We are located in the beautiful countryside of Hampshire about 50 miles southwest of London in the village of Greatham (pronounced “grettam”). L’Abri (French for “the shelter”) does not fit neatly into any categories of description. You could say it is a community built around homes that offers hospitality through the act of welcoming strangers. L’Abri was born fifty years ago in Switzerland when Francis and Edith Schaeffer opened their home to those who came seeking answers to life’s many questions, or at least a place where they would get a serious hearing. Since then it has grown to include eight branches in seven countries.
It has sometimes been supposed that L’Abri is a place for intellectuals or intellectual pursuits only. This has never been the case. A wide variety of people come to stay with us, for many different reasons, from a variety of backgrounds, world-views, ages and occupations. Some do not see themselves as Christians, and come looking for a place where their questions will be taken seriously. Many people come to address living as Christians in the modern world. Every guest brings to L’Abri their own unique life, thoughts, interests and questions.
L’Abri is a place where we try to take all genuine questions seriously. Our foundational belief is that Christianity as found in the Bible is true. This means that a commitment to the God of the Bible is rational and that faith is never divorced from reason. Moreover, because Christianity is true, not only can it be discussed intellectually, it can also be passionately imagined and practically lived out as the Truth.
Furthermore, we believe that the life-affirming truth of Christianity speaks to all of human life and thought. This means our lives are not divided between “sacred” and “secular” activities, and that Christian faith integrates all of human life, including our minds, our hearts, our work, our play, and our relationships. This also means that art, history, philosophy, economics, psychology, education, politics, science, contemporary society, and all other realms of thought can be examined from a Biblical viewpoint.
One of the helpful things about being at L’Abri is that intellectual pursuits and discussion are mixed into the “real daily life” of living with families and working at all kinds of practical tasks. This provides a place where people can begin to integrate their faith into all areas of life. This kind of integration is important in our increasingly compartmentalized world, and can be very freeing, but it may not be terribly glamorous. A “Mountain top experience” is not our goal. You should not come expecting a secluded retreat environment. Instead we have tried to maintain the reality of life within a family setting. There are lots of mundane chores to be done, some perpetual disorganization and not enough space for visitors to have private rooms. You may find some of this difficult, but there is a reality to the environment that many have found helpful.
Latest Newsletter from English L’Abri
Greatham Newsletter December 2011
Once again, the time of Advent is upon us. I love this time of year in the church calendar as we get to look once again at the story of God's rescue plan for a lost world. I love to consecutively read through passages in the bible beginning with Genesis and ending with the gospels. Passages that reveal God's working in this world. First, His creation of Adam and Eve; their spoiling this creation and plunging the world into sin. Then, His covenants with Noah, Abraham and the children of Israel. Their complete inability to keep them, culminating in God sending His Son to keep the covenant for us. In this story there are so many questions, and we spend a good deal of time considering them at our lunch tables each day. Why did God test Adam and Eve? Why did their sin have an effect on us? Why did God choose Abraham and a people to work out His plan of salvation? And the questions go on. I often reflect on the fact that the history of the bible (and mankind) is an amazing epic story. I don't think the most imaginative of authors could dream up such an interweaving of a story over such a long period of time, unfolding day by day, in real time.
And WE are part of this story. The New Covenant was for ALL peoples. We reflected at our lunch discussion this last week the need to contemplate death or at least our mortality more regularly. At this time of year we can be taken up with the temporal, the idols that satisfy our longings which turn to dust, and forget just what an amazing thing happened in Bethlehem. Christ's birth and later His death, was to have epic consequences for the human race. Even Satan did not know what God was accomplishing on the cross. This epic story of God, becoming man and entering our world and our story, should be at the very centre of our thoughts and gratitude.
This past year the Manor House has been full of life once again. We continue to be both thankful and humbled to be so intimately involved in the lives of so many people. Sometimes it has felt overwhelming and we are constantly reminded that it is God who is at work with a power and perception beyond what we can provide.
This year the Lord has blessed us with three wonderful additions to our team. Baby James Burbeck arrived around Christmas last year and has brought much delight to all who meet him. He is a bright, happy child who, even at this young age, makes the girls swoon. Danny and Marta have adapted marvellously to the changes that have taken place in their lives over the last two years.
Joel Barricklow from Michigan is our second blessing. After spending two terms as a student and helper, he arrived in January as a short term worker with us for a year. His ability to create a welcoming atmosphere and get alongside people, together with good organisation and maintenance skills will make him sorely missed when he leaves next week. We are delighted that he and Catherine, who he will marry in two weeks, will be staying in the area. They both met here at L'Abri last year.
Our third, but by no means least blessing is the arrival of Emily Rodgers from Texas who joined us as a worker in May. She graduated from Baylor University in Texas with a liberal arts degree and a masters in Higher Education and Administration. She first came to Greatham as a child, when her parents attended a child light conference resulting from Susan Macaulay's book, ‘For the Children's sake'. She has stepped into the role with so much competence that it is hard to believe she has only been with us for two terms. Having spent time running a community House at Baylor, she has been wonderfully prepared for her work here. Her areas of interest and expertise are in the Arts, Philosophy and Literature. She has made a warm and welcoming home in the Top Flat of the Manor House.
The Pauls had a well earned sabbatical during the summer term. They moved to the Old School House just before and Jim spent most of his time repainting the outside of the house. Being so busy in the work it is often hard to find time to do refurbishment on our houses. As a result of a large gift we have been able to replace all the windows in both the Old School House and the Stables with new UPV double glazed units. This is already making a difference to our heating bills.
This last term included three major events. The first week we hosted a group of students from a school of journalism in Norway. This is the second year we have received them and as a result we had three Norwegians with us for the whole term.
Half Term week saw our seventh film festival, viewing six films. Once again we hosted a hundred people on the Saturday. This has proved to be a good introduction to L'Abri for new people. Jim does a wonderful job in master minding the whole event.
Two weeks ago we celebrated thanksgiving. This is my favourite time of the year. We began the day with a brunch. Then, after an autumnal walk, games on the back lawn, a sumptuous roast turkey meal. It was wonderful to be able to invite people from the community. Our guests ranged from the first workers at English L'Abri to our village postman!
We continue to be thankful for the opportunities to speak out, which have resulted in often hosting special weekends for individual groups. Andrew's attendance at the European Leadership Forum has resulted in a group of leaders from central and Eastern Europe coming to spend a week with us at the beginning of our next term. Danny has spoken at a series of evenings for CARE interns (a Christian government lobby group), Edith at Art groups. We also continue to offer support to UCCF workers.
It has also been a joy this last year to have Comfort Tselapedi from South Africa with us. She will stay until the end of the spring term. This contact came spontaneously out of the recent conferences held in South Africa.
Marsh and Tuula Moyle have had a difficult year. They both needed surgery within the space of a few months. Thankfully both procedures have been successful. It is a joy to have their support. Marsh runs a bible study group with the students, heads some lunch tables and helps us with short term tutoring. We are deeply grateful for his maturity and wisdom.
As we move into the last few days of term our hearts are burdened with those who have to leave this place. Our confidence is in the Christ child, Emmanuel who is WITH US. As our students leave, they take the Lord's presence with them.
I wish you all a very happy Christmas and a blessed New Year.
In His Name, Helen (for the team at Greatham)