On August 24-28, 2015, I am on retreat with The Community of Aidan and Hilda at the Open Door Retreat Center on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, in Northumbria, UK. This retreat, on the life and legacy of St. Aidan and St. Hilda, is led by Ray Simpson, an English pastor and co-founder of the Community of Aidan and Hilda.
What is the Community of Aidan and Hilda? Founded in 1994 by Ray Simpson and a few others, The Community of Aidan and Hilda is a worldwide fellowship who live by what they call a Way of Life. Ray writes, “Before all else we seek to be wholly available to the Holy Trinity and committed to the way of Jesus as revealed to us in the Bible.”[i] This Christian community draws inspiration from Celtic saints, such as Aidan (d. 651) and Hilda (614–680). They seek to renew the Church by inspiring Christians and seekers alike to look for “a fresh way of living an age-old faith.”
Three Life-Giving Principles of the Community of Aidan and Hilda They uphold three life-giving principles or vows: 1) Simplicity: “the willingness to be rich or poor for God, resist the temptation to be greedy or possessive . . . and bold in using all we have for God.” 2) Purity: “accepting and giving to God our whole being, including our sexuality. We love all people as Christ commands, but the specific emotions and intimacy of sexual relations are expressed only in married life.” 3) Obedience: “the joyful abandonment of ourselves to God. The root of obedience is attentive listening.” The Community of Aidan and Hilda is committed to spiritual growth through the ministry of a “soul-friend” or “anam-chara”, or a wise, Christian mentor. “A soul-friend needs to be a mature Christian who is in sympathy with the aims of the Community. Each member of this Community will have a soul-friend to work with them in developing an application of a Way of Life that is personally suited to them.”
The Ten Elements of the Way of the Community of Aidan and Hilda The Community of Aidan and Hilda follow their Way of Life according to the following ten waymarks, or areas of life and Christian spiritual formation.
- Life-long learning: including daily Bible reading, memorization of Scripture, learning the Bible through the creative arts, and study of Celtic history and application of the Celtic Christian way of life, learned from such saints as Aidan, Brigid, Caedmon, Columba, Cuthbert, David, Hilda, Oswald and Patrick.
- Spiritual Journey: including meeting regularly with a soul-friend for guidance, going on regular spiritual retreat for days of quiet prayer and reflection, and pilgrimage to walk in the footsteps of Christ.
- A Rhythm of Prayer, Work and Recreation: including developing a regular discipline of prayer including daily patterns of praying together, and willingness to learn new ways of praying; work as a gift from God, and seeing God in regular routine activities of life or employment; rest and recreation as valuable as prayer and work with rest as holy and creative.
- Spiritual Initiatives through Intercession: including pouring out of our prayers and pouring out of our lives; following the intercessory example of Cuthbert and other Celtic saints who devoted themselves to a life of intercessory prayer.
- Simple Lifestyle: including “living simply that others may simply live”; avoiding any judgment of others; recognizing a community responsibility to hold our income and possessions before God; know ourselves as stewards not possessors and make our material possessions and finances available to God as he requires.
- Care for Creation: including respect of nature, committed to seeing creation cared for and restored; aiming to be ecologically aware; praying for God’s creation and God’s creatures; standing against all that would seek to violate or destroy what God has made; seeking to meet God through his creation; to bless creation and celebrate God’s gift in creation.
- Healing Fragmented People and Communities: including “renouncing the spirit of self-sufficient autonomy; committed to a holistic approach to ministry and healing; laying hands on the sick and pray for their healing; laying hands on “every part of God’s world in order to bless it and recognize its right to wholeness in Christ; seeking to become more fully human as we grow in Christ.
- Openness to God’s Spirit: including “allowing God to take us where the Spirit wills, whether by gentle breeze or wild wind”; openness to the leading of the Spirit through the gift of prophecy, learning to listen, cultivating an inner silence, “to respond to unexpected or disturbing promptings of God”, and to “widen our horizons . . . and “to see and hear God through his creation.”
- Unity: including affirming the universal Church, repenting of our schisms, looking upon all fellow Christians not as strangers but as pilgrims together, respecting all denominations, resisting all gossip and destructive talk about others, resisting “things that damage the unity of Christ’s body, and desiring “the healing of people’s divided by class, color or creed, and repenting of our own part in these divisions.”
- Mission: Finally, the goal of the Community of Aidan and Hilda is “to develop a disciplined spirituality that will make us effective in our witness to Christ in the world,” to seek to share our faith wherever opportunity is given; “asking God to work through us in signs and wonders for his glory, not ours”; “speaking out for the poor, the powerless and those unjustly treated in our society, and to minister to and with them as God directs.”
[i] Ray Simpson, A Pilgrim Way: New Celtic monasticism for everyday people (Buxhall, UK: Kevin Mayhew, Ltd., 2005), 17. All quotes in this essay are from this book.