesting John Francis. You sent me an e-mail to-day on my other e-mail address. Your name seemed vaguely familiar. When I was at Hilfield in September I made a point of visiting the plot where Brother Michael's ashes were buried.

St Alban's Holborn - now there's a church I won't forget in a hurry. Strangely enough one of the congregation at St Ia (St Ives) used to worship at St Alban's Holborn. Its a link with those times.

John-Francis Friendship said...

Malcolm (Petroc) - my Baptismal name, which you would have known me as when I worshipped at S. Alban's - was Roger. On entering SSF in 1976 I took the name of John-Francis, a name I've kept since them, although I was released from my Vows in 2002. We last met in 1983.

John-Francis Friendship said...

Malcolm (Petroc): thanks for your recent comment and question. It would be more appropriate to follow this up by email. If you let me have your address I will reply. Best wishes.