A Place to be Real Together

Impressions of Othona: Aug 2015 to Feb 2016

Six months ago I became a member of the core community here. The time since then has been a huge experience for me, and what follows can only be a snapshot. I offer this as a selection of the memories that stay with me most strongly from the last half-year at Othona. There could be so much else to include! And much, much more that I've forgotten.

All along, what has stood out most for me has been the richness of this place. I arrived in August, halfway through the round of summer events, as an 'Astronomy Week' event was underway. From that first week, looking at the stars and planets through a telescope and listening to professional astronomer Roger's talks, I remember the dizzying sense of how vast this universe is. I remember the energy of a 'Let’s Make a Musical' week, when, with the help of songwriter Joanna Eden, a small group of children and adults created a piece of musical theatre from scratch.

Later on, through the autumn there are memories of candles glowing through the chapel from the chandeliers as a day of singing ended with chanting into the night. A few months later, I remember sitting in the same chapel, gripped by the urgency and broad-mindedness of John Philip Newell's vision of the 'Rebirthing of God'. His weekend course stirred us with its image of a renewed Christianity, founded, like the Celtic Church of old, in a sense of the sacred in each person and in the world around us. In December a cloth labyrinth covered almost all the chapel floor for one of our 'One World Worship' services. Nickie and Nigel, who will be back to lead a labyrinth retreat over Easter, invited us to reflect on our own journey through the winter and into the new year as the path guided us, turn by turn, twist by twist, into the centre.

And there have been so many more events: dancing weeks, writing retreats, energy-filled singing weekends... The visitors who have come to join the community here have brought such gifts, whether in music, in poetry, art, or in the art of community-building itself. I value the different views on world events, on spirituality and life's journey that I have heard round the dinner table, over cups of tea or beside the fire in the evening.

As autumn has turned to winter, when weeks pass without events here, I have learned that there is something full and rich about Othona at the times of quiet too. The practice of living and working, week on week, with a small core group of people has probably taught me more than anything else here so far. And after half a year the Dorset landscape still amazes me. It has been a source of strength to sit in our wooden shelter out in the grounds, our 'pagoda', and just breathe with the sound of the sea as the sun goes down. The coast paths and the views from the hills have woken me up on my days off. And just odd moments outside stick in my mind: even this morning, just walking to the bus-stop while the sun rose behind Portland and the frost still weighed on the grass. This is a special place.

As the seasons have turned, these months have also been a time of changes, of comings and goings, in our core community. Antje joined us in November. Our new housekeeper, she brings a wealth of experience from the L'Arche and Iona Communities. As I write this, we will soon be joined by Caroline, who will be taking on our office role. We still wait for a new caterer and new short-term core members. On the other side, last autumn we wished Ellie, Kimbers, Corrina and Juliet good luck for the next steps on their journeys. Katherine, our caterer for much of the last year, is moving on in March and goes with our gratitiude and high hopes for her new job in London..

It is sad to say goodbye to many of the people who first welcomed me here. But it has been a privilege to work in such a shifting, varied team. Othona seems always to be full of a sense of new beginnings. In seeing core members take their next steps after Othona, there is a feeling that this place can be an important staging post in people's lives. Certainly I can say already that Othona has been a place of learning for me. There is a world of practical tasks here to stretch me and challenge me: the cooking, the housekeeping, giving the notices, chairing meetings, facilitating welcome sessions. Living in community, in a 'place to be real together', has started to show me, more sharply than I've seen before, how my instincts tend to work in a group setting. There are times when it feels easy to give to others, to draw nourishment from Othona. There are situations that feel much more strained and confusing, that kick against my ingrained behaviours and ways of thinking. It is not always easy, but I value that kind of learning.

So I am grateful for all that this fabulous, colourful place has given me. As our spring programme starts, and the cycle of arrivals days and farewells quickens towards the summer, I look forward to the months to come.