In 1991, when we in the SSJE celebrated the 125th anniversary of our founding, the whole SSJE community made a pilgrimage to England and Scotland to visit places where the Society worked or had once worked, and other significant Anglican sites. One of these was Little Gidding. We stopped there for lunch on our way to Oxford and saw the place where Nicholas Ferrar had lived in the 17th Century with his little community. Today is his feast day.
The Christian Community of Little Gidding was not a monastic community, such as the SSJE, or any other communities as we know them today. It followed the lines more common to that era of being a “Godly Family”. It continued as a community for only a few years, yet we can be thankful for the example they left us of Godly life and dedication.
The Community at Little Gidding began in 1625 when Nicholas Ferrar returned to England from five years in Europe. With an inheritance he bought the manor house in the village of Little Gidding, Huntingdonshire. There Nicholas, his brother and sister and their families, and their mother, organized as a Christian Community.
On the grounds of the manor was a small church which had been used as a barn, and had fallen into ruin. This they renovated and used for their family devotions, morning, noon and evening.
About a year later Nicholas was ordained Deacon by Abp. William Laud. The devotions that they used were the Daily Offices of the Book of Common Prayer. They also ministered to the poor and had regular services on Sundays and Feasts.
Nicholas died in 1637. After that the community only lasted a few more years. Nicholas’ letters and papers were burned by the Puritans in 1646.
One of the high points of our visit as the SSJE in 1991 was the chapel where we saw engraved on one of the walls the well known lines from T.S. Elliot’s poem “Little Gidding”: “You are not here to verify… You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more than the order of words…or the sound of the voice praying.” That was an experience not soon forgotten!
What experiences have you had when your prayer has been valid, or a spiritual experience has been especially real?
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