Society of St. Columba

January 2022 Newsletter

Living in Transition

Welcome to January Newsletter 2022

As I sit to write a review of 2021 on New Year’s morning, I do so with sun streaming through my front window. My crab apple tree is alive with winter birds, gorging on the feeders. Some of our ewes, hopefully in lamb right now, are enjoying the respite the winter sun is offering from the rain and the wind of the past few days. I am grateful to God and our dedicated community, who have given themselves to the task of resurrecting an old derelict neglected farmstead into a place of new life and ecological hope.

As with all aspects of national life, 2021 was a year of uncertainty and fluidity. The pandemic cast a long shadow over our aspirations and we have had to adjust plans, timings and expectations accordingly. It became obvious very early on, that there will not be a return to the old normal, those days are gone. The new normal for us is the recognition that nothing in society is certain and the faith that many have placed in the States competence has been dramatically reduced to fit the new reality we all live in.

Founding the Society – Walking forward with humility.

The most significant step of 2021 took place in October. The Society of St Columba, as many already know, is a new monastic Christian community. This fledgling community has been in formation for well over 6 years and in October finally was able to gather and formally inaugurate its founding members. Our founding gathering took place in the Barn and was a simple, humble affair. It felt that a quiet, sincere and honest moment captured the essence of what the Holy Spirit is actively forming among us. Our commitment to God and each other revolves around seven spiritual principles; prayer, work, reading, sabbath, silence, pilgrimage and place. We are here as witnesses to what God is already actively doing and there was a recognition that our task is to listen to the whispers of God in the land and walk humbly with each other. 

Community Life over 2021

Adult Barn Owls have successfully fledged two chicks in our barn this year.

Our work at St Columba’s however continued to challenge and inspire us. Establishing a community garden, fighting the dock, the weeds, the grass and elements to deliver a bumper crop if alliums. Planting the first native trees in the forest garden; common alder, oak, hornbeam, walnut, field maple and the Italian alder. Italian alder, whilst not a native species, provides the same nitrogen fixing qualities as our native alder, but is more resistant to the extreme weather conditions we will have to live with here in West Sussex.

We cannot leave action on Climate Change to world leaders – we must take leadership in whatever way we can.

Climate change has overtaken us and the ‘blah, blah, blah’ of the powers to be, will not stop us from directly addressing as a grass roots community, climate issues through our activities here on the farm. In fact, we have come to appreciate that tackling the climate chaos is best left to ordinary people in local communities, rather than subcontracted to politicians who consistently demonstrate a lack of moral courage and conviction to do what is needed on this most pressing issue. It is good to know that as Christians we are compelled to act in a way that supports climate justice as a reflection of our service to God our creator.

Our vision of an ecological, sustainable and regenerative farm is now well under way. In partnerships with Southdowns National Park and Sussex Wildlife Trust, we have begun the exciting work of regenerating the farm by diversifying the ecological make-up of our 23 acres. We have fenced off 5 acres for the chalk grassland wild flower meadow and have cleared out tons of rubbish and detritus from the old derelict pond, reconnected it to the chalk stream ditch and now have the beginnings of an aquatic ecosystem that will add to the biodiversity and natural attraction of our farm. The Wild Ones, our flock of rare breed sheep continue to be our best ambassadors for visitors who love their colourful and friendly character. However, it has been a tough year for us. The summer was wet and warm, a perfect breeding ground for fly strike and worms, and we lost a number of our ewes, as well as lambs to strike and an overly heavy worm burden. Every year the sheep challenge us and bless us. We love them. 

Other highlights from 2021 are; the farmers market we do 3 times a month have been the best to date, with a turnover of in excess of £18,000. Our hogget and mutton are now well known and respected, alongside the yarn, sheepskin rugs and the seasonal veg we grow from the garden. We had the Great Barn roof repaired, which now makes for a water tight experience, our resident Barn Owls fledged two chicks at the start of September which has delighted us all and talking of roofs, we have begun the work of stripping off the roof tiles from the education centre, with a view to replacing the roof in the first half of next year.

The Chanctonbury Ring (click here to shop)

The Chanctonbury Ring
Fairtrade Silver Chanctonbury Ring. Supporting the Celtic Education Centre.

We launched the Chanctonbury Ring this year – a fair trade silver ring, designed by myself, using the fair-trade silver I have collected over the course of my work as an ethical jeweller – with the aim of raising funds for the Celtic Education centre. To find out more about the vision for our ecological education and community centre please click here, and of course do consider purchasing a ring and giving it a plug and push to all your contacts through social media.

2022 – a year of planting

If I was to use a single word to describe the new year ahead, it would be a year of PLANTING. The invisible work that we undertake to realise our call in Christ always comes to fruition in the material world. With 4.5 acres of Forest Garden, 5 acres of wild flower meadow, a newly restored pond, a community garden to maintain and new hedge lines to establish alongside the new fencing we have established all need to be planted over the course of this year. This equates to between 250 and 300 trees, all of which have been kindly donated by the Southdown’s National Park, Woodland Trust, members and individuals. 

Community Days

For those who wish to join in with the life of the community here at Chanctonbury, every last Saturday of the month we host an open community day. These days begin at 9.30 in the morning with welcome and a blessing, followed by working on the farm (there will be a lot of planting going on), community lunch in the Barn. We typically finish at 4.30. Everyone is welcome to join in with transforming St Columba’s Community Farm into an ecological and regenerative hot spot on the south coast.

The dates for our community days for 2022 are as follows;

  • 29 January
  • 26February
  • 26 March
  • 30 April
  • 28 May
  • 25 June
  • 30 July
  • 27 August
  • 24 September
  • 29 October
  • 26 November

Prayer Rhythm

Morning Prayer – if you wish to join in our Celtic morning prayers, they begin at 7.30am at 1 Holloway Cottage, BN44 3DR every morning Monday to Friday. Please come to the front door and ring the bell. If you drive in kindly park in the Chanctonbury Ring carpark, the house is directly opposite.

Evening Prayer – our rhythm of Friday evening prayers/Compline continues. If you would like to join us we gather every Friday evening at 7pm. During January and February, we shall be meeting at 1 Holloway Cottage, BN44 3DR with a view to relocating back to the barn when the weather begins to warm a little in early spring.

Membership Gatherings.

For those who are members of the Society we are announcing the start of our membership gatherings. At these we will be exploring what it means to be a new monastic community through the lens of our seven spiritual principles [link]. 

To Conclude.

Who knows what 2022 will bring for all of us. As I headlined, the old social expectations for our society and wider world have dissipated and there is no indication of a return to an old normal. So as people we must turn to each other and with kindness, service and great humility watch out for each other and for our wonderful planet. We are learning that as human beings we are not in control of the outcomes, but we can take responsibility for our inputs. So, may we bless one another with love and tolerance alongside the call to plant and sow into our land a colourful diversity that reflects the Kingdom of Heaven on earth.

On behalf of us all at St Columba’s – Greg Valerio

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