As we enter into December, the church remembers one I call the “Patron Saint of Mid-Life Crisis,” St. Nicholas Ferrar, 17th Century Deacon and Community Builder.
Nicholas was born in London in 1593 and educated at the prestigious Clare Hall in Cambridge. He would eventually become a Cambridge Fellow and, after traveling the European continent for a while, became a member of Parliament and a trustee in the Virginia Company. His political and financial stars shown brightly!
And then he decided it wasn’t the life he wanted to lead.
In 1625 he gave it all up and settled at a small house at Little Gidding in Huntingdonshire. He was soon ordained a Deacon and founded an Anglican community which was basically comprised of his immediate family and the families of his in-laws.
From 1626 to 1646 they restored a dilapidated church, held Masses for the community, established a school to teach the local children, and took on the task of caring for the health-care needs of the neighborhood.
They held weekly vespers and daily prayer, and he invited his community to practice intentional fasting, meditation, and spiritual story-telling and writing, composing a number of books illustrating the Christian life.
This little community was visited by English authorities and nobility and used as a place of prayer, blessing, and restoration.
St. Ferrar died in 1637 and the community was eventually destroyed by the Puritans who called it a “Protestant nunnery.” Most of the stories and books composed there were burned, and the chapel was once again put to ruin (though it was rebuilt in the 1800’s).
You might recognize “Little Gidding” as the title of the last of Eliot’s “Four Quartets,” one of the great religious poems of the Twentieth Century.
St. Ferrar is a reminder to me, and should be to everyone inside and outside the church, that it is absolutely Ok to stop doing things you are good at and seek a new path, no matter your stage in life.
The idea that everyone is called to do one thing, and one thing only, is a romantic fallacy. You can switch gears, by God.
-historical pieces from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations