Our community at Hilfield Friary is an intentional community of brothers of the First Order of the Society of St. Francis (an Anglican religious order with life-vowed members) together with men and women who commit themselves to share in the Franciscan life and wok of the friary.
Our life is centred around the chapel and the refectory; common prayer and meals eaten together are the framework for everything else that goes on here. We meet daily to plan and share the work of the Friary and regularly at other times to reflect on our life and take decisions about the community.
As I drove down towards Hilfield Friary for the first time I was buzzing with excitement, punctuated with the odd flutter of nerves. I had never been to a friary before and did not know what to expect, but as I turned the corner into the car park I felt a profound sense of the presence of the place. My nervous anticipation melted away and I felt myself instilled with a strange sense of belonging.
On entering the courtyard, I was greeted by a man from Swaziland who immediately began to explain that he’d only been at the friary for a week. I recognized him by his accent as a fellow Londoner, and we hit it off straight away, breaking the ice still further with a rather awkward introduction, in which we discovered we shared a name as well as a home city! The two Simons, or “hairy” and “baldy” as we became known, would soon become good friends and a firm fixture at Hilfield.
The journey that brought me to Hilfield that day had already been a long one. After a successful career running my own IT business, I had decided to sell up and try my hand, “Good Life” style, at self-sufficiency in Devon. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that my enthusiasm outweighed my experience. I realized I was going to need some help, and a chance conversation with a previous Hilfield volunteer inspired me to go there to see for myself how this small community managed their land and livestock sustainably.
I had only intended to stay a week, but right from the first I was surprised to find myself drawn to the life of the chapel. I hadn’t been to church for years, yet there I was, sitting on a bench in a former cow barn with my face turned towards the cross and the air heavy with incense. By the time I left at the end of that first week, I knew I would return and that here I could be part of something which would draw me closer to God. I came back a couple of weeks later, this time to stay. Day after day I joined the brothers in chapel, drawn along in the wake of decades of prayer, I was deeply struck by their gentle yet steadfast commitment to God. Looking back on those early days, I am eternally grateful for all the time the brothers spent with me, sharing the story of Hilfield’s history, and how it was given to the brothers to start a community for the Society of St Francis.
I soon slipped into the routine of community life, helping out and joining in wherever possible. For me, the gifts of life at Hilfield came from unexpected quarters. I ended up being far less involved with farming and environmental conservation than I had anticipated, but was deeply touched by sharing in the experiences and stories of the guests who come to Hilfield on retreat. It was amazing to hear how much they treasured the space and encounters they had whilst staying with the community; to discover the ways in which the place had changed their lives.
Even during my time in the business world, I had always wanted to be part of something that was helping others in a way which was not self-serving. That was exactly what the community at Hilfield was doing, and the more I became involved in it, the more deeply I felt the pure joy of living and serving there. Of all the roles in community, the most enjoyable, for me, are the ones where you can be a listening ear or a signpost for someone in need.
After four years at Hilfield, I felt it was time for a new challenge which would enable me to help the most vulnerable. With the support and blessing of the community and following a period of discernment with friends and mentors at Hilfield, I left to join the Pilsdon at Malling Community in Kent, another residential Christian community which supports people in situations of crisis. My time at Pilsdon was both challenging and fruitful, and after a year there, I felt able to return to Hilfield with a renewed sense of purpose. Towards the end of my first four years at Hilfield I had faced with increasing regularity the question, “Have you ever thought of becoming a brother?” In my discernment I had even begun to consider the question myself, but somehow it just hadn’t felt right. Whilst in Kent, I met and got to know a volunteer living next door at the enclosed Benedictine Abbey, who had also been spending time discerning God’s call. Over the course of the year God showed us both quite clearly that we were not called to vowed religious life and when I returned to Hilfield it was with the added joy of being able to share the life of the community with her.
In addition to this unexpected gift, living with a very different community had confirmed and strengthened the sense of vocation I already felt to support individuals in their healing. It had also made me more aware of the gaps in support available for individuals on their recovery journey, and after talks with the community I was able to open Giles House as a dedicated facility. Giles House is intended as a “moving on” space for individuals who require less support than communities like Pilsdon provide, but are not yet well enough to live unsupported. I am really enjoying the work and growing in my knowledge of helping and supporting people during difficult times. I give thanks for all the blessings God has given me through the Hilfield Community and pray for the growth of his kingdom in this very special place.
The life of the Friary relies almost completely on people offering their time, their work and their gifts either coming to us from home on a day-to-day basis or living with us for a time as part of the Hilfield Community. We welcome students in their gap year, people of any age searching for a new direction in their lives or wishing to experience Christian community, and Franciscan tertiaries who find themselves free of other commitments.
Volunteers need to have a statutory check for the safeguarding of children and vulnerable adults. There is a required safeguarding course, one on food hygiene and a first aid course.
If you live with us for a time, we provide board and lodging free, one day off a week, and £25 per week to cover your basic personal expenses.
So if you have at least six months to spare, are physically fit, and want to experience life in Christian community then get in touch with the Hilfield Guardian at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01300 342312.
What you might be doing if you volunteer:
- Organic gardening, growing vegetables and fruit.
- Helping to care for livestock and manage the land, building fences and planting hedges.
- Caring for the woodlands, coppicing and harvesting wood.
- Conservation: helping to encourage diversity of plant and animal life.
- Caring for guests: welcoming, cooking food and cleaning guest rooms.
- Helping in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning.
- Using computer skills to help with publicity and office management.
We are looking for local people who can offer a day per week (or per month) to help in the kitchen or garden or in the Hilfield shop. Please contact us to talk about this.
All About Hilfield
Franciscan brothers first arrived here in 1921 to establish a home of refuge and rehabilitation for the large number of displaced men who were then tramping the roads of rural England. At the Friary they found a welcome as brothers, the restoration of their dignity through shared work, and the opportunity of rehabilitation and training.
From this small beginning has grown the Society of St Francis, an Anglican order of men and women inspired by the example of Francis of Assisi; SSF now has communities of brothers and sisters, and many lay or ‘tertiary’ members, throughout the world. Hilfield Friary is now a retreat centre and welcomes guests from all over the world to Dorset.
Today the Franciscan brothers of SSF are joined by men and women—young and old, married and single—who together constitute the Hilfield Friary Community. This Community shares in a rhythm of daily prayer, looks after the Friary land and buildings, and offers hospitality to guests and visitors.
People of all backgrounds are welcome here – Christians, those of other faiths and of none – for rest, retreat, and renewal of life. The emergency provision for ‘wayfarers’ ended in 2004, but the Friary still provides a place of acceptance and supported living for those who are in particular need.
Following the example of Francis of Assisi there is a particular emphasis on living simply, generously and joyfully on God’s earth.
The land and the animals it supports are cared for and provide food for the community. There is a common table around which the Community and its guests share meals, and yet there is also time and space to be quiet and alone. The Friary is not just a beautiful, peaceful oasis; the Community has a concern for promoting justice and reconciliation in a troubled world, and for proclaiming a wise ecology in the face of our culture’s environmental foolishness.
At the heart of the Friary lies the Chapel where the Community comes together for prayer four times a day. Celebrating the Eucharist and praying the scriptures in the Daily Office, as well as the times of silent meditation, bring us back to the source and goal of all creation, renew us in the life of Jesus Christ, and unite us with our brothers and sisters throughout the world.