St Antony's Priory: The Story So Far
St Antony’s Priory is part of the European Province of the Society of the Sacred Mission (SSM), an Anglican Religious Order founded by Fr Herbert Kelly in 1893, which is perhaps best known in connection with Kelham Theological College (1903-1972). Our sister-house, St Michael’s Priory, is in Milton Keynes.
St Antony’s Priory occupies the site of the former vicarage of St Nicholas Parish Church, and was built in 1850. The house was acquired by SSM in 1985, and for the next 20 years or so housed a community of professed brothers whose educational and pastoral work was particularly focused on helping young men experience the religious life in community, some of whom were discerning a vocation to ministry within the Church of England. During this time, the award-winning chapel, designed by Sarah Menin, was built in 1989.
Ecumenical Spirituality Project 1998-2018
In 1998 a Methodist minister, David Bosworth, and his wife Linda, were invited to move in and the Ecumenical Spirituality Project was launched. In 2004, Paul Golightly, also a Methodist minister, succeeded David as Project Director and, with his wife Joan, ran the Centre – together with a large ecumenical team of paid staff and volunteers – for the next 14 years until 2018.
The work of the Ecumenical Spirituality Centre began with a programme of quiet days and workshops to explore Christian spirituality. Over the years this evolved into an extensive ministry of hospitality for groups and individuals wishing to spend time in the beautiful setting of the Priory building and grounds. One of the most significant outcomes of this work has been the development of training and mentoring for spiritual directors, and by extension, the provision of spiritual direction for a great number of people across the diocese of Durham and beyond.
This provision remains central to the ministry of St Antony’s Priory, which over the years has also included the development of a wide variety of programmes, including support for people in recovery from addictions, as well as ministry support days and a variety of other courses, workshops and outreach initiatives designed to lead people deeper into prayer and spirituality.
Latterly, much of this work was based on Capacitar training, a multi-cultural popular education approach to wellbeing and self-empowerment comprising simple Tai Chi and movement, visualisations, meditation, emotional freedom techniques and energy work.
A New Chapter
The Society of the Sacred Mission exists to serve the Church; its charitable objects refer to personal spirituality, theological education and Christian ministry – hence the strap-line ‘prayer, study and community’.
In September 2018, an Anglican Priest, Nicholas Buxton, was appointed to implement a new vision for St Antony’s. This includes the establishment of a residential praying community, for men and women who might be at a crossroads in life and wondering where God might be calling them next, and the further development of St Antony’s as a centre for the study of spirituality, complementing existing work around the training and provision of spiritual directors and other expressions of pastoral support and outreach.
In all of this, St Antony’s continues to be a place of spiritual refreshment and exploration, offering space for groups and individuals to come for retreats, quiet days and a variety of other activities, including drop-in meditation sessions and peer support groups.
The motto of the Society of the Sacred Mission is: Ad gloriam Dei in eius voluntate (To the glory of God in the doing of his will). Fr Kelly described it as ‘an idea in the working’, one that continues to evolve as we seek to discern God’s will today.
“Fr Kelly had not really intended to start a religious community, but rather to train men for the new Korean Mission. Quite quickly he took up training priests for the Church in England, and formed a community of priests and lay-brothers as the best way of doing it. He himself was a bit of an academic failure, and he thought that the clergy of his generation spent too much of their time studying theology in the atmosphere of the universities. He viewed the move of the Bishops to restrict ordination to graduates as very foolish. But he was quite sure that men from non-academic, ‘working class’ backgrounds needed a formation which was demanding and rigorous: he aimed to teach his students to think, to do their theology, and not just to learn a series of ‘correct’ answers to be trotted out in sermons. So the life he created was all-embracing: Mass and the daily Office, lectures, housework, manual work – even sport – all were part of the day to day life of the College.
Students lived alongside the Community, not in a separate building, and the Kelham way often saw senior tutors sweeping corridors and washing up under the direction of their students.”