Society St Columba – Membership Exploration

We pray that everyone is well. Now we are fully into 2021 and trust you are coping with lockdown living. Below you will find a short invitation letter from our Co-Chairs inviting you to join a St Columba Zoom call that we are hosting regarding what Membership of the Society is looking like. Additionally we are publishing a summary of our 5 year plan for the development of the Society as a whole, as well as for St Columba’s Community Farm.

Dear Friend,

I am writing to you as you are someone who has been involved with or shown an interest in The Society of St Columba and Columba’s Barn Community Benefit Society.  2020 was the oddest of odd years for us all.  But the Society’s dream became a tangible reality as just before Covid19 and lockdowns hit the world, we took possession of Great Barn Farm. 

Now as we move into 2021 the Society is entering an exciting new phase.  Although the work of the farm and the development of the Society has been taking place mostly under the radar in 2020 it has been happening.  Now we need bring all our supporters together so we can journey together into this new phase.  So please join us at a (virtual) meeting to hear about what is currently happening and about the Vision for the next 5 years we have been developing.  We are excited to share a summary of the Vision with you with this email, and we will talk more about that at a Vision Launch Meeting which will take place on Saturday 6th March 10-11.30 am by Zoom.   

If you would like to join us please reply to this email address info@st-columba.com and we will let you have the Zoom link.  We do hope you will join us!  


Caroline Armitage and Rev. Bev Thomas


Society St Columba & Columba’s Barn Community Benefit Society Ltd.

Creating a 5-year Vision 

Let Your Daily Labours be Three – Prayer, Work and Reading

The Rule of Columbcille

Thus says the Lord:  Stand at the crossroads, and look,  and ask for the ancient paths,  where the good way lies; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. 

Jeremiah 6:16


This document is brief introduction to and summary of a 5-year Vision document for the Society which is currently in the process of preparation and which will form the basis for the next phase of our growth as a community.

We stand at a crossroads, a group of people who have joined this journey at different times and who come from different traditions, Christian perspectives and cultural backgrounds.   As a Society we are faced with a number of challenges. Firstly, to retain the spiritual calling that God placed upon what became known as The Society of St. Columba. A call to ‘start again from the land up’. Secondly, to pursue as pure an essence of early Celtic Monastic spirituality as is possible in these complex and aggressively secular days.  This is not an easy task, and as such the language in this document will appear to be a blend of spiritual and more formal language. We hope it works.

As practicing Christians, we have a faith rooted in the confession that God is Creator, and that Jesus is the foundational Word from which all of creation was formed and The Society of St Columba is dedicated to demonstrating that following Jesus makes total common sense, is good for the soul, good for rebuilding and strengthening community, protecting our planet and that there is a way to live and love that can work with the natural world. 

SSC is the charitable and spiritual organisation which reflects these principles.  The objects which legally express these principles have been developed and are now expressed as:

  • To advance the Christian Faith for the benefit of the public by fostering spiritual development and in accordance with the Statement of Faith appearing in the Schedule to the Articles of Association and in particular by the practice of prayer, devotional work and devotional learning
  • In the context of the objects [at 2.1] and in acknowledgement of the beauty of God’s creation and humankind’s responsibilities towards it, in Christian understanding of God’s salvation of all of creation, to educate through study, engagement and practice, and encourage and promote to the general public (in particular young people and those in need) all matters relating to conservation of the environment, social and ecological justice and aiding the understanding of their impact on each other and the natural environment
  • To enable and encourage the conservation, including sustainable farming, of natural resources and habitats in accordance with the moral principles and the spirt of love that authenticates the Christian faith, for the public benefit of those of all faiths and none.

This document tries to show how we can continue our journey to live this out in our lives as a community in the space we have been granted at St Columba’s Community Farm in Chanctonbury over the next few years.

Our History

The origins of the Society of St Columba (SSC) are in prayer. That grew to gain practical expression in the plan to begin the process of taking on, renewing, restoring and repurposing Great Barn Farm as a centre for the community and an expression of its principles in practice.  That journey has taken 5 years during which time the community has focussed in a dispersed way around projects such as nurturing the Wild Ones flock, occasional forays with Columba’s Kitchen, and the joining together in Night Prayers at various locations across West Sussex.

In 2016 SSC launched Columba’s Barn Community Benefit Society (CBS) a ‘mutual’ that best expresses how we as a Society wish to create and deliver an economy that is focussed on the common good not just for our own farmstead and the livelihoods of our members, but also for the wider community, creation and the land.  Members of the CBS do not have to hold to our Christian faith but to accept our purpose. 

A year ago, SSC and the CBS jointly, as of February 2020 are now in possession of 30-year tenancies on the farmland and the heritage farm buildings. 

Setting our Spiritual Principles

Setting the spiritual undergirding of the Society will be vital for our flourishing.  These are the Seven Spiritual Principles we would like to discuss for the Society St Columba

  • Prayer
    • Work as a devotional activity 
    • Reading – growing in wisdom
    • Place
    • Sabbath
    • Silence
    • Pilgrimage

Our Guiding Framework

What we do needs to fit within a coherent framework.  We have identified three overarching themes

  1. Celtic New Monasticism

Celtic is used to describe the contribution of the Church tradition that emerged in Britain and Ireland from the middle of the 4th century, as developed in the UK over the last 30 years.  We stand on the shoulders of these giants, giants of our land and faith.

Imitation of Christ: anchored in the primary call ‘To Come Follow Me’ and be a disciple.

Ecumenical: recognising and respecting that within the Body of Christ there are many views as to ecclesiology and tradition, we honour our own and each other’s traditions 

Hospitality: the spiritual discipline and command of Jesus to welcome all of humanity and creation to your table. 

2. Our Place in the Land

SSC is both locally based in and around Chanctonbury in West Sussex, England and a dispersed extra-local community.Community centred around St Columba’s farm where we can learn to live ‘with’ and ‘alongside’ the natural world in a harmonious and productive fashion and will be the Mother House of the Society. 

Where we live (extra-local).  Those being not able to live in or close to Chanctonbury and the Mother House does not diminish contribution to the vitality that is emerging within SSC and provides links across the land. 

3. Creation

Jesus is the breath of life that sustains all living things on this amazing, rich and ecologically diverse planet. That faith should be the faith of preserving our planet and at the vanguard of protecting our world from the ecologically devastating philosophies that view the resources and life on our planet as commodities to used and profited from through unsustainable economic practices.

St Columba’s Community Farm (Our missional intention)

SSC has secured planning application approval from SDNP planning authority to create an ecumenical prayer and retreat centre and working farm.   Our vision for St Columba’s Farm is straight forward. As the Mother House of SSC, it plays the role of home, spiritual nurturing, training and a working model of integrated holistic Christian living, that can in time be replicated.  The farm is community in creation and a place where we model and mentor our spiritual principles by Discipleship, Training in creation and Replication. A place where we establish a small working community, where all is in the context of a growing wild life habitat, flourishing ecology, and in the working context of an active and functioning farm. 

  • St Columba’s Barn
  • The Great Barn (including St Columba’s Chapel, Community Kitchen and Community Space
  • Celtic Learning Centre 
  • Retreat Rooms
  • Workshops
  • Pilgrims Hostel
  • Residential Accommodation:
  • Farming: St Columba’s Farm is a working small-holding farmstead. This is a vital component to the long-term economic sustainability of the life of the community including a developing gift economy. Our initial activities
    • Livestock – Currently Sheep, Bees & Quail.
    • The Chanctonbury Gardens (Forest Garden and Community Veg Garden) No-dig gardening maximising the quality of our soil, and no pesticides 
  • Education & Learning – The Celtic Centre – Celtic stands for Christian, Education, Learning, Training and Innovation Centre dedicated to participatory education and learning for all in. 
  • Urban to Rural. A commitment to work to build understanding, connection and relationship across this apparent divide. 
  • Spiritual Formation and Theological Exploration through Simplicity & Slowness 

How can I be involved?

We recognise that different people will be called to different levels of involvement and at different times of their journey may circle in and out of the ‘labyrinth’ of involvement.  It is important to recognise that as a legally constituted charity we need to reflect this in our ‘membership’ structure.

We have identified three broad categories which we propose reflect those different phases on the journey and also ‘fit’ within the framework within which we operate

Followers (SSC): those who are intentionally committed to outworking the seven spiritual principles in their lives in active participation in the life of the community, St Columba’s Farm @ Chanctonbury (when able to physically do so) and financial giving.  Pledges of financial giving (however small – the ‘widow’s mite’) are seen as a commitment to the New Monastic Christian principles of sharing of worldly possessions which underpin the Celtic New Monasticism which is at the foundation of the Society. Followers will be the legal ‘Members’ of the Society through making an annual Affirmation of Commitment according to the Liturgy which will be developed and adopted by the Society and make a  committed annual financial pledge during their membership.

Friend (SSC): A friend is someone who wishes to associate with SSC, may be thinking and/or discerning whether to become a ‘follower’ but who is in a place where a full commitment is possible or appropriate 

Shareholder (CBS): Our CBS is a mutual cooperative financial association open to all, and involves becoming a shareholder in the CBS. It is a separate legal entity and the relationship between the CBS and the Society is to be governed by a Cooperation Agreement.  In addition, 2 members of the governing bodies of the organisations sit on both bodies.  Each of the Society and the CBS have a majority of independent Trustees / Board Members

Our Governance (including the legal bit) 

The Society is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation under the Charities Act 2011.  Leadership is construed as ‘in service’ to God, creation and the intentional community.  Leadership of the Society is held jointly between the Trustees and the Spiritual Leader 

The Trustees (who must be Followers) are appointed by the Followers.  Usually that will be for a 3-year term with an expectation that Trustees they will serve 2 x 3-year terms, and occasionally, if beneficial for the Society further annual terms up to a maximum of 9 years.  The Trustee body will appoint a Chair (which may be held on a Co-Chair basis if appropriate). The Spiritual Leader will be a Trustee but cannot be a Chair, to ensure sufficient independent accountability.  The Trustees have oversight of the Society under Charity law.

The Spiritual Leadership follows an ‘Abbatical’ model under which the Followers appoint a Leader who is expected to embody the seven spiritual principles.  Abbatical service is accompanying and encouraging the community on this walk.  The Spiritual Leader will be appointed every 2 years, and will be accountable to the Trustees for the duration of their term. This model of leadership is reflective of that practised in Celtic New Monasticism and like that of the original Celtic monasteries is intentionally not episcopal or hierarchical  

Next Steps

2021 is a pivotal year in which we move forward into a new phase based on a secure foundation based, solid spiritual principles, and with a creational focus and a missional praxis.

It will continue to be developed on the basis of this Vision and in conversation with each other of which the initial 2021 Vision Launch Zoom is the next step.  We will then look for feedback from those who are currently on this journey.  Our intention then is to meet together in a facilitated Workshop in late Spring 2021.  We aim to reach a place of commitment for Followers in the middle of summer 2021.  

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