French monks inspire new community in Lancaster

The Walker family
The Walker family

A former care home near Lancaster is being transformed into a commune style living space based on the religious teachings of French monks.

Andy and Anna Walker set up Lunesdale Community at the former Abbeyfield Care Home in Halton in October “to share the flows of life with other people”.

Lunesdale Community in Beech Road

Lunesdale Community in Beech Road

The set up is based on the teachings of the Taize Community, which originated in Burgundy in 1940, and today welcomes more than 100,000 young pilgrims per year.

The couple lived in Helsinki, Finland, for 10 years, before starting their quest to settle down with their two children and provide a space for “ecumenical contemplation and study”.

They will be welcoming people from from all over Europe for prayer, meditation and community activity.

The couple say they have already made in-roads into the community, building relations with the United Reformed Church and St Wilfrid’s Church in Halton, and the chaplaincy centre at Lancaster University, where Andy works.

Andy, 38, from Glasgow and Anna, 37, from Helsinki, met while volunteering at the Taize Community monanstary in 1997.

He said: “When we left France, we moved to Finland but we were never able to shake off this idea of community living.

“I had this dream of trying to take the values and ideas from Taize and bring it out into the world.

“As many dreams go, you idly think, what if?

“And then fate brought us here.

“We moved to Carlisle from Finland, and I started an MA at Lancaster University so we moved to Lancaster.

“We’ve been very interested in the Halton Co-Housing and we have a few friends there.

“Then I saw this place, with the right sort of space, practical and affordable.

“We came and had a look, put in an offer, and we were quite surprised that it was accepted.

“It’s a big house and is perfect for what we need.”

Inside there is a chapel and adjoining dining room, kitchen, and living and ancillary space.

Andy explained that Abbeyfield has enough space for two or three families, and two or more couples, with around a dozen bedrooms in total.

He said: “This place allows us to say that we can have people come and live together with us.

“The Taize community is quite special, it’s ecumenical, and welcomes people from all different Christian denominations.

“We don’t have a requirement that someone has to be a Christian, but our style draws from that tradition and we’d expect people to be comfortable with that and want to participate.

“In a way we’re taking the monastic pattern in a loose form.

“There’s no preaching, it’s very meditative, with a period of silence in the middle of the prayer.

We’re not being told what to believe, it’s not about converting people, it’s about allowing people to share their own experiences, and just to reflect on their own life together.”

Andy described the Lunesdale Community as an ecumenical centre for comtemplation and study, which means those that live or stay there take time to get to know themselves and eachother in relation to God, and have an interest in a more academic way.

“So many of us are so isolated, modern life pushes us into very insular situations,” Andy said.

“On one hand technology makes us feel more connected, but that’s because many don’t know any different.

“It’s a way of sharing the flows of life with other people. Having more human contact, being able to get to know eachother well.

“But also to have that structure to life.

“We would try not to do tasks alone, and allow more time for eachother.

“From an ecological point of view we have an opportunity to reduce our footprint.

“Simplicity is an important word, and it’s something that ties in with monastic vows.

“We can make life seem quite complicated, but what we need is really quite simple.”

This week the Lunesdale Community will welcome three young people from Germany to stay for a month.

Andy said they would be participating in prayer, but also getting involved in the wider community, working in food banks and visiting the elderly or vulnerable.

Andy added: “We’re quite low key and see this as primarily our home.

“We see ourselves as part of regular society, not separate from it.

“We’re open for people to drop in and join us for prayer and we have a young adults’ weekend between February 19 - 21.

“Anyone wishing to join us can send an e-mail to community@lunesdale.community.

“The house is also open for evening prayer at 8pm between Sunday and Thursday every week.”

See Lunesdale Community on Facebook for further information.