COMPANIONS OF ST GWENOLE (the Breton spelling)

Pilgrimage to Landevennec leaflet 2013

Chemin Neuf Community visit, Abbaye de Boquen:
where Ignatian Spirituality embraces Charismatic Renewal!

By Reverend Andrew Shute

As part of the Cornwall Church Leaders Ecumenical Pilgrimage  to Landevennec in April a coach trip was made to the new Chemin Neuf Community at Abbaye de Boquen, a converted former Cistercian monastery near Rennes in Brittany.

We were told it might take 2 to 2.5 hours and travelled through very beautiful French countryside through leafy clear roads and the hills brimming over with the late Breton spring greens-but where was it?  After three hours and through some picture postcard French villages and tiny single track roads we arrived-to an  enthusiastic welcome by the community and their friends- the journey was well worth it!

As we were late we were rushed into Mass, where the chief celebrant was the Bishop of St Brieuc, Denis Moutel. He gave us a great welcome in English, and the readings were translated firstly by Bishop Tim Thornton and then Deacon Andrew, initially after some confusion due to last minute changes (for the English) as the feast was that of St Catherine of Sienna, patron of Europe with a special Gospel reading!    And what better day for a meeting between the pilgrims-from Cornwall - Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, Salvation Army… with Catholics and ex pats from Brittany and monks from Landevennec?

It had all been the idea of the Abbot Jean Michel of Landevennec,  who had come with us and was one of the celebrants and with whom we were staying at “his” Benedictine monastery on the banks of the river Aulne near Brest. One priest was also well known to our Diocese of Plymouth- Canon Peter Webb who used to be Episcopal Vicar until his recent retirement and permanent absence on “French Leave”.

The Mass was lively and musical. At the sign of peace we prayed for all the church leaders and shared the Peace of Christ with the members of the community and their visitors. Then to the lunch we had brought from the monastery, complete with red wine and cider, taken in the bright glazed former cloister of the monastery. The 12th century Abbey had become derelict (after the French Revolution in the 18th century) until 1936 when Dom Alexis Presse came to live, and initially alone and penniless but trusting in the Grace of God a miracle happened and he was able, slowly to rebuild this holy house of the Lord: exhausted, and on a stretcher, he attended the consecration of the renewed Romanesque abbey church on 22 August 1965: he died a few months later. We were later shown round this wonderful tribute to faith set on a wooded hill top in the rolling French countryside.

Chemin Neuf was founded in 1973 with an ecumenical vocation springing from a prayer group in Lyon, France. It presently has over 900 members in 18 countries. Couples, families, celibate men and women choose to follow the adventure of modern community life, following Christ, poor and humble to serve the Church, the Gospel and the world. Their spirituality begins at the foot of the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ is planted at the heart of the intersection, the meeting point between Charismatic Renewal, in its impetus, its praise, its youth and the already long path of Ignatian spiritual tradition. The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby came across Chemin Neuf during his work in international reconciliation. He made his retreat prior to his episcopal ordination in 2011 at Hautecombe Abbey, the Chemin Heuf International Formation Centre in France near Lyon.

After a brief talk about the Chemin Neuf community we were ushered back into the chapel for a prayer service. This included some enthusiastic singing and praise, including a spell binding singing in tongues. We ended with their prayer for unity, La priere pour l’unite-you could pray it now:

Lord Jesus,
Who prayed that we might all be One
we pray to you for the Unity of Christians,
according to your will,
according to your means.

May your Spirit enable us
to experience the suffering caused by division,
to see our sin,
and to hope beyond all hope.  Amen.


pilgrimage to the Abbey at Landevennec  2011

‘We have been longer together than we have been separated.’  Père Abbé Jean de la Croix 1989

Bishop Tim wrote eloquently of his visit to the Abbey at Landévennec in Brittany in the company of his ecumenical colleagues and a number of pilgrims from their respective flocks.  This event, organised by the Companions of St Gwenole, was an opportunity for ecumenical encounter not only in worship, study and prayer but also in eating, drinking and laughing together.  (This year there was a great deal of the latter, especially when +Tim and Chairman Steve Wild were in the vicinity.)  The Abbey and the monks facilitated our gathering and the hospitality of their church and the profound experience of worshipping with the community were vital elements in the pilgrimage.

 It is now 24 years since the Companions of St Gwenole came into being with the aim of bringing together Christians of all traditions in Cornwall and in Brittany under the patronage of the saint who is honoured in both places – he is known as Winwaloe in Cornwall.  The Benedictine monks of the community at Landévennec cherish our link, seeing it as mutually enriching, and have hosted Church Leaders’ pilgrimages almost every three years since 1989.  At other times they extend the warmest of welcomes to occasional pilgrims and visitors from Cornwall and we have enjoyed the monks’ visits to us. As Church Leaders have come and gone it has not always been easy to maintain the momentum but now there is determination on the part of the present incumbents to benefit from all that Landévennec offers us on our ecumenical journey.  Bishop Christopher Budd of Plymouth has shown stalwart commitment from the beginning but he expects to retire next year and his warm and thoughtful presence will be greatly missed.

Those who joined in the initial enthusiasm generated by the formation of the Companions have not been untouched by the process of ageing and we feel it is time to take stock and to discern how this ministry can continue. 

At 2011 AGM it proved impossible to appoint a new committee and the consensus of that meeting was that we should consider dissolving the Companions in one year’s time unless an alternative course of action was found.  

The Working Group appointed at last year’s AGM to make recommendation now propose that the Companions of St Guénolé should be dissolved forthwith.  If passed, under the terms of the Constitution, the committee has the power to dispose of any assets remaining.  

In the absence of a properly constituted committee, the Working Group propose that it should become the Landévennec Link Committee with the responsibility for promoting the ecumenical link with the Abbey of Landévennec, maintaining the Church Leaders’ Pilgrimage, being a point of reference and encouragement for those wishing to visit Landévennec and making grants from the remaining funds to facilitate such visits.

 Canon Perran explained that the proposal before the 2012 AGM meeting did not mean that links with Landévennec would be severed or that the tradition of pilgrimage and prayer would come to an end; there was robust determination on the part of the Church Leaders to continue to make the link active and viable.  Since the Companions were constituted 23 years ago, times had changed and the complex structure set up then was no longer sustainable: meetings were poorly attended and it had not been possible to elect officers to a committee.  He had been in correspondence with Abbot Jean Michel who understood the difficulties but who reiterated the value placed by his community on the ecumenical links with Christians in the Southwest of England.  Bishop Christopher had sent a message saying that he considered the proposal to be a sensible way forward.  Messages of support for the proposal had come from several Companions prevented by age or infirmity from attending the meeting.  Encouraging words had come from Pastor Louis Jestin of Brest who emphasised the ecumenical importance of the link although advancing age prevented him from taking any active role.   

The following points were made in discussion

the proposed development is seen as giving a new lease of life to the purpose for which the Companions had worked and existed

information about activities should continue to be published and those on email kept updated

remaining funds should be used to provide grants to facilitate pilgrimages and to promote the objects of the Companions  

Val Cain hoped that the Breton New Testament presented to the Companions by the Community could be cared for by the Cathedral.  Canon Perran explained that the development of the Cathedral School building might include library and display space and that the book would be cherished at the Cathedral

David Smith will have a pivotal role in promoting the next Church Leaders Pilgrimage

The resolution to dissolve the Companions of St Guénolé was passed unanimously.

The meeting agreed, after discussion, to Canon Perran’s proposal that the Working Group should operate under the title ‘The St Gwenolé Working Group’ using the Breton form.

Canon Perran asked the members of the Working Group whether they were prepared to continue and to this they agreed.

Verbal Reports

Canon Perran gave an account of the Church Leaders Pilgrimage in 2011 and the enthusiastic response of Bishop Tim and Chairman Steve Wild to their visit.  Both had been moved by the hospitality, spirituality and worship of the Community and all the pilgrims shared their view. 

Since then, Perran and Bishop Tim had been to Landévennec and discussed with Abbot Jean Michel how our relationship can serve the Church.  A future visit of pilgrims should include meeting one of the Chemin Neuf communities.

To show their commitment to the aims of the Companions, members of the Working Group had made a pilgrimage in April this year.  Again, they were warmly welcomed and left in no doubt regarding the value placed on the link by the community.  A slideshow illustrated this visit and the celebration of the Pardon on 1 May. 

Church Leaders Pilgrimage 2013

David Smith, in his role as CTC had produced a draft leaflet of information and application form.  It has already been arranged between the Abbey and the Church Leaders that this should take place from Thursday 25 April to Thursday 2 May 2013.  It would be in two parts, the Church Leaders would lead the pilgrimage from Friday morning until Sunday evening. Pilgrims unable to stay for the Pardon on 1 May would leave either on Monday 29 April or the next day.

Michael Tedder offered to use the slide sequence made at the Pardon as the basis for talks about Landévennec to promote interest amongst church groups.