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Aylesford deliberations continue
09 September 2012

On Wednesday 5th September a meeting was held at "The Friars", Aylesford, to consider ideas for developing the Carmelite priory in Kent as a 'community of communities'.

Since its establishment in 1242 Aylesford Priory has held a special place in the affections of the Carmelite Order. It was here in 1247 that the hermits from Mount Carmel took steps that led to them becoming an order of mendicant friars. Dissolved as a religious community at the Reformation, "The Friars" returned to Carmelite hands in 1949, and since then has developed as one of the foremost pilgrimage and retreat centres in southeast England.

Aylesford Priory is a beautiful complex of medieval buildings on the River Medway

In order for Aylesford to better respond to the needs of the Church in the 21st Century, the British Province of Carmelites has begun a consultation process to consider options for development at "The Friars". This began at the Province AGM in April, and continued with a two-day consultation of some stakeholders in June.

One of the ideas endorsed by these meetings is to explore the idea of Aylesford developing as a 'community of communities'. At present it is home to a community of Carmelite friars, and spiritual home to other members of the Order including The Leaven Secular Institute and a chapter of the Carmelite Third Order. In addition there are many different groups connected to life at "The Friars" in a variety of ways.

Carmelite friars at Aylesford

Members of the Carmelite Third Order on pilgrimage to Aylesford

There is now a widespread feeling in the British Province that the idea of 'Carmelite Family' has matured to such an extent that it would be good to consider creative ways in which Aylesford's presence and ministries could diversify. It is proposed that Aylesford consider ways of becoming a 'community of communities', which would be sustainable into the future and develop further the priory's special role within the life of the wider Order both within the British Province and internationally.

Those who had taken part in the initial discussions about a 'community of communities' in June were invited to continue reflecting together in early September. They were mandated at the stakeholders' meeting to take forward a proposal to explore how 'Carmelite Family' might work in practice at Aylesford, and to carry out an audit of groups already present at "The Friars", distinguishing what is the difference between a 'group' and a 'community'.

The discussion group began its meeting by pondering God's Word in Scripture,
taking inspiration from the description of the early Church community
in The Acts of the Apostles.

Those taking part in the discussions were: Johan Bergström-Allen, T.O.C. (Carmelite Projects & Publications); Maggie Cascioli (The Friars Pastoral Team); Ros Duddell (Prior's Secretary); Brendan Grady, O.Carm. (Prior); Sheila Grimwood (The Friars Pastoral Team); Sylvia Lucas, T.O.C. (Aylesford Directors); Wilfrid McGreal, O.Carm. (Prior Provincial); Pat O'Keeffe (York community); Neil Scott, O.Carm. (Faversham community); Ged Walsh, O.Carm. (York community).

Having discussed the group's remit and procedures, the participants began by considering the key features that would be desirable in a 'community of communities'. As well as considering the idea in principle, the discussions also touched on some of the practicalities involved in terms of resourcing.

The Prior of Aylesford Fr. Brendan Grady (right)
in discussion with others in the group.

The consultation group is not in a position to make any decisions, but it will feedback recommendations to the Directors of Aylesford, to the friar community, and to the Provincial Council.

It was agreed to make further enquiries in a number of areas, including:

  • The ongoing development of the friar community is already being discussed by the community and the Provincial Council.
  • The development of a Carmelite Spirituality Group at Aylesford will be explored, bringing together friars, members of the Third Order, and anyone interested in the Carmelite way of life.
  • The exploration of how Aylesford and young adults might enhance ways of ministering together.

The 'community of communities' consultation group will meet again at Aylesford on 24th October.