A CISTERCIAN prior has preached a sermon in an English church founded by the Order almost 900 years ago, for what is thought to be the first time since the Reformation.
Last Sunday, Brother Gilbert, who leads the uncloistered Anglican Order of Cistercians, addressed the congregation of St Mary Magdalene’s, East Ham, in London. The Grade I listed church was founded in 1130 by monks of the long-lost Stratford Langthorne Abbey — one of the largest in England — in West Ham.
The PCC decided to invite the Prior to preach after one of its members, Nigel McCollum, began researching the history of the church and its nine-and-a-half-acre burial ground — one of the largest in England. “It is largely overgrown, and so last year I decided to do something about it,” he said “I looked through old maps, and found there was once an orchard. I got in touch with the Cistercians about year ago, and the former Prior sent me documents about herb gardens, and so on.
“We swapped emails on many things: prayers, the story of their order. Then we thought it would be lovely if we invited the order to our patronal festival. They were absolutely thrilled to be invited. Brother Gilbert told us we are the first Cistercian-founded church in the Church of England which has ever reached out to them.
“He did a tour of the church when he first arrived. When he walked in, he was so obviously overwhelmed. He said he really felt the presence of those original Cistercian brothers.”
His sermon ranged from the church’s foundation, through the Cistercians’ life of prayer, to telling the congregation how they should regard their relationship with God as a love affair. “Everyone, from clergy to laity, said he was the best guest preacher we have ever had,” Mr McCollum said. “It was just so beautiful. He said he would definitely come back again and bring some of the Brothers with him. All the parishioners cheered.
“We now want to become one of their associate parishes. We will help and pray for each other, and these days when we are no longer guaranteed a stipendiary minister, perhaps one day we could have a Cistercian monk lead our services.”