Category: News for the House of Prayer

September 2022 Benefice Newsletter and The Book of Kells

The September edition of the benefice newsletter is now available to view or download here

The Book of Kells

There is no-one in the world that knows the Book of Kells like Donncha MacGabhan. When I met him at a conference in Durham in April 2022 I was infected by his enthusiasm and passion for the book. We passed several happy hours over the next few days talking about it and the Bewcastle Cross, discussing the theology and humour in the artwork and its interplay with the text. Having spent in the order of £15,000 on the facsimile of the original, he has worked almost every waking hour of the past 15 years studying the manuscript. This book tells of his findings. It is academic, but for anyone with a serious interest in this extraordinary work of our unique insular Christian heritage, it will be fascinating. I will be ordering a copy myself.

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October 2021 Benefice Newsletter and Apple Pressing

The October benefice newsletter is now available to view or download from here.

We have our annual apple-pressing community day at Greenholme, Bewcastle on Saturday 9th October from 2-4pm. Bring your apples and some containers to take away the juice, or just come and join us for a fun and sociable afternoon, a cup of tea, a piece of apple cake, and lend a hand chopping and juicing apples. If you have apples, bring as many as you can and we’ll use them all. Perhaps try some of last year’s cider! Everyone welcome. There is no charge.

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We never seem to hear politicians or mainstream economists challenging the mantra of economic growth, even though it is clear the planet is already suffering its devastating consequences.

In June 2010 the first Steady State Economy conference was hosted at Leeds University. A brief personal summary can be read here.

The organisers of the conference have recently published a book deriving from it titled Enough Is Enough, and this video giving an overview and summarising three aspects: debt, inequality, and unemployment. It is a message we need to hear and act upon.

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The Open Day 2013

Well what an extraordinary day!

Tuesday 30th July was forecast to be the worst day of the week. In the end it rained in the morning, but by 11.30am it had dried up. Then billowed away were the stratiform clouds and the rest of the day was warm, glorious sunshine.

Eric Hourn of Slackhouse Farm, Gilsland, making cheese over an open fire.

Eric Hourn of Slackhouse Farm, Gilsland, demonstrating cheese-making over an open fire.

We had such support from the local community as well as the churches in the ‘minster’ area, so many of whom brought food, demonstrated their crafts, and/or helped with the organisation. None of the food was ‘organised’ in the sense that everything given was offered – none of it asked for.

Xavi and Reuben, our two Spanish wwoofers, who cooked a paella over an open fire.

Xavi and Reuben, our two Spanish wwoofers, who cooked a paella over an open fire.

We had people from Bewcastle, Stapleton, and Heathersgill churches in our own benefice, and from Walton, Lanercost, Nether Denton, and Gilsland in the Lanercost parishes. Local farmers were represented as well as permaculturists from Newcastle. Others came from wider Cumbria, County Durham, and Northumberland, non-church as well as church, young as well as old, and even 7 priests.

In all, well over 100 people came through the afternoon, 77 of whom attended the open-air service, which we had in the field around the cheese-making fire, many of whom would never be seen near a church.

James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle, speaking at the Service of Blessing

James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle, speaking at the Service of Blessing

The pigs were probably the greatest hit, although the cheese-making and all the other crafts went down well.

Everyone enjoyed meeting Rosie and Ginger

Everyone enjoyed meeting Rosie and Ginger

The pigs seem to have been interested as well.

The pigs seem to have been interested as well.

Apart from the cheese-making activity, there was felt-making, peg-loom weaving, a potter’s wheel, bag-colouring, archery, basket-weaving and displays of hand-dipped candles and hand-forged blacksmith work, folk music and rhythym-making.

Lisa on the peg loom

Lisa on the peg loom

Valerie on the potter's wheel

Valerie on the potter’s wheel

Talks were given on the pigs, cheesemaking, beekeeping, herbal medicine and the meteorology station. And in the background, work started on re-instating the pond that used to exist in the river meadow.

A selection of Philip's baskets

A selection of Philip’s baskets

Several have said they want to come back (from Newcastle and County Durham, as well as locals) and help with the straw-bale build next year.

Have a look through the pictures of the Open Day in the Gallery, which were taken by (and copyrighted to) our photographer, Andy Norris.

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Open Day, 30th July

We are having an Open Day on Tuesday, 30th July from 12 noon to 5pm. The Bishop of Carlisle, the Rt Revd James Newcome, will be present to talk to and, during a service in the afternoon (either outdoors or in the polytunnel if wet), will bless the land and the House of Prayer project.

We are hoping there will be some activities to turn a hand to. Revd Philip Greenhalgh will be basket weaving. Revd Annie Gray will be talking about medical herbalism and alternative therapies. Eric from Slackhouse Farm will be demonstrating organic cheesemaking. There should be a potter’s wheel and some folk music to join in with (so bring an instrument!). Light refreshments will be on hand.

It will be an opportunity to ask questions, see what we’re trying to do, both in the long term, with low-impact buildings, and in our experiments with sustainable growing of food and permaculture. Or visit the Eighth Century Bewcastle Cross, just up the road at the church.

We have no idea if any of this will work, but we’re here to take the risk and give it a go!

So come along and join us for the afternoon. We’d love to see you, hear your ideas, and hopefully you’ll leave feeling inspired, or at least that you’ve enjoyed yourself!

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BBC Radio Cumbria Interview (ii)

For those interested, the second instalment of the BBC Radio Cumbria interview was aired on Sunday 19th May and can be listened to on BBC iPlayer at 1:50.50 through the programme. It will be available until Saturday 25th May.

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BBC Radio Cumbria – for a few days

There is a four minute slot about the Bewcastle House of Prayer on BBC Radio Cumbria’s ‘Richard Corrie’s Sunday Breakfast’ programme broadcast on 12th May. It is available to listen to until Saturday 18th May and can be found at 2:24.30 through the programme.

Apparently there will be a follow up this coming Sunday on the same show (19th May).

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A Fond Farewell

We bade a sad but fond farewell to our first pilgrims last week. Harriet and Mike have been wonderful. Passionate about creation, serious about faith, knowledgeable about foraging, with an intellectual integrity not satisfied with the usual trite answers given by church or politicians, and with a desire to see the Kingdom of God established in the neediest of lives. We could not have asked for better help than that offered by these two young disciples, newly married, and with a spirit of adventure that has taken them to every corner of the kingdom.

Our first pilgrims, the Schofields - Harriet and Mike

Our first pilgrims, the Schofields – Harriet and Mike

The list of tasks with which they have helped is too long to include here – they were with us for almost all of March and April apart from 10 days around Easter. Suffice it to say that they have become friends who will always find a welcome awaiting them. Their ideas, enthusiasm, and work have helped shape several aspects of the landscape of the House of Prayer that will remain as their legacy into the future. There is a part of them indelibly marked on the land, particularly due to the trees they planted.

Of course, they left much still to do. A compost toilet, which they have designed, has still to be made. A straw bale barn has still to be built. Lesser celendine and ramsons have still to be collected. Nettle beer has still to be brewed… And this week, a thousand and more trees have to be planted.

But daily prayer continues and the Spirit of Christ unites us. This is ancient church renewed.

Farewell, Mike & Harriet, and welcome home whenever you want.

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Support from Lambeth Palace

In July 2012 the Archbishop of Canterbury offered to support the vision for a rural House of Prayer in Bewcastle, based on the model of the early Anglo-Saxon minster that used to exist at Bewcastle, to explore a possible future for the rural church. Back then the vision was for a 100+ acre farm. The reality is now a 6-acre smallholding!

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The Bewcastle signpost at the edge of Greenholme

But Lambeth Palace has decided to back the vision at the smaller scale, recognising the difficulties of raising sufficient funds for the larger project, and this month a cheque arrived through the post.

View across the smallholding towards the River White Lyne, which forms our boundary for about 300 yds.

View across the smallholding towards the River White Lyne, which forms our boundary for about 300 yds.

So now we have real support both from the Archbishop and our Diocesan Bishop for a project that lies outside the official structures of the Church of England, but that is seeking a future for rural ministry in a post-parish context. It is an interesting position to be in, both in terms of responsibility and freedom to explore a new but ancient way of being church.

Raised beds and polytunnel await warmer conditions before planting up. We aim to grow all our own vegetables this year, and give away as much as we can.

Raised beds and polytunnel await warmer conditions before planting up. We aim to grow all our own vegetables this year, and give away as much as we can.

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Greenholme – a beginning

What does the future hold? How will it unfold? What stories will be told in years to come?

We began moving into our new green holme (meaning ‘hill beside the river’) on Saturday 24th November 2012 with much help from an extremely generous local family – our second move in three months. Our first night was Sunday 25th. Despite 6.5 acres of, at present, somewhat damp land, the cottage is small but the main living area is very warm. The horse and hens are discovering the lie of the land. The existing stone two-roomed outbuilding we have ear-marked as a future dwelling but in the meantime will be used as store and study/oratory. As yet neither are in a fit-for-purpose state. With the gift of one very generous donor we were able to offer the asking price for the almost new professional cooker that the previous owners were selling. We see this as investment for the hospitality we very much hope will find a home here.


Our reception from the local community has been wonderful to behold: it seems we are surrounded by friends. Several of them came to the carol service on our first Sunday at St Cuthbert’s Church, Bewcastle, for the first time in years; such encouragement!

Weather in the first couple of weeks was glorious. Temperatures were rarely above freezing and went down to -10 degrees C! Crisp clear skies, golden light radiant on the fells, joy in the raw beauty of the wild hills.

Apart from works needed to the cottage, our plan is to develop a straw-bale barn that will act as the gathering centre for the House of Prayer; a place of hospitality, music and prayer, food and study, washing and simple accommodation. So we will need to find the funds for this project. There is a four-berth caravan that offers a little more comfort already on site during warmer weather.

So we are in, not yet settled, but about to make a start – a green holme of prayer and life.

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