After breakfast, at the Tankerville Arms Hotel in Wooler, (located in Northumberland, in northern England), we carpooled to the home of Roy Searle where Roy shared his journey and how his knowledge of Celtic Christianity has made an impact on his life and ministry. For example, when he first started as a young minister from an evangelical perspective in a very poor area, he was part of a team that “surveyed the residents” to listen and see if they could identify ministry opportunities. The results were not at all what were expected. Two of the needs were a community butcher and a pharmacy, (or chemist, as it is called in England). As a result, in the Celtic tradition of listening to where God is at work, they arranged for a butcher to come and on certain days be available to the residents. They also arranged for pharmaceutical delivery to those in need. This made an impression on the residents; they knew the Christians had listened to their needs. A Celtic tradition was to listen to the heartbeat of God by listening to people, which is also a pattern seen in the Gospel of John.
Roy reminded us that the early Celtic monastic settlements were built with wood. This is because as children of Abraham, they were seen as a wandering people. They did have on distinctive permanent large stone cross with scenes of the Gospel, especially from the Gospel of John. Another one of the mind set aspects of the Celts was in effect seeing non Christians as “not yet Christians”, inviting them to belong… much like Jesus did when He invited people to “come and see”.
The time of Celts spans the time of paganism, neo paganism, druidic and occultic. This time period and Celtic culture that didn’t sacrifice its culture made it possible for all of the non Christian Celtic people to be assimilated into Christianity. They didn’t go in to obliterate culture but to redeem culture. They did community where we tend to do meetings. It was an expression as seen in the Gospel of John, where the secular and sacred had no division. The sense of community and life was seen as a whole with no division.
The Northumberland Community came out of reflection of their life stories. As a result, there are only two rules in the community:
- Availability. This would be available first to God, others, intercession and wandering for the cause of Christ (listening).
- Vulnerability. This would include embracing being teachable, open to constructive criticism. Also, to let others speak into your lives, to question the status quo and to see relationships as more important than reputation.
Finally, seeing urban mission as bringing beauty where there was ugliness.
The road to the tidal island of Lindisfarne
The Celtic Trail team left for the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne, which some consider the cradle of Christianity [in England]. The period of the first monastery is referred to as the “Golden Age” of Lindisfarne. Aidan and his monks came from the Irish monastery of Iona and with the support of King Oswald (based at nearby Bamburgh) worked as missionaries among the pagan English of Northumbria.
The ruins of the Lindisfarne Abbey
In their monastery they set up the first known school in this area and introduced the arts of reading and writing, the Latin language and the Bible and other Christian books (all in Latin). They trained boys as practical missionaries who later went out over much of England to spread the Gospel. Aidan also encouraged women to become nuns and girls to receive education but not in this monastery. In time Lindisfarne became known for its skill in Christian art of which the Lindisfarne Gospels are the most beautiful surviving example.
We stayed at the new Acton Mother House in Northumbria. This island, which is available by road when the tide goes out, is where Aiden, a disciple of Columba, came and ministered. While on the Holy Isle of Lindisfarne we toured the Monastic Abby, listened to a lecture on the life of Aiden and looked at the ancient artwork and images of the area.
This was the end of our Celtic Trail in 2011 (the second one for me). Thank you for joining us virtually on this pilgrimage into Celtic spirituality. If you have never visited Iona or Lindisfarne, you should plan to do so, at least one in a lifetime. I assure you it is really worth it.
In this and in the following posts, the text in BLACK is by Michael Carlisle, one of our colleagues on the Celtic Trail, and the text in BLUE contains my comments.