Changed lives emerge from TV cloister

02 November 2006

A WORKER in the soft-porn industry had a conversion experience, and a student of Buddhism decided to offer himself for ordination in the Church of England, when they took part in the reality-TV series The Monastery, which ended on BBC2 on Tuesday.

All of the five men who took part in the three-part series by spending six weeks at Worth Abbey, a Roman Catholic Benedictine house in West Sussex, said that they had undergone deep and long-lasting changes in their attitudes to life.

 Tony, who said he had given up working in the soft-porn industry since living in the monastery, had had almost no faith at the start of the series. Viewers on Tuesday night watched as, with one of the monks at the Abbey, he fell silent as a sense of the reality of God dawned upon him. "Something happened; something touched me; something spoke to me, very deeply, very profoundly," he said, speaking to camera after the experience.

Nick Buxton, 38, one of the five participants, said: "Tony had some sort of transformative experience. The Vatican is jumping for joy, because they think they have got a conversion on camera. Everyone was changed by the experience."

An ex-public schoolboy, expelled from Wellington and Haileybury, Mr Buxton hopes to go to a selection conference next year. He was discussing his future with the Ely diocesan director of ordinands (DDO) last week. "If all goes well, training would start in October next year," he said on Tuesday.

"When I was 17 or 18, I had no interest in further education. I wanted to play in a band. I dropped out for ten years, travelled, lived in various parts of the country, took bar work and building work. I left the UK in '94 to sort out my drinking problem. I had an interest in Eastern mysticism, and decided to do something about it."


He stayed in a Buddhist monastery in New Zealand, and an ashram in India. "I went to an Easter Sunday service in a room in a house in a village in India. It was the first time I had been to church since confirmation. It was a tremendously fulfilling and joyful experience. I felt I had come home."

But despite discussing his vocation when he returned to the UK, he opted for "Plan B" - a doctoral dissertation on the Buddhist philosopher, Najarjuna, at Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He was in his first year of his studies when he spent six weeks at Worth Abbey.

"I heard about the monastery programme through a friend who knew someone at Tiger Aspect [the production company], and I applied immediately. It was tremendously fulfilling. It really made me feel a sense of urgency and the need to focus on what really matters," he said.

"It is an intensely personal experience. If you are meditating in the garden and a camera pops up from behind a hedge and asks, 'Can you tell me what's going on in your mind now?'  you are tempted to say, 'No. Mind your own business.' But it also forces you to be more reflective, because you must articulate what you experience."

Nevertheless, he is off to Thailand for six months to complete his dissertation before further discussions with the DDO, Canon Vanessa Herrick, in the autumn. She said on Tuesday that she had met Mr Buxton for an hour, but had not seen the BBC2 series.

"Clearly, on his particular journey, his experiences of the contemplative life have been an important factor in the way forward. It is a journey that will take a while," she said.

Monastic initiatives. On Pentecost Sunday, the Team Rector of Rugby, the Revd Mark Beach, heard the vows of 12 members of his congregation who have committed themselves to a monastic rule of life for a year.

"They have committed themselves to four areas, daily prayer, daily Bible reading, service within the church, and service within the community," he said on Tuesday. "I am calling it 'new monasticism', but I am looking for a name for this."

Chester Cathedral, once a Benedictine monastery, is running a £120 "monastic" weekend for up to 25 people from 9 to 11 September. It is meant to be "an entertaining retreat - a taste of the monastic life", a cathedral spokesman said.

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