Serenhedd James discovers Christian’s Acre

Readers of New Directions will recall from December’s edition that I was recently in Sweden, covering Pope Francis’s visit to Lund and Malmö. Those who are kind enough also to read my column in the Church Times will by now have an idea of my thoughts on the Commemoration of the Reformation and its implications (or not) for ecumenical dialogue between the Roman Catholic and Lutheran Churches in the years ahead – but here endeth the lesson on that matter, at least for now.

Thanks to Sr Gerd Swensson and Fr John Brownsell I had bed and board for my visit at Christian’s Acre – perhaps best described as a Swedish outpost of the See of Fulham. Sr Gerd ministers at All Saints’, Notting Hill, where Fr Brownsell is incumbent; and he in turn acts as chaplain – it is, after all, only a few hours’ journey from London to Copenhagen, the nearest airport, and vice versa.

Christian’s Acre – Christens Gård – has been in Sr Gerd’s family since the 1740s, and was formerly a working farm. Originally there were four main buildings forming a quadrangle – the traditional shape of farms in this southern part of Sweden. The fourth side, which was the cowshed, was built facing south so that the animals could benefit from the warmth of the sun; but it was demolished after a devastating storm in the 1960s, so now the light floods into the courtyard instead.

Just over ten years ago Sr Gerd transformed the buildings into a retreat-centre, and people now come from far and wide to take advantage of the peace and quiet. The former stables were turned into guest accommodation for fifteen people, including a small self-contained flat. A kitchen in the guest house allows visitors to cater for themselves – although why anyone wouldn’t want to tuck into Sr Gerd’s delicious home-cooked fare is beyond me.

The old pigsty, meanwhile, was transfigured into the light-filled Chapel of the Holy Cross, which was dedicated by the then-Bishop of Fulham, Mgr John Broadhurst. Ten years later, priests of the Society are welcome to celebrate Mass in the Chapel; which is offered as often as a priest is available. The Divine Office is said regularly, and the Blessed Sacrament is reserved – so times of quiet prayer and Exposition are also features of the life of the house. The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham provides a focus for the Rosary and other devotions, including, naturally, the Angelus. There is also an outdoor walk of the Stations of the Cross around the garden.

Sr Gerd encourages guests to use the sitting rooms in the main house, with their crackling open fires in winter; and upstairs there is a library with comfortable armchairs (and a full run of New Directions, naturally), along with the small Oratory of Our Lady & All Saints. For anyone whose duties require access to internet, there’s even a WiFi connection.

Christian’s Acre also maintains close links with the Community of the Holy Cross at Costock, where Sr Gerd is an Oblate. Reverend Mother Mary Luke attended the tenth-anniversary celebrations last June, over which the present Bishop of Fulham presided. This year the Bishop of Richborough will lead a Eucharistic Conference for priests, in September. A home from home, in every sense; and, to paraphrase a mantra from Holy Trinity, Reading, easily reached by fast planes from almost anywhere.

Sr Gerd writes: Christian’s Acre is easily accessible from Copenhagen airport. A train service from the airport with an easy change at Malmö will take you to Östra Grevie station within an hour. The house is situated in countryside about fifteen minutes’ walk from the station – and trains every half-hour provide quick and comfortable travel to Malmö; Lund, with its university and ancient cathedral; the attractive seaside town of Trelleborg; or the buzzing city of Copenhagen. The southern coast of Sweden, with its quaint fishing villages and holiday resorts facing the Baltic Sea, is only 10km away. Opportunities for birdwatching, walks, or drives through rolling countryside and peaceful villages – in the forest or by the seaside – are plentiful; as are visits to lovely churches, country houses, and museums. Hiring a car is easy for those who want to drive themselves; and a programme of outings and sightseeing can be arranged to include contact with local churches of various denominations.