The first mission of the Community was started after an Anglican priest on sabbatical with his wife, had met the Chemin Neuf Community in Paris in 1992. This mission was a week’s “time out” for couples and their children, called Cana Sessions. As these became an annual fixture, a team of people grew who helped with the sessions but who also, many of them, were searching for some kind of expression of community life. As Cana developed, they came to a closer knowledge of the Chemin Neuf Community through times of formation and sharing.
In April 1999, twelve people met with the Community at Livry in Paris to pray about the question of joining the Community.
Around the same time, the Vicar-General of Clifton Catholic Diocese was exploring the possibility that the Community might be interested in running the retreat house in Langport, Somerset. By August, seven people had decided to join the Community and the offer to run St. Gildas had been accepted and the house occupied by the Community.
One celibate with two single women and a single man lived at St Gildas with an Anglican couple.
What followed was a time of mission and formation with a Community made up mostly of English couples from three different denominations.
The Anglican Bishop of Bath and Wells welcomed the Community to the diocese in 2001.
Dominique and Marie-Christine Ferry came to lead the UK Community in 2002. They moved to New Cross at the invitation of the Catholic Diocese of Southwark to run a South Bank Universities student Chaplaincy. And in 2009 they were asked to run the Augustinian Canonesses’ large student house, More House, whilst also having responsibility for the Catholic Chaplaincy at Imperial College.
In 2012 the Sisters of Instruction finally confirmed their intention to sell St Gildas. The Community set about praying for discernment about our future in England, knowing we would have to leave by summer 2013, though leaving a caretaker Community couple in place while the property went on the market. One of the good friends of Chemin Neuf heard from an old school friend that the Norbertine Canons at Storrington wanted to vacate their house. Chemin Neuf moved there in 2013. And within a few months, the Catholic Diocese of Westminster invited the Community to consider running the parish of Cockfosters in North London; Archbishop Justin Welby invited Chemin Neuf to run his private chapel at Lambeth Palace as well as acting as chaplains to the new Community of St Anselm which he wanted to start; and the Catholic Bishop of Plymouth asked if Chemin Neuf might accept Sclerder Abbey near Looe in Cornwall as a gift.
Two other ventures were also launched in 2014: a student house opposite Liverpool cathedral and a project at St. Patrick’s Church Hove at the instigation of the Anglican bishop of Chichester.
This unexpected and rapid expansion required a big investment by the whole Chemin Neuf Community of more English-speaking brothers and sisters from abroad. The Community in England became much more aware of the Community’s nature as international, ecumenical and with mixed states of life (single, married, celibate). It was also a time when the Community began to be known and recognised by the leaders of different churches.
In “normal” times, the Community runs a variety of retreats mainly at the two houses of welcome: Storrington and Sclerder. (The projects at Liverpool and Hove closed after three years of experiment). The eight-day Spiritual Exercises are the most typical mission; but the Cana mission to couples continue, as do retreats for healing, for discernment at work, Quiet Days and Net for God groups. Many people and organisations come for their own purposes, or simply to have time out for prayer or service. Cockfosters is a dynamic parish with CCN priests and lay people active in service. CCN still run the Archbishop’s private chapel at Lambeth and assist in welcoming his guests, as well as working on the spirituality side of the Community of St. Anselm.
Despite the restrictions of Lockdown most of these activities continued on-line and surprising new possibilities have arisen as a result.