LAST Thursday there was joyful celebration at The Friars at Aylesford near Maidstone, to mark the opening of the refurbished pottery showroom.
As regular visitors to The Friars will know, all visitors to the potteries are welcome and the handicapped and children are encouraged to don an apron and try their hands at the wheel.
This ancient Carmelite priory is still called by its old name of The Friars. It all started in 1242 when Richard de Grey brought a group of Carmelites from the Holy Land. It became one of England's most important houses of the Order, nearly surviving the onslaughts of the Reformation.
James II was all set to grant complete restoration but the rapidly escalating events of 1688 ended all such hopes. It was not until All Saints' Day, 1949, that the Carmelites eventually regained possession of their ancient home.
The First Prior of modern times, Father Malachy Lynch, began what many have called a miraculous work of restoration, and it is the imaginative blend of the medieval and the restored that visitors, like myself, have so greatly enjoyed in recent years.
At the entrance of the Aylesford courtyard an inscribed stone reads (in Latin) "The flower of Carmel, once cut down, now blooms again with greater splendour."
THE visitor who has just looked around the priory may be a little confused by the variety of activities.
Basically, though, the present day purpose of the Carmelites has not changed from the spirit they had when they first came to Aylesford more than 700 years ago.
The priory is still the home of a small group of men who have given their lives in order to come closer to God and to place their talents at his service. The present community normally totals around a dozen Carmelites plus some novices, who are seeking whether they have a vocation. Although each member of the community has his own area of work, either working in the priory on the day-to-day organisation or working outside giving retreats or lectures, all live together as one commmunity sharing everything in common and worshipping together regularly.
At Aylesford, the community acts as a nucleus around which others can gather and find spiritual encouragement. The work of Aylesford, of course, is not carried by the friars alone but together with the Carmelite sisters and the numerous lay people who give of their time or contribute to the work.
Throughout the year thousands of people visit the priory; it is estimated that close to 200,000. people come each year. Whereas in the past the friars went out into the market place preaching, nowadays the crowds coming to Aylesford provide the opportunity for a very fruitful apostolate.
Many people come simply to look at the old buildings, others come on pilgrimage and to pray. Some come with problems seeking help or sympathy. Many stay at The Friars for a few days either on their own or as part of an organised group.
Members of the Carmelite community organise retreats for lay people and for religious and also various types of conferences.
Other groups come to The Friars to use the conference facilities and the community are always willing to help these whenever they can.
Not all groups are Catholics or even Christian. Jewish groups, for example, have found The Friars a congenial venue for courses of study and spiritual renewal, which is an interesting link with the origins of the Order.
FOLLOWING my recent remarks about the allegedly doubtful canonical regulations about women serving on the altar, a reader, browsing about on the subject, came, with serendipity, upon a formula with regard to the reckoning of time which, he said, would, greatly help him when planning his summer holiday.
The Canon in question is number 203 which reads, in part, "Unless the contrary is prescribed, the final day is to be reckoned with the total; if the total time is one or more months, one or more years, one or more weeks, it finishes on completion of the last day bearing the same number, or, if the month does not have the same number, the completion of the last day of the month."
Surely nothing could be more clear or helpful.
WHO will be the next President of the USA?
Most Republicans are downcast, but I can report on one who isn't. He is Dr Pat Robertson, who will be visiting the Christian Resources Exhibition at Sandown Exhibition Centre, Esher, Surrey in May.
Dr Robertson has stepped down from presenting his nationwide television Christian Chat Show — the "700 Club" — to concentrate his efforts on winning the Republican nomination in the presidential elections in two years' time.
Dr Robertson founded Christian Broadcast Network, the world's largest Christian news service and he is America's best known Christian broadcaster.
The European Religious Broadcasters Association will be holding their second Annual Convention at the Exhibition Centre, Sandown, Esher on May 18 and 19. Broadcasters from all over Europe will be attending both the convention and then the exhibition, together with over 100 religious broadcasters flying in from the United States.
Dr Pat Robertson will be making the keynote address at the convention's banquet on Tuesday May 19 and will visit the exhibition on the opening day, May 20.
A member of Dr Robertson's staff said "he was looking forward to visiting the exhibition and hoping to get round most of the 320 stands because he feels Britain has a great deal to offer the rest of the world in Christian resources, gifts and talent".
Dr Robertson hopes to extend his visit to include "a few personal appointments in preparation for his forthcoming elections".
DID you happen to hear Roy Castle reading Susan Ingleman's An Egg for Easter last week on the wireless? Possibly not as it was a "school-time" feature. It could well have survived a "peakier" period.
It was the story of two French children's search for their family after the Second World War. But all they apparently disovered was an ornamental egg.
The producer, Geoff Marshall-Taylor, explained the use of this rather unusual story at Easter: "The children's search through desolate postwar France, their discovery of an ornamental Russian egg and eventually a relative living in Strasbourg who gives them the key to a new life, reflects the Easter story of resurrection and hope coming from despair."
The programme was exceptionally well done and was accompanied by English and Alsace hymns and songs sung by two Strasbourg schools. One was the boys' school of St Etienne, and the other the girls' school from Notre Dame de Sion. Each was accompanied by a local Alsace band.
The result was delightful. So intrigued was I by the originality of the theme and its presentation that I made further enquiries and discovered that a 35mm filmstrip is available from the BBC for use with the story. (Further information can be gleaned from Wendy Tobitt, BBC Educational Broadcasting Publicity, Tel: 01-927 4630).
ON May 15 an unusual ecumenical pilgrimage will set out for Lourdes. The various difficulties in preparing it have been largely overcome thanks to the successful raising of £5000.
It all began when fifteen of the residents of the The Royal Hospital and Home for Incurables in Putney expressed a desire to make such a pilgrimage.
The group will be jointly led by the Senior Chaplain, the Rev Thomas and Catholic chaplain, Fr Lavery.
Though enough money is available, the great need is for strong helpers as those being taken on the pilgrimage can do little for themselves.
Volunteers are thus urgently being sought. They will need to provide no money — only their loving and "sturdy" care. "
The pilgrimage will be for one week only, and I am advised that anyone who is interested should contact Dr M A Tudor at The Royal Hospital, West Hill, London SW15 3SW.