A Home – Ravensdowne
In anticipation of the arrival of their new baby John and Linda were getting ready to move into their new home. Some what reluctantly Berwick County Council had offered them a four bedroom, three reception room, old Victorian house which they had purchased under a compulsory order for a road they would never build. They didn’t usually rent to students. Very neglected, the old place needed a lot of love and affection.
With little money and absolutely no furniture or household goods and a baby on the way they had little time to sort something out. They prayed a lot. A friend bought some paint, another turned up with brushes and rollers and the offer of help. A phone call from friends in Manchester brought the offer of living room furniture, did they need it? A college student had to return home unexpectedly could they store all her furniture and household goods in return for using them?
They both slept well the first night in their new home blessed by the Lord through the generosity of friends. In the morning they were greeted by a letter with a Canadian post mark. It was from Andy. He was coming home soon, could he come and stay for a day or two? He arrived that afternoon. Jayne decided to make her arrival soon after.
This was in ’78 and Andy would stay with the Skinners for several months. He describes that period in their lives as “a significant taste even then of what community was to mean.”
The house soon became a meeting place for people from all walks of life. At that time ecumenical relationships weren’t that great. John and Linda attended Bible College where anybody just left of conservative was in need of salvation. As Anglicans they were frequently asked if they were born again and religious tracts were often left at the local Parish Church. Andy soon brought home a variety of Christians. Conservative, Liberal, Catholic, and Protestant who mixed very well with the growing number of lonely and hurting people who had begun to find their way to the house and soon the barriers and prejudices that had separated people began to fall. This precious gift became one of the distinct characteristics of the Northumbria Community.
The local vicar and curate came once a week to celebrate Eucharist and Andy’s impromptu worship services were a great blessing, except for the neighbours who complained their chandelier would swing when everybody was dancing. There was never an attempt nor suggestion to start a ‘new church’ a growing trend in those days. Membership of the community would never be an alternative for belonging to the local Church. This is the reason why Sunday worship at the Nethersprings was never encouraged.
Folk would often come and stay for a few days. Sometimes for a rest, to retreat or were seeking help and healing. Doug and Jeanette with their new baby moved into Ravensdowne full-time when they had to move out of their student digs. They were living by faith, with no grants for there college fees. This put a strain on the already meager household budget, as only John had a grant. There is one story that tells of several weeks of having no cash, avoiding the bill collectors, and going several days with no or irregular meals. Each time they prayed they were given the same scripture; Deuteronomy Chapter 8 v 1-5 John who was responsible for the household budget confesses to a loss of nerve, and headed home to get some cash off his folks. Staying overnight, he read the daily reading before going to sleep. It told the story of a man who went to Egypt to get food for his family during a famine. It said God had forbidden him to go. John jumped out of bed to his knees and asked God to forgive him. Next day he set off for home, refusing the money offered to him. He was greeted by a selection of newly delivered bills. The last letter he opened was a sizable cheque, a gift from the Diocese of Durham towards his household expenses. Everybody was paid and they had a party with what was left over. God is Good. This was valuable preparation for the years of pioneering that were ahead, when there was a regular shortage of money and resources and when the budget deficit would go into the thousands.
Life at Ravensdowne provided a lot of the raw material that would be carried to the Nethersprings and the Northumbria Community. Andy continued with his itinerant ministry from Ravensdowne taking the fruit of what was being learned to all who were seeking God. John and Linda while continuing their biblical studies began a journey that would lead them deeper into the heart of the contemplative/desert tradition.