Work is underway at the former vicarage of St Mary’s Church in Frome to prepare the house for a new Christian community for four self-supporting adults. They will live there for a year and work locally. During that time, they will pay rent and contribute to living expenses. As a community their shared life will be marked by a daily pattern of prayer, weekly work in the local community, and a rule of life with shared values and approaches to missional living.
The redundant vicarage at St Mary’s is unusual in that it is physically joined to the church hall and the church; in essence they are one building. It has been vacant and in need of repair since the former tenant moved out. Nestled on a raised incline, this site, serves as a hub for various community activities, hosting groups, a nursery school, and a courtyard soon to be upgraded by the PCC.
Among St Mary’s congregation there is an enthusiasm for the new project. The Revd Liz Dudley, Vicar of St Mary’s says, “It feels very much like God is at work here. The vicarage's tenancy termination for repairs and the community's embrace of pioneering approaches, showed us that there was an opportunity to do something new: to build on the work that’s already begun and to explore a new form of monasticism in the Diocese.
“The four people will be living here but will be working in the community, they will be part of their community. Frome is open to the spiritual side of life, there is a common concern for those on the edge of society and we hope that those who choose to live here will be able to connect with that aspect of life in the town. Mary’s House is an opportunity to show that you can live out in the world and live in a Chrisitan community with a rhythm of prayer and rule of life; that it is possible to do the two together.”
Frome pioneers, Elizabeth and Andrew Alden, who started the Giant’s Garden project on a piece of forgotten land formerly part of St Mary’s vicarage garden, are working with Revd Liz to help establish the new Christian community. The Giant’s Garden project, initiated in September 2022, is drawing in young adults who actively participate and extend invitations to others. The project's progress is documented on an associated Instagram account (1625thegiantsgarden), gaining recognition among secular organisations in town. Financial support, grants, and substantial volunteer efforts underscore the community's generosity and commitment to pioneering approaches.
This engagement aligns with a broader trend in the town's churches, spurred by a pioneering culture in the deanery, championed by Caroline Walker (Area Dean), and catalysed by the Pioneer Project initiated by the diocese. Andrew says, “We hope this community contribute to God’s work of regeneration in the churches in the town, increasing the missional impact of God’s people, and sustaining the current Young Adult Pioneer project into the future. We also hope the community will nurture and inspire a culture of pioneering in the town parishes and the wider deanery that will continue to grow and deepen beyond the boundaries of specific projects. In the long term it could develop a model that could be replicated elsewhere in the diocese.”
It's not just the house that will be part of the new community. There are also opportunities in the garden space outside the vicarage. In a derelict garden store, there are plans to create a continuous payer space. Open 24 hours a day, it will be a place of simplicity and beauty and will be open to everyone.
Elizabeth says the aim for the prayer space is that it will be, “an open space, that it won’t just be the church’s space, but will be everybody’s space. It will be a place of worship and beauty and we hope the whole community will be enriched by a foundation of prayer. Learning from other communities show that prayer is an essential foundation for establishing a distinctive and positive Christian community.”
The combination of St Mary’s site, the congregation's missional outlook, and the pioneering work at The Giant’s Garden presents an opportunity to explore and potentially establish a new Christian community in Frome.
Richard Priestley, is the New Christian Communities Development Lead at Diocese of Bath and Wells he says, “The Pioneer Project has helped to grow a culture of pioneering and innovation in the diocese raising wide range of new activity. This new venture learns from some monastic traditions of the past, looks to the future of a relevant Christian servant community that is rooted in the present, living and worshipping in the local context.”