Thursday, December 1, 2011

Blessed Nicholas Ferrar (1592-1637): Deacon & Founder of the Little Gidding Community

The inspiration for the Little Gidding Community, as well as its modern expression: the Community of Christ the Sower, came from two remarkable 17th century Christians: Nicholas Ferrar and George Herbert. In 1626 Ferrar, having been educated at Clare Hall, now Clare College, Cambridge, and having made his way in the world as a successful businessman and politician, established a Christian community at Little Gidding, a deserted hamlet in the Huntingdonshire Wolds. The community was based on his own extended family, his mother and elder brother and sister with their respective families forming the core. The old manor house and church were restored, and the community followed a simple pattern of daily worship, labor and fellowship.

George Herbert, renowned British priest-poet and hymn writer, was a contemporary and close friend of Nicholas Ferrar and supported and advised him in the Little Gidding community experiment. Herbert himself had been an ambitious politician and became prebend of Leighton Bromswold, a parish located five miles south of Little Gidding. There Herbert sought to initiate a similar pattern of living and worship within his own vicarage and parish church.

Ferrar and Herbert were deeply convinced that all Christians, whatever their station in life or personal circumstances, were called to a life a regular corporate prayer and intimate spiritual fellowship -- not just monks, nuns and priests. In this they were responding to a vision central to the English Reformation. The simple pattern of daily worship followed the Book of Common Prayer's Morning and Evening Prayer, as condensed and reworked by Thomas Cranmer and his colleagues from the old monastic offices. Both Ferrar and Herbert, in their own individual familial and parish contexts, tried to express this vision in practice: the same vision which later brought into reality the Community of Christ the Sower.

In 1977 a charitable trust bought the old Little Gidding farmhouse, next to the chapel used by the community, and began to build houses around the old farm courtyard. Presently, a group of about 25 people live there, working a small farm and running various workshops and research projects. Other Community members live either in nearby villages or scattered across the country. In 1986 the old manor house at Leighton Bromswold, next to the church, became a community guest house. Originally built by the Duchess of Lennox, George Herbert's patron and supporter, it housed guests who came to visit the Ferrars.

Today the basis of the Community's life is a short service of daily prayer and a simple weekly Communion service, usually held on Saturday evening, sometimes in mid-week. This enables members to still participate in their own parish churches. As many members as are able at Little Gidding and Leighton Bromswold gather for morning prayer. The service is simply designed so that those who work or have young children can easily pray it on their own. In addition, the members meet together each week in groups to share an agape meal. There are also four special yearly services, marking different aspects of the community's life, for which all the members try to come together.

We can catch a glimpse of the simplicity of the Little Gidding Community's prayer life in their Prayer Book's Daily Prayer:

President:  With one voice we give praise to God
People:       To him be eternal glory.
Psalm from the Old Testament
Psalm from the New Testament

President:  We proclaim the good news of God.
People:       May his word dwell in our hearts.
Reading from the Old Testament
Reading from the New Testament
Time of silence

President:   Lord teach us to pray.
The Lord's Prayer
Free prayer
Collect for the week

President:  Let us seek to follow the way of Christ in all we do.
People:       May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all. Amen. 

1 comment:

P Skirrow said...

Please forgive my intrusion but I need to observe that the Community of Christ the Sower was disbanded in 1997 following the intervention of the The Charity Commission.
Since then the Little Gidding Trust has rub Ferrar House as a Retreat Centre -

Revd P Skirrow. Hon Warden