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Living Life in Common by Marian Barnes, Mary Davies, and David Prior

02 June 2023

No quick fix at Pilsdon, says Pat Ashworth

THIS honest and thoughtful work arose out of an oral history project for the Pilsdon Community’s 60th anniversary in 2018. Unedited transcriptions are always telling, and here they help to dispel any notion of living in community as some kind of mud-splashed rural idyll.

It is not a retreat, the authors emphasise, but a place of “repair”. Guests and “wayfarers” come here at times of crisis in chaotic and complicated lives, often associated with heavy drinking or drug use. Pilsdon has “always attracted people who felt at odds with mainstream society.”

So there is much acknowledgement — with warmth and humour — of both the positive outcomes and the trials of navigating relationships. One contributor put it as about “learning to accept the rough edges of other people in the same way that they were trying to come to terms with all of your rough edges”.

Members share a Christian faith, the warden is a priest, and the daily rhythm of prayer is the foundation. But the community is open to all faiths and none. It is not a service-provider. There is no formal therapy. Necessary work tasks are assigned to all, but therapeutic benefits derive from them.

Most fascinating is the exploration of the nature and ethos of care. A contributor reflects: “I think it has to do with vision and the ability to see the potential in people even when they’re very broken and at a point of crisis in their lives.” There is an empirical question here, the authors suggest: is there evidence of successful communities established with similar objectives, but not based on Christian faith?

They conclude that, at Pilsdon, “We bear witness to the trauma in each other’s lives and feel powerless to overcome it; we travel with others who cannot find healing for their bodies or their minds.

“Prayer cannot fix us. Prayer is a reaching out for something that you know you will never actually grasp in your life; struggling to unify things that cannot be unified. It is an alliance with Christ in the now who promises, eventually, to make all things new.”


Living Life in Common: Stories from the Pilsdon Community
Marian Barnes, Mary Davies and David Prior
Troubadour Publishing £12.50
Church Times Bookshop £11.25

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