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Lives Shared - Lives Transformed

“When you are living in community you suddenly realise what discipleship and following Jesus is really about.”

About Scargill House

Scargill House, set in 90 acres of the Yorkshire Dales, is home to the Scargill Movement, a Christian movement with an international community representing many Christian traditions.  Scargill House is a conference/holiday/retreat centre located in a beautiful part of North Yorkshire.  The community that lives there is committed to a common rule of life and service and it believes that lives are transformed by the love of God in Jesus Christ. So, together with a growing number of volunteers they are creating an environment where people are welcomed with love.

The key elements in the life of Scargill are prayer; caring hospitality; and the equipping of individuals and churches for mission; but the most important element is providing space for the transforming love of God to work in people’s lives.

 

 

Phil Stone is Director of the Scargill Movement and he and his wife Di live in the community there.  Phil has been in Parish Ministry for twenty two years and for thirteen of those years was a vicar in London.  He says: “When you are living in community you suddenly realise what discipleship and following Jesus is really about.”

“One of the things that really attracts people to community is because there is a real desire to take what the Gospel says seriously.”

Adrian Plass is writer-in-residence at Scargill.  Adrian and his wife Bridget, both ex-teachers, worked with children in care for many years and for the last 20 years they have been writing, speaking and travelling.  The couple were due to leave the community at the end of 2011.  Adrian says: “We will formally leave the community but hopefully we’ll still come and lead groups, and we will continue to support Phil and Di.”

“I’ve enjoyed having a semi-parental role with some of the young people and being involved with the community.”  He and Bridget are now looking forward to writing full-time again.

 

What drew him to here?

Adrian describes his route to Scargill by saying: “Three years ago or so, we felt that the time had come for something different to happen and so we prayed this foolish prayer about going anywhere and doing anything.”

“From that time we started to hear that Scargill had closed and was possibly re-opening.  We were filled with the knowledge that this was the place to be for a couple of years.”

In order for them to be in a position of being able to go anywhere and do anything, Adrian had said to God that he and Bridget would not accept any invitations, (they get speaking engagements all the time) for a year.

In September 2008, conversations between Phil and Adrian raised the question of Scargill – “who knows what will happen at Scargill”, they wondered? They kept praying and wondering if Scargill was the right place for them and in the end it was. 

The feedback from those who come to Scargill has been positive.  Adrian sums up the general mood when he says: “The thing people most often say they enjoy here is humour; laughter and love.  Laughter has an incredibly beneficial effect on people.  Just listening, really listening, you can’t really teach people that but to look into people’s eyes and want to know about them and not waiting to put your agenda on them and make them feel for a little while that they are really important people.  That’s what I think really helps people and not to lay all the God stuff on them, quote verse and tell them how to think.”

“Being a Christian is such a confusing thing for most, it isn’t for some.  Always questioning, always thinking about things – that’s what lets people in.”

“Those who offer me love and gentleness because they think that’s their responsibility – that’s fantastic!”

“Having been a vicar,” says Phil, “I have come to the conclusion since being here that there are many people who believe but will not step into church, and don’t find that church scratches where they itch.”

Adrian adds to this observation when he says: “Chesterton said that the church shouldn’t keep up with the times, it should move the times.  I think that there is some truth in that but the way we express it is often boring and safe.”

Both men agree that people are searching for something that Church or church fellowships can’t offer.  Adrian describes it as an “Authentic Christian Experience”.

Many of those who come to Scargill either as guests or to be in the community have been left cold by their bad experience of church.

Adrian describes some of the anxieties that people have when they come to Scargill when he says: “Community and guests are really anxious to find out if it is all worth it – does God exist? and if he does, what is he doing, why does he disappoint you, what can you do about it?”

“Those gritty fundamental questions, that nobody answers much and we haven’t got any answers but we do allow space for people to explore them.”

One of the spaces at Scargill where people can reflect is the Chapel, built in 1961 and designed by George Pace of York.  This is where they meet for community prayers and services on Sundays.  It is an incredible mixture of local stone, wood and glass and provides a beautiful space.

One of the promises that community members make at Scargill is that: “We can learn and improve in our efforts to strengthen the bonds of love and in our determination to welcome visitors and strangers as we would welcome Jesus himself.”

Phil is interested in people’s understanding of what God is like and he says: “We’ve had a few people here both community and guests who go away with a changed understanding of what they think God is like.”

“What I hope we try and be here, we try and just show the unconditional love of God here - it’s what we believe in.  We see that so wonderfully in Jesus.”

They are often overwhelmed at how positive people have been about their experience at Scargill House.  Both Adrian and Phil along with the community find this really encouraging as they have only been open to guests for just over a year.  Although there have been difficult times during this first year, Phil is pleased with what has been achieved so far.

Scargill House offers weekend and midweek retreats and can cater for up to 70 guests and Phil and Adrian are looking forward to the new ensuite accommodation being completed.  The 2011 programme offered weekends on a variety of themes including Writers’ Weekends, the Teachings of St Paul, Walking the Ancient Paths, as well as a Dickensian weekend.

 

Living in Community

Phil and Adrian want to open Scargill to all, so they both feel strongly that the children’s playground should stay.  Phil said: “It is lovely seeing the playground come back to life again – it’s absolutely brilliant.”

Currently there is one family in community and they are expecting two more families to join, one with a baby and a toddler and the other with two teenage children.  One of the families is intending to stay for 5 years and the children will attend the local schools.

For the first 3 months of joining the community, people make promises e.g. living to the rule of life.

Then after that time people take their final promises, and depending on what contract they have agreed on, they then live out that time in community. Phil says: “We are delighted with the people that we have appointed.”

When asked about whether they have achieved all the objectives that had been set out, they reply: “No, we are a work in progress.”

Phil says that he has learnt so much about himself since being at Scargill. “I’ve never done anything like this before; run a house and a community of people.”

“The hardest thing is leading the community and dealing with people’s expectations.  What they think that they have come to do and what they end up doing can sometimes not match up.”

Adrian adds:  “It’s very important not to try to fix people because you can’t but you can shift the tectonic plates just a tad so that they see a possibility of change in their lives and we do see that and people come back.”

“It’s very hard to define it. It’s not a big change, just a bud of hope. It’s really important.”

They are hoping to grow community to 30 members this year and both said that they hoped the community would include kids from inner cities.  The community is very fluid - there is always constant change and a whole new dynamic to get accustomed to and this can be testing for a small community.

Although Adrian and Bridget ‘fly the flag’ for Scargill whenever they can, both Phil and Adrian know that they need to do more in marketing terms to ensure that the community at Scargill is continually enriched.  Adrian spoke at Greenbelt last year and as a community they led some of the worship there.

At present, the size of the community, and the building restrictions, limit what they can actually offer guests.  Phil and Adrian would like to have a community of 40-50 members and could then be able to accommodate up to 100 guests over a weekend.

 

History of Scargill

Scargill House has been offering hospitality for over 50 years and gained a great reputation in its early days.  It was a place of hope for lots of churches and Christians in the North.  By 2000, things had became a bit stale and the council that managed Scargill decided to follow a different path – one that was more inclusive, much more multi-faith and more environmentally focussed, with a breadth of spirituality that went beyond orthodox Christianity.  In addition, the buildings at Scargill had not been kept up to date and as people’s expectations grew, Scargill got left behind and people stopped coming and the centre closed in 2008.

In the summer of 2009, new life was breathed into Scargill House and in addition to a team being established to look after its physical and spiritual development, a residential community began to be established and the Archbishop of York became the President.

Phil says: “One of the biggest things about coming here for all of us is that, there has been some dying that needs to happen for life to happen.  I believe very strongly that in all of us we have to go through the Good Friday to experience Resurrection in our lives.  I think that’s true of Scargill, it had to die to rise again.  I think that’s true of every community member here, there’s something that has to die in them for something new and something wonderful to come to life in them.”

 

Scargill House Development

It is clear from visiting that a considerable amount of modernisation is required to bring Scargill up to date.  Some of the furniture in the old house dates back to a time when it was an old hunting lodge and the old style bedrooms need to be updated.

A loan was secured from Lee Abbey to reopen Scargill.  Friends of Scargill have already paid back half of the loan but there is still £500,000 outstanding which needs to be paid in the coming year.  Phil is confident that they will be in a position to pay back this remaining money.  He believes that God is in this project and believes quite strongly that the money will come.  Work on the main phases won’t commence until the outstanding loan to Lee Abbey has been paid off.

Scargill House’s original plans caused some controversy in the village.  The plans were adapted in light of these concerns and have now been passed.  Adrian understands that some people may feel negative towards Scargill because of the planning that was required but says that: “We are anxious to be on good terms with the village.  But we are going to end up with a place that can serve people much better, more efficiently.”

On the whole, community relations are good, the Scargill community conduct services up and down the Dales and the Grassington Festival was recently held in the Chapel.  The local vicar comes regularly to lead prayers at Scargill and has close connections with the community.

Phil says: “I feel very passionate that as much as possible we are grafted in to the spirituality of the Dales and we can be a resource for the local churches."

“The majority of people actually can see that a thriving Scargill is good for them in all sorts of way. Particularly economically.”

Most of the 90 acres that Scargill is set in is woodland with a few meadow fields.  A huge band of volunteers assist Steve, the Estate and Maintenance Manager, and one of the community members to maintain the gardens throughout the year.  They have recently installed a new walled garden.

Overall, Phil and Adrian have much to be proud of.  The centre is again becoming a valuable resource for the wider community and their enthusiasm for the work that they are trying to do is infectious.

 

For more information on the Scargill Movement or Scargill House please click here.