AL­WAYS CALL­ING... Matt Austin

JUDI SPIERS meets the man at the head of Buck­fast Abbey and learns about his own jour­ney to the top and his plans for the cul­mi­na­tion of a spe­cial year

Devon Life - - Abbot David Charlesworth - PHO­TOG­RA­PHY:

“I was 16 at the time and I was stand­ing where the tourists can still stand and look down at the Abbey…this is very clear in my mind…and I looked at the Abbey church and I said: ‘I could never be a monk there.’”

I hadn’t ex­pected to hear that from the man who is now serv­ing his sec­ond ten­ure as Ab­bot of Buck­fast, Ab­bot David Charlesworth, OSB, and so I was keen to hear what hap­pened to change his mind.

But I had to wait as 2018 is Buck­fast Abbey’s Mil­len­nium Year and its Mil­len­nium Fund will raise thou­sands for Devon’s five hospices. In fact Ab­bot David was so keen that I should un­der­stand the phi­los­o­phy be­hind the fundrais­ing that I barely had time to turn on my tape recorder.

“I wanted to get across that this is a year of thanks­giv­ing. How could it be oth­er­wise when you look at the site and our lives as monks?

“So we look back over the 1,000 years to those who came here in An­glo Saxon times with the same idea that we have now. The prin­ci­ples that brought them here are the same prin­ci­ples that bring us here now and there­fore I thought what could we do in thanks­giv­ing? If you want to thank some­one you give them a gift, so if you are thank­ing God for some­thing you want to give God a gift.” In the gospels, he told me, Christ tells us what God wants and that is to look after those in need so in or­der to give some­thing to Him you give some­thing to the needy.

The idea of cel­e­brat­ing a Mil­len­nium year has also given

im­pe­tus to carry out much needed work like the clean­ing of the out­side of the church, putting down a new floor, get­ting an or­gan ac­tu­ally built for the Abbey and new light­ing.

“It’s like hav­ing an Of­sted re­port in a school” he ex­plained.

“You do a lot of things that are nec­es­sary be­cause you are com­ing up to a point when you are go­ing to be ex­am­ined. Ob­vi­ously we are not be­ing ex­am­ined but we are pre­sent­ing our­selves this year more than ever be­fore.”

So, that un­der­stood, I was keen to hear more about the Ab­bot’s jour­ney.

“It’s a bit of a strange story,” he be­gan.

As a young boy and “not very good aca­dem­i­cally” he used to read his grand­fa­ther’s his­tory books.

“They were so big I had to lie on the floor to read them and I started to know about monas­ter­ies and monks through his­tory.”

But then life changed when he be­came a teenager.

“You start look­ing at life dif­fer­ently and I dan­ger­ously started to read about what it was like from the in­side and it sparked some­thing in­side me. The idea of Chris­tian com­mu­nity life. So by the time I was 17-and-a-half I thought would like to ex­plore it. But that didn’t mean I was go­ing to be a monk.”

At 18 he came to Buck­fast where he told the novice mas­ter that he didn’t want to be a teacher or a pri­est...but some­one had other ideas.

It was a pretty man­ual start which in­volved dig­ging trenches, driv­ing a trac­tor on the farm and help­ing cows birth – all of which he looks back on with plea­sure.

But what about the long pe­ri­ods of en­forced si­lence? How did the teenage David cope with that?

“The big­gest thing you have to face – even though you are liv­ing in a com­mu­nity – is that you are ac­tu­ally alone at cer­tain times. But you learn about your­self. Si­lence is a great teacher and it can be a hard teacher. You learn how to do things…by learn­ing some­thing you change.”

Well quite a bit changed. “Not want­ing to be a monk” he laughed, “I ended up at Buck­fast. Not want­ing to be a teacher I ended up in the Abbey school and not want­ing to be a pri­est I ended up even­tu­ally as the Ab­bot!”

Ab­bot David was at great pains to point out that what­ever has been achieved at Buck­fast stems from a life of prayer with the Abbey Church spir­i­tu­ally and phys­i­cally its cen­tre. At the time of chat­ting sev­eral thou­sand pounds had al­ready been raised from col­lec­tions but more will be added at the end of the year.

“I have a num­ber in my head that I want to give to each hos­pice” he said with a twin­kle. But the Ab­bot is a man who can keep a se­cret and for the mo­ment his lips are sealed.

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