ON BEING AN OBLATE:  A personal view from Vincent Basil, Minster Abbey


A few days ago I was out walking in some nearby woods. It had recently rained and the path was muddy. Under my feet was a whole collection of footprints and some cycle tyre tracks. They were of all shapes and sizes; some seemed to have been made by heavy duty walking boots, others suggested the delicate tread of small children. Most were concentrated in the middle of the path, but some more adventurous ones led to the leaves by the sides of the track. They were individual – but they had one thing in common: they all followed the same road.

I am an oblate of Minster Abbey, in north-east Kent. As a married layman I am not, and never will be, a full member of that Community. But I do not see myself as a second class citizen – I am not some sort of lay brother brought in to do the tedious bits and to free up the Sisters so that they can concentrate on the real holy stuff. Nor have I ever encountered such a view on their part. No, I see myself as a different set of footprints on the woodland track, treading the same path walking the same route as the Sisters, but in my own way, offering my own distinctive gifts.

And how is it that I and my fellow oblates tread this same path? What binds us to the Sisters? Prayer, of course, but not prayer in a vacuum, isolating us from the world. I did not become an oblate to flee the world and its evils, to pretend to be some sort of secondary contemplative. No, what I and other oblates share is the commitment to prayer and work. As a modern hymn puts it:

We are pilgrims on a journey,

 We are trav’llers on the road;

 We are here to help each other

Walk the mile and bear the load.


The Sisters’ way of life and way of bearing the load  is a true inspiration – and it is one in which we oblates can sometimes share. Praying the office with them is a classic task – and a very pleasant one – but equally important is the way we can help in practical ways: doing the shopping, helping in the kitchen garden, collecting visitors from the airport, when necessary taking the Sisters to hospital and generally making ourselves useful. For those seeking tasks with a more biblical ring, there is helping with the lambing at the appropriate time and assisting with the refugees to whom the Sisters have offered a home. To my mind there is no distinction of quality between such practical tasks  and the more “religious” side of the life of the Community, such as prayer and meditation. Indeed, St Benedict makes this very clear when he lays down detailed advice on the practical running of the Community, and in particular in Chapter 31, where he invites his companions to “look upon all the vessels and goods of the monastery as though they were the sacred vessels of the altar” – an injunction which I try hard to remember when cleaning the bathroom or doing the washing up!

The Sisters in turn have helped me to recover a balanced and fulfilled vision of the world and my part in it. With their life of prayer and reading – and by the example of practical Christianity they offer to all, they place at our disposal a centuries-long store of love, wisdom and service, a light that shines a long way outside the confines of the Abbey. Again in Chapter 31, St Benedict reminds us of the Prophet Sirach’s call to us all that “a kind word is higher than the best gift”. And this is a lesson which we oblates can take with us and use once away from the Abbey, back in our day-to-day secular, materialist life.

In short, through their love for us and others, the Sisters show us what love is. They proclaim the love of God. They show us how to love.

And when I take my place in the chapel for the Office, I can think back to the same hymn, and pray:

When we sing to God in heaven

We shall find such harmony,

Born of all we’ve known together

Of Christ’s love and agony.


Vincent Matley

Contact Us

Please do drop us a line.

Not readable? Change text. captcha txt