Extended stay at Yorkshire monastery brings many blessings

Good Samaritan Sister Christine Manning arrived at Stanbrook Abbey, North Yorkshire in November 2019 for a five-month sabbatical, however, she did not expect she would be there nine months later.

Stanbrook is a community of Benedictine nuns. “The Sisters very graciously accepted me into their community and have shared their home with me most hospitably,” Christine said. 

“The monastery is located on a hill on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors and overlooks the Vale of York. The beauty of the countryside is breathtaking and having the North Yorkshire National Park at the back gate of the monastery is a wonderful gift.

“The monastery property includes a number of fields, which a local farmer rents for grazing his sheep. We have the joy of watching newborn lambs and their mother ewes over time as the lambs grow into energetic adolescents.”

The spread of the coronavirus and the consequent risks associated with travel meant that Christine’s stay was extended beyond her anticipated departure date of May 2. “As I was in a safe environment, we decided it was wise to remain for some time,” she said. “As my leave to stay in the UK has since expired, I have a ticket to return to Australia on September 8.”

The monastery is observing the lockdown restrictions imposed by the UK Government in March this year. “The few people employed here were advised not to come to work,” Christine said. “All shopping is done online and delivered to the monastery. The Sisters do not travel unless to appointments.”

No visitors are admitted to the monastery, which has been particularly hard for local Catholics who came to the Abbey Church for the celebration of Eucharist. Christine said there has been some easing of restrictions, which means that the people employed at the monastery have returned to work.

“The anxiety experienced by the Sisters regarding the pandemic has been for the people who have contracted it, for those attending to them and for all those affected by it,” Christine said. “They are very conscious of the danger it poses for everyone. They have been most observant of the protocols introduced to limit the spread of the virus.

“The fact that we are already a somewhat isolated community reduces the risk of contracting the virus. Also, being a community means we have the support of each other and can live our lives relatively normally.”

Christine said being away from her own community and home at this time had brought a level of anxiety and uncertainty. “The way the virus spreads and the worldwide extent of its reach made making wise decisions difficult. This situation has no precedent and therefore what the future holds is unknown.

“However, I am very grateful for the contact and support I have received from my Good Sam Sisters, my family and friends, and from the community here at Stanbrook. The care, listening ear, ready assistance and wise companionship of the people around me lightened the whole experience for me.”

Christine said the blessings of this time of sabbatical, including the extra time due to the pandemic, were many. “Being included in every aspect of life here at Stanbrook has enabled me to grow close to the Sisters. The prayerful rhythm of daily life in the monastery, the simplicity, quiet and mutual support of this life brings deep peace and joy to my heart.

“The beauty of the location with the sweep of the Vale of York as the view from my cell and the forest at the back gate for me to enjoy ensures each day holds many delights to savour.”

Published in The Good Oil, August 2020.