John and Linda would pioneer the place of the Nethersprings and cultivate a spirituality that would find focus in a new monasticism. Although John and Linda are no longer at the heart of the Northumbria Community they continue to have an enduring influence on both community life and direction. Their definitive contribution was to provide the images, metaphors and models that created the focus for a new attention new monasticism that was and continues to be a primary and guiding influence in the organisation of meaning for the community.
In their journals and diaries which span two decades and from John’s lectures you will find many of the distinctive words, phrases, quotations and thinking that are peculiar to the self expression of the Northumbria Community and were foundational in the construction of the community ethos.
For both John and Linda the monastic church was a guiding influence in their nurture and development in the Christian faith.
It was John who in 1979 during his first year at theological college had first discovered the Bonhoeffer quote on a new type of monasticism;
‘the restoration of the church will surely come only from a new type of monasticism which has nothing in common with the old but a complete lack of compromise in a life lived in accordance with the Sermon on the Mount in the discipleship of Christ. I think it is time to gather people together to do this’
(Bonhoeffer a letter to his brother Karl-Friedrick 14 Jan 1935 an extract)
Unlike Bonhoeffer, he felt that this new monasticism must have an intimate and deep link with the old.
At 18, Linda had left her home in Sale, Cheshire, for a working holiday in New Zealand. It was on this adventure that she first heard the call of Christ to ‘deny yourself take up your cross and follow me.’ Linda did just that. Leaving behind her flat and possessions she took to the street sharing the same message that had captured her own heart. Mistaken for somebody who had a breakdown, she was rescued by a community of Sisters who helped her make sense of her newly acquired faith in the Lord. The images of their own poverty, prayer and dependency on the Lord would have a sustaining influence for Linda as she struggled with the insecurities that would follow her vocation and caring for an ever growing community of people.
John and Linda met and married while at Bible College in Berwick upon Tweed, which would eventually lead to Lincoln Theological College and John’s ordination as a Priest in the Church of England. When newly married they had attended a retreat at the Society of St. Francis (SSF) at Alnmouth Friary on the beautiful Northumberland coast, seeking God’s guidance for their lives together. It was SSF who would offer friendship and spiritual direction throughout the early years of pioneering the community, when the Church was suspicious and unsupportive of their vocation. It was Br. Rammon who first affirmed their call to the contemplative life. Br. Jonathan and later Br. Colin Wilfred who would give advice, support and spiritual direction. SSF gave them a very positive introduction to the Monastic Tradition. However, it was Br. Roland Walls of the Community of Transfiguration who became their mentor as they pioneered the Nethersprings and would be their spiritual director and soul friend for nearly fifteen years. The Community of Transfiguration became the model from which John and Linda began to shape their own lives and later that of the Community. The small garden huts in which the brothers live are a symbol of the vulnerability that opens the door to ‘the one thing necessary’ and their availability to people and place, a sign of a freedom that comes from a lack of security, possessions and social definition
From their days of living with Andy at Berwick upon Tweed, the dark and difficult days of discovering the Nethersprings, shaping the Northumbria Community and traveling throughout Europe, John and Linda have retained their pioneering spirit. This, as always, has endeared them to those on the journey and frustrated and alienated those who prefer a more established way.
(Linda and John have four grown up children Jayne, Sara, Sadie and Ben)
John & Linda Skinner