A New Prioress and a New Millenium
On Mother Concordia’s retirement in 1999, the community elected Mother Nikola Proksch as the sixth Prioress of Minster.
Mother Nikola comes from Germany. Nikola first came to Minster on a working holiday when she was just 16, and was impressed by meeting “real” sisters and by the opportunity to join in the prayer of the community. She and other members of the family returned to Minster each summer. She felt a call to become a doctor and so began medical study in Germany. However, after some years as a medical student she felt a deepening call towards the monastic life at Minster. She made Solemn Vows in 1989. During her formation she was welcomed at the motherhouse of St. Walburga’s in Eichstatt while studying for a degree in theology. Her stay there further deepened her love for the monastic life and strengthened our bonds with our founding community. As well as working on the farm and in the Guest House Mother Nikola learned the art of habit making whilst working along with Sr. Domneva. As well as shepherding the community, she continues her work as seamstress and enthusiastically lends herself to all the daily tasks of the monastery.
Ecumenical Dialogue has always been an important part of the life at Minster Abbey. In the 1990s the Sisters began to work more closely with the Churches of Minster.
The community also continued to host the East-West Monastic Meetings, begun in response to Pope John Paul’s Apostolic Letter ‘Orientale Lumen’, in which the Holy Father encouraged monastic communities to foster dialogue with the Orthodox Churches. In 2005, and again in 2007, Minster welcomed large groups of Christians of the Syriac Tradition, both Orthodox and Catholic, many of whom had to flee from Iraq, to enjoy the beauty and peace of the Abbey with their families and to celebrate together.
For the great Jubilee year of 2000, ‘Christians Together’ prepared a programme of Millennium celebrations, among them the great mystery plays in St. Mary’s Church and the Pentecost Picnic in the Abbey grounds.
Development of Hospitality
An increasing number of priests were coming on retreat to Minster, and so in 2005 the community decided to create accommodation for visiting priests by transforming a disused garage/coal cellar into a small flat. The new room was named St. Theodore’s, after the 8th century Archbishop of Canterbury who consecrated St. Mildred.
The New Bethany Wing
In 2006 the “Bethany Wing” extension of the Guest House was opened. This enabled the community to accommodate people with disabilities and to welcome a greater number of individual guests and groups.
For more than thirty years the community of Minster have welcomed families of people with disabilities for an annual retreat. Contacts with L’Arche communities have been important for the community. The Sisters are blessed by those whom they welcome either for retreats, a time of rest or seeking a deeper experience of God in their lives.
Conversion of the Old Oast House
In 2009 the newly renovated grange barn and grounds were opened to the public as part of the hospitality offered by the community at Minster Abbey. The area was renamed “Parkminster”. These facilities for larger day groups have been in great demand and several charities and many volunteers including school groups have helped with the maintenance of the grounds there over the years.
In 2014 the Sisters welcomed Looking Ahead, a local organisation that offers work training skills for adults with learning needs. Looking Ahead run a wonderful café in the converted barn, take care of the grounds, make crafts to sell and offer a variety of art courses for the local community.
The community opened a photographic exhibition of the past 75 years of monastic life at Minster, in the Parkminster grange in 2012. The history of Minster Abbey and the life of the community over the years were presented through photographs, a video and music. This exhibition is part of the sister’s 75th anniversary celebration, offering the public an opportunity get to know the history and life of the Minster Abbey Community.
The 75th Anniversary of the Refoundation
Parkminster was the venue for a Picnic in the Park to celebrate the 75th Anniversary and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. A report from the Universe stated:
As part of the 75th Anniversary celebrations, in early June the grounds of Parkminster were opened for a “PICNIC IN THE PARK” where the sisters welcomed many friends and families from the local area to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, as well as the 75th Anniversary of the refoundation. It was a beautiful sunny day where old and young celebrated together in the gardens. A group of young people from the local Bruderhoff community made beautiful floral crowns for everyone using wild flowers from the meadow. The local MP joined them in the afternoon for a service of Thanksgiving and the local Anglican parish priest gave a heart-warming tribute to the Minster community for their hidden, prayerful presence in the village for over 75 years.
On July 15, 2012 Minster Abbey celebrated 75 years since their refoundation in 1937. The Mass for the Feast of St. Mildred was celebrated with special solemnity. Held at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, the site of the first monastery, it was attended by many friends from near and far, who had supported the community over the years.
Signs of New Growth
In 2016 the community sold the bungalow which was used as part of the Guest House accommodation and purchased St Anne’s chalet, which is closer to the Abbey. This allows the community to welcome guests and retreatants in a more private setting. It is, as well, a delightful hideaway for the sisters to have their break.
The Guest House with its Bethany wing has been blessed with many new and varied groups, and the number of day groups has steadily increased. Parkminster tea rooms will be opening up once the warmer weather arrives. A room near the entrance to the Parkminster gardens was recently cleared and renovated by some friends of the community. The sisters plan to use this as a reflective space where visitors will be able to sit quietly before taking a “contemplative walk” around the gardens.
The farm with our small flock of sheep, as well as a large vegetable garden and orchards continue to be busy places of work. The gardening sisters provide the community with many varieties of home-grown organic vegetables and fruit. Recently the Sisters increased the number of grazing paddocks so that they can offer more people tenancies for horse grazing. The combination of sheep and horses provide rich agricultural soil, and at the same time create additional income.
The community continues to receive new candidates seeking God in the monastic life. Some of these women have made a permanent commitment through solemn monastic profession in our community. Others have discovered that their vocation is elsewhere. The community has been enriched by each person who has come to Minster, each bringing their own particular gifts and skills. Some women have come from Britain and others have come from abroad. This “internationality” continues to be one the characteristics of the Minster Abbey community.
The sisters are particularly inspired by the recent encyclical “Laudato si”. In response to this, the most recent project is to have solar energy panels installed at the Abbey. This plan is very much in keeping with the Church’s and Pope Francis’ emphasis on care of the environment and building a sustainable future for all. We hope our solar panels, which will be situated in a paddock, will provide green electricity for the Abbey, the Guest House and Parkminster.
“May our love for our Common Home give us courage to continue to care for it in whatever way we can.”
The Challenges of Covid:
An Experience of Solidarity
During the COVID pandemic the community was united in prayer with all those suffering throughout the world. It was a time when many people were questioning and turning to prayer. As a response the community decided to livestream some of the Divine Office. A few sisters got involved in making scrubs for the NHS and engaged in creating ways of outreach, such as the Living Joyfully days when various Religious met together with school groups via Zoom.
The guest house had to remain closed for more than a year. During this time the community learned new ways of utilizing modern technology as a way of living monastic hospitality, particularly in our care for our neighbours, friends, guests and loved ones. In 2021 the community began the process of redesigning their web site.
Today, in 2022, there are eleven Sisters from several different countries in the community at Minster Abbey. In their life together, they strive to follow the inspiration of the holy foundresses of the 7th century and the courageous Sisters who brought monastic life back to Minster in 1937.
“Do not be afraid little flock for it has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom of heaven” from the Gospel of the Feast of St. Mildred, (Luke 12:32)