In 1975 a vision was written on the hearts of a newly spirit-filled couple, Roy and June Hendy: the vision they felt called to was to start a residential community.
However, their own attempts to do this bore no fruit and they gave up hope of it ever happening. Then, in unexpected ways, God began to do it.
1975- Beginnings in Slough
One by one, strangers joined their family: young offenders, homeless people, including alcoholics, unmarried mothers . . . all living in their large, comfortable family home with Roy and June’s children (then aged 10-17). These were days of great fervour, painful mistakes and exciting miracles. But out of this chaos the community known as House of the Open Door (HOD) was born.
“…Where brothers dwell in unity, there God commands a blessing” (Psalm 133)
By 1978 Roy and June’s family home was bursting at the seams and it was necessary to find a bigger house. One day someone came across an ad in the local newspaper for a house for sale in a quiet corner near the centre of Slough. It was big and cheap, and with a few financial miracles, in August 1978 the extended family moved into a twenty-bed roomed, dilapidated house in Slough with rotten floorboards, damp walls and paneless windows. (This is the date we think of as the start of our Community.)
Despite the mess, families and single people who were attracted to what they saw happening began to join us. Over the next twelve years, as the house was restored, God also worked at restoring our lives, building up a praying, committed Community, as well as blessing and repairing many who came and went. Those of us who stayed and made HOD our home, found that God was forging a unity which we soon realised could only be sustained by our prayer-life and our “family” life together. Eating, praying, relaxing, working together provided ample opportunity to grow in generosity of heart as we shared the “nitty-gritty” of our lives. In it all, whether staying at home to cook and clean or going out to earn a salary for the “common purse”, our desire was to have our hearts focused on Jesus.
During these formative years the seeds were sown of various ministries: music and drama, leading worship, youth work, prison visiting, teaching and preaching, a discipleship training course, and other practical giftings such as pottery and crafts.
1989: Childswickham House
“Widen the space of your tent…” (Isaiah 54:2)
Having turned the ramshackle house of 1978 into a fairly respectable home, we believed that we would live and die in Slough, but God used a very persistent property developer to move us out of the town life of Slough, into Childswickham in the Cotswolds. So in December 1989, two days before Christmas, we moved into Childswickham House, again accompanied by a miracle or two along the way. It seemed a purpose-built place, as if God had been preparing it for us: a 60-acre farm, gardens and a complex of buildings with space enough for a Community home and Retreat Centre. God made it clear from the very start that this was a place to be shared with His people for their refreshment and peace.
During the first years at Childswickham, the first seeds of ministries sown back in Slough flourished. The”Eagle’s Wings” music and drama team began to travel abroad each year, and to be invited to conferences and schools in England, and started running the summer conferences for young people here at HOD. Visits to four local prisons began. The HOD Friday Night Fellowship Meetings which started in the basement of the old Slough house continued.
The pottery output increased in quantity and variety, and developed into a tool for teaching and outreach, as well as being a source of relaxation and enjoyment for visitors. The Retreat Centre in the early years began to draw more and more guests. The discipleship training course developed and became the Crossroads Community in 1998. Links made abroad meant that we had a steady influx of visitors from many European countries.
2007 – 2011: Changing times…
Over the period 2007 – 2011 Community experienced many changes. Some of the changes were physical: serious flooding in 2007 saw a metre of water inundate all of Childswickham House, our gardens and land (in some places more!). The recovery took many months, and included the building of flood defences.
There were big changes in community itself: many core members left community during this time, including Roy and June Hendy, our founders, who retired to Cornwall.
In 2011 Fiona Hendy went to Tanzania to co-found “Karibu Nyumbani” (Welcome Home) Ministries, a project building homes for abandoned children and orphans. We are helping to support the work of the project, along with Agape Community (Tanzania) and many individual supporters.
By 2011 there had also been a gradual change in the structure of our community life: at one time all of us (families and single) had lived at Childswickham House, but by 2011 the majority of members of community lived in homes in Childswickham village, Evesham or Broadway. This had obviously affected our common life and prayer as a Community.
In 2011 we felt God was calling us to a year of discernment, to pray for guidance and a renewed understanding of how to live out our calling as a Community.
The year of discernment 2011-2012
Between April 2011 and April 2012 we all set aside time to pray about a number of areas, including our vision and calling, and its practical outworking for us today.
Focussing on Acts 2:42, we asked ourselves how we can be faithful to “teaching,… fellowship, …the breaking of bread and to prayer” today, both personally and as a group.
Community felt God was speaking clearly about a number of issues, both spiritual and practical. New directions were agreed in three main areas: Community’s vision, committed membership of Community, and leadership of Community.
We also agreed and wrote down our new understanding of how community life should work in practice. This included a new leadership structure, and a changed understanding of several areas including committed membership, common life and shared prayer.
As well as praying as a group, the year was one of personal discernment, with each of us praying about our personal commitment to HOD’s vision; it was very important to discern this within the many callings on our lives as individuals and families. Our prayer was helped and informed by our chaplain Father Richard Jones OSB and many friends of community.
Team leadership in 2012
A team of five started to lead community in 2012, elected for a period of three years to oversee the work and ministry of the Community. The team was accountable to all members of Community, as well as the Community and Charity trustees. The team elected in 2012 was Andrea Makovska, Klara Smrcinova, Lynda Watson, Kevin Sumpter and John Trimming.
2012: A renewed vision
We all know that times and seasons bring change, and as we experienced changes in recent years it became clear that the original vision statement for the House of the Open Door needed to be brought up to date.
The original vision was written in the late 1970s when all the Community lived together on one site. Some members now live separately from the residential Community, and we recognised that the vision statement needed to reflect this change, as well as other changes, such as the development of the Retreat Centre.
Behold I have set before you an open door which no-one will be able to shut. (Rev.3:8)
This is the verse that inspired the name of our Community, and the vision statement will hopefully clarify the meaning of the Open Door, which has sometimes been understood to be a literal, physical open door. Jesus is the open door through which we are able to enter into Gods presence, to live in eternal Glory. It is by entering in through this door that our lives witness to the truth of the Gospel. The original vision always included spreading the Gospel and this remains at the heart of our life together.
Jesus meets with us personally, and has promised that when He sets us free, we are free indeed; so our vision also includes the hope that every individual be free in body and spirit, to be the person God has created them to be. We pray that living in this freedom will witness to the joy and hope of the resurrection.
Discovering our Charisms
In trying to describe our particular vision as part of the body of Christ, we discerned three main charisms of our Community.
The first is prayer and worship, which could be described as the most important. The residential Community meet at the beginning of every day to praise and worship God together and we believe God has given us a vision of a life of prayer to be lived not only in the chapel, but throughout the day, to deepen our calling to be a House of Prayer for all nations.
The second charism is ecumenism. Although Community members are predominantly Roman Catholic, the Community has always had members from different Christian traditions, and it is important for us to be part of our own parish communities.
The third charism, hospitality, is not just the physical hospitality we can offer through the Retreat Centre. One definition of hospitality is “the overflowing of a heart that has to share what it has received“(“Radical Hospitality: Benedict’s Way of Love” by Daniel Homan OSB and Lonni Collins Pratt). When we have received so many blessings from God it is impossible not to want to share them with others. We hope to be a place where our hearts will be open to one another and to our visitors, as St Benedict instructed, that all should be welcomed as Christ.
Write down the vision
In 2012, we took time to pray about the re-wording of our vision (see the Vision page).
As visions are given for particular times and places, we know this is not written in tablets of stone. It is our vision for the present time, and it is our desire to follow it as faithfully as we can, and to live out our lives together as part of the wider body of Christ.