A Place to Be
When St Cedd arrived in Essex in the 7th century, he built a little church on the coast overlooking the North Sea. The area had originally been the home of a Roman garrison and Cedd built the chapel of St Peter-on-the-Wall, Bradwell-on-Sea on the foundations of the old fort. Over time it fell into disuse but was restored again for worship in 1920. Since 1946 this has been a place of peace, friendship and renewal. Along with the Othona Community, belief and faith are integrated with community living. Bishop Stephen Oliver makes his own pilgrimage there to meet members of the Community and to pray and reflect alongside them with Chaplain, the Rev'd Brigid Main. He spends time among the visitors as they relax and explore big questions in an atmosphere of openness and hospitality.
Producer: Clair Jaquiss.
BBC Producer, Rev Clair Jaquiss reflects on her experience at the Othona Community
A place to be
The community has been there on the Blackwater Estuary since 1946 when the Rev’d Norman Motley was inspired to find somewhere where people could reflect on what had happened in the Second World War and could ask the big questions in an open and accepting atmosphere. It became a place of reconciliation and discussion which continues to this day. How then was this “A place to be”?
As we spent time there, we came to realise how this openness was still being developed by the community today.
The area is unspoilt almost to the extent of neglect. The salt marshes are flat and featureless and the water glimmers across the grassland in the sun. The beach is not sand, but mud. There are no concessions to tourism in this stretch of the coast. As Bishop Stephen said, “It must be a very bleak place in the winter”. It was here that St Cedd travelled down from Lindisfarne in the 7th century to teach and preach Christianity, the good news of God’s love, to the East Saxons. When he arrived, he found the remains of a Roman fort: Othona. The local people were afraid of the Romans and saw them as devils, so St Cedd would have spent a deal of time praying on the land to redeem it once more for God. Here he founded a community of beehive huts, and there on the coast, he built a small chapel from the ruins of the Roman fort. You can still see the Roman tiles in the walls that he recycled.
As the years went by the chapel fell into disuse. It was used for many years as a barn by local farmers and so it was preserved. Unlike many ancient buildings, it was not dismantled and the stones used for building elsewhere. It was restored at last in the 1920s and when Norman Motley was looking for a place to base his community of reconciliation, this place spoke to him. He said that he felt as if he had come home.
The land here, near the village of Bradwell, is also the place where a nuclear power plant was built. Perhaps the remote area for the power station remained unspoilt because people did not want to build near the power station. Now the plant is being decommissioned.
I wondered, looking at how the land has been used, how this “place to be” had been a focus for redemption and reconciliation through time. Cedd’s chapel, St Peter on the Wall, used stone and tiles from a building that was about power and a conquering nation (the Roman fort) to build a place of peace and community. It stands alone, prominent on the marshes. The power station, with its potential for danger, however conscious and careful its builders were to keep it safe, now needs to be encased in concrete. It stands separate from the local population, standing out in the landscape. Nearby, the Othona community works to build a sustainable community with its solar panels, wind turbines and sensitive care of the natural environment.
The chaplain, the Rev’d Brigid Main, describes the chapel as one of those thin places where the boundaries between earth and heaven seem to touch. I left with the impression that it was indeed “a place to be” – in the presence of good, caring and open people, and of a God whose longing is for humanity to live in harmony with others and with the earth we are given to care for.
Title: I the Lord of sea and sky (Here I am Lord)
Composer: Daniel L Schutte
Choir: Chester Cathedral Choir accompanied by the Pipe Organ
CD: Sing for Joy – Cathedral Praise
CD No: ICC0858D
CD Label: ICC
Title: Brother sister let me serve you
Composer: Richard Gillard
Choir: Northumbria Community
CD: Waymarks, Songs of the Journey
CD No: NCCD102
CD label: 2001 Northumbria Community Trust Ltd
Title: Song of the Still heart
Composer: Colin Hodgetts
Soprano: Evelyn Tubb
CD: Othona Psalms
CD No: Unpublished
Title: How deep the father’s love
Composer: Stuart Townend
Choir: The Daily Service Singers
CD: The Daily Service
CD No: KMCD2330
CD Label: Kingsway