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
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
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
Does media exposure of the religious life help to stimulate vocations to