Former Boys’ Brigade officer lifts lid on his monk’s life

The Anglican monastery at Mirfield
The Anglican monastery at Mirfield

A Northern Ireland man has told how a trip to see Pele at the 1966 World Cup resulted in him becoming a monk.

John Gribben grew up in east Belfast and was an officer in Willowfield Boys’ Brigade in his teenage years.

John Gribben and his brother George

John Gribben and his brother George

“At school when we learned about the monastery I had a romantic feeling that it was a lovely life,” he said.

“I’d always been interested in that life but didn’t think it was open to me.”

The 74-year-old – now a Father in the Anglican community of monks at Mirfield in West Yorkshire – said: “I didn’t know the Church of England or Church of Ireland had monasteries until I went to a BB camp in England in 1966.

“I was a young officer in the Boys’ Brigade when we went over to see one of the World Cup matches – Hungary vs Brazil. I saw Pele playing in Liverpool.

Inside the monastry

Inside the monastry

“While I was there I learned that there were Church of England monasteries and it was then that I really began to think that it seemed right for me.

“When I got back home I wrote off and asked if I could come and have a look at the place. I fell in love with it way back then in 1966.”

Fr Gribben, who has been at the monastery for 39 years, said: “The Troubles were at nearly their height in 1979 when I came over here to join the Community of the Resurrection.

“I went to Church of Ireland Theological College in Dublin and King’s College in London and was a curate in Dunmurry for four years before I came here.”

He spoke of some of the things people associate with monks.

“I’ve got a natural tonsure now, you don’t get your hair cut in the way most people think monks do, but God takes it away eventually.”

Of the commonly perceived vow of silence he said: “We keep quite a bit of silence.

“Two of the meals every day are in silence. We do have days that are kept silent all day, for example Fridays during Lent. Work carries on but we just don’t talk to each other.”

Fr John Gribben, a member of the Anglican community of monks in west Yorkshire for nearly 40 years

Fr John Gribben, a member of the Anglican community of monks in west Yorkshire for nearly 40 years

He added: “The vows are like those of the Benedictine Order, those of obedience, stability and conversion – turning all the time towards God. Celibacy isn’t a vow in itself but it is implied in the three main vows.”

He continued: “We wear robes, they’re very plain – just the ordinary Church of England cassock with a grey apron over it called a scapular. It’s a very practical outfit, it keeps you warm and means you don’t have much laundry.”

Of the day-to-day life of a monk he said: “There are five services a day, mixed in with that there are myriad kinds of work – for example we would have a gardening morning.

“The keeping of this site going, helping in other churches is all part of our work.

“At one time we had houses in South Africa and Barbados, but we don’t have the numbers for missionary work now.

“Mirfield is on a 22-acre site – as well as the monastery there is a theological college which we founded.

“The college has about 35 students, but on some weekends you could have nearly 100 people studying for the ministry in one way or another.

“There are 18 brothers at Mirfield. There were quite a number more when I joined but like most of the church numbers it declined in the 1970s. But 18 is actually quite a comfortable size.”