Br Francis

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18 January 1904 – 23 December 2003

May he rest in peace; and rise in Glory.

At St Philip's Friary

_At St Philips Friary_

I think that it was in January 1950 or 1951, while I was a student at King’s College, London, that I went with other students to a very well attended meeting in the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, just across the street from Westminster Abbey. It was the beginning of the week of prayer for the unity of Christians. Seated on the platform were the three main speakers – a Methodist, an Anglican and for the first time a Roman Catholic – together with the Bishop of London, William Wand, who had been formerly the Archbishop of Brisbane and who was the President of the Meeting.

Seated behind these dignitaries were the people who had organized it – mostly Anglican male religious in their habits. Among them was a little man in a brown habit, whom I had never met before. That was Brother Francis or Father Francis, as he would have been called in those days. Afterwards a friend who knew him introduced me to Francis, who in the course of conversation said: “You must come to Glasshampton in Worcestershire, where I am the Novice Master and Friar in Charge.” I went there two or three times before I ever visited the main Friary at Hilfield in Dorset.

Who was this little Friar Francis? Where had he come from? Where has be been? We know indeed where he has now gone – into the safe-keeping of the merciful and loving God and into the presence of our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, together with all those people of faith who have gone before him.

Francis as a Boy
_Francis as a boy_

Playing Piano
_Playing piano_

Francis’ surname is Tyndale-Biscoe. He claimed to be a descendant of some kind of William Tyndale the first translator of the Scriptures into English. The first four years of his life were in India where his family were notable missionaries, sponsored by the Church Missionary Society. His education in England was partly obtained at a prodigious public school, Marlborough and at Trinity College, Oxford and would have included music. He became a pianist of great ability throughout his life, giving pleasure not only to himself but to many who heard him who liked that kind of music – Beethoven, Mozart, Chopin, Bach, Handel and others.

At Oxford he read theology and was influenced by such teachers as Darwell Stour and Kenneth Kirk – the result was that as an undergraduate he moved from the evangelical background of his upbringing to an ardent Anglo-Catholic outlook which he maintained throughout the rest of his life. He used to say that sometimes discussions at home became so heated that theological and ecclesiastical topics were forbidden at the meal table. His father was a vicar in Oxford.

With Parents
_with parents 1906_

At Marlboro
_At marlborough 1921_

After a period as a travelling secretary of the Student Christ Movement (SCM), he went to Westcott House Theological College in Cambridge to prepare for Ordination. He was to be ordained in the Diocese of Southwick where the Bishop was a strict disciplinarian, Cyril Garbett, later Archbishop of York. Francis had a vagueness about him, which meant that sometimes he went to the wrong place at the wrong time or even on the wrong day. He said he went to the rehearsal of his ordination but found that there was no one else in the cathedral who was expecting a rehearsal for an ordination. After sitting there for some time, it dawned on him that he was in the wrong cathedral. He was in the Roman Catholic one and had to beat a hasty retreat to the Anglican one. With ordination he served a curacy in a parish of the Southwick Diocese.

Throughout these early years he was feeling his way towards the Religious Life and he was attracted by St Francis of Assisi. His father had moved from Oxford to a rural parish in the west of England and it was through his visits to his family that he discovered Brother Douglas Downes and the members of the Brotherhood of Saint Francis of Assisi at Flowers Farm, what soon became the Hilfield Friary. He had also come to know Father Algy and those with him at St Ives in Huntingtonshire. When the two groups merged to form the Society of Saint Francis, our Brother Francis became the first novice. He was professed in 1938.

With the outbreak of war in 1939 the Society was asked to take on St Chrysostom’s Church, Peckham, in South London. Francis was appointed the priest-in-charge. The church was bombed but the daily worship continued. Londoners sought protection in the air-raid shelters and underground railway stations. Francis served the people with soup and comfort. Brother Preston entertained them on his violin.

On Malvern Hills
_on malvern hills with no#1A_

St Ives
_St Ives 1933_

When the war was over the Society was offered the use of the Glasshampton Monastery near Shrewley in Worcestershire. The buildings were originally the stables of a mansion which had been destroyed by fire. The proposal was that the monastery would became an enclosed House of Prayer where novices would be for nine months of the novitiate. Brother Geoffrey who many will remember was one of the first to go there. Brother William was there and Brother Andrew who has been in PNG now for 43 years and I were there. Brother Francis was our novice master. He was instrumental in forming our vocations which he did by his stability, his example and devotion, as well as by his instruction and encouragement.

Glasshampton is largely a House of Silence. We didn’t go away from the Monastery except for a walk on Sunday afternoons and an outing to Malvern and Worcester on Ascension Day. If the atmosphere could sometimes become rather tense it was often relieved by Francis’ antics. There were many funny moments. There was on occasions a playfulness about him, almost a naughtiness. Each weekday he would give us a lecture for an hour before the evening prayer. We would sit at the table – he would sit at one end. If it was some particular Saint’s day he would produce a box of chocolates, start talking about his pet subject – ecumenism. We would keep him talking while the box of chocolates did the rounds until it was finished and the bell rang for evening prayer. The lecture we were supposed to have we didn’t get. The altar in the chapel in those days was against the wall. The celebrant stood with his back to the congregation. I remember on one Sunday I was the celebrant. We had the asperges at the beginning of the Mass. Francis insisted that only he would sing the appointed words – “Thou shalt purge me with hyssop and I shall be whiter than snow, etc” As I turned to go back to the altar his singing suddenly stopped like a power-cut. I felt the Brothers shaking with muffled laughter. I said to the Server “What’s happened?” “You’ve drowned Francis!” Came the reply. I glanced over my shoulder and there was Francis wiping Holy Water off his spectacles so that he could continue.

At Stroud Hermitage
_At Stroud Hermitage_

During part of the summer he went away from the Monastery to go to what was called the Hopping Mission in Kent. People from East London got away from the big city to pick hops. With Oxford and Cambridge University students, Francis was one of the Brothers who camped and worked alongside these people. Francis and other Brothers would convene discussion groups among the students to discuss various subjects. Many of those students became very distinguished in their chosen vocation later in life. It was for no attraction to beer that Francis went on these missions for the only alcoholic beverage he dared to accept was Somerset Cider.

The nine years at Glasshampton gave Francis the opportunity to write. On a noisy dilapidated typewriter he translated from Latin into English some of the works of St Bonaventure which were published. Bonaventure was his favourite theologian. He also wrote the biography of Brother Douglas, one of our founders, with the sub-title ’Apostle of the Outcast.’

Yet in his heart Francis was hoping that the Society would be strong enough to venture overseas. He was very much aware that our roots lay in India with the Christa Prema Seva Sangha to which people like Jack Winslow and Bill Lash belonged. But if it couldn’t be India it might be Africa. During these Glasshampton years for Francis two overseas bishops were bashing loudly on the Society’s doors. One was Phillip Nigel Warrington Strong, Bishop of New Guinea and the other was Oliver Green Wilkenson, the Bishop of Northern Rhodesia, now known as Zambia. Brother Geoffrey was chosen to pioneer a SSF presence in Papua New Guinea from which other regions of the Pacific have developed. A few years later Brother Francis was chosen to begin work in Zambia. He was there for nine years also. He learnt the local African Language and edited a dictionary. Sadly, the manuscript has been lost. Nobody seems to know its whereabouts. Based at Fiwila with two or three other Brothers and a couple of CSF Sisters who ran the hospital Francis cycled for miles to minister the word and sacraments to the people in the villages and settlements and to instruct and encourage local catechists.

At St Nicholas Honiara
_at St Nicholas Honiaira_

Eventually the SSF/CSF presence at Fiwila came to an end. Where was Francis to go then? He didn’t really want to be back in England. It was suggested that he should go to the Pacific Province. He came to the Brookfield Friary, here on the edge of Brisbane. But it wasn’t long before he was asked to go and fill a gap in the Solomon Islands. He was now in his seventies. A few months turned out to be nearly nine years. During that time, the Pacific Province was divided into two, forming the Pacific Islands Province, comprising the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, and the Australia New Zealand Province. Francis found himself in the Pacific Islands Province where he won the high respect which Melanesians have for the elderly. But being in his eighties it was felt time had come for him to return to Australia. By his own request he came to Stroud where he spent another nine years, until it was considered necessary that he should be with a larger group of Brothers and if necessary near a hospital. That brought him to Annerley for the final years of his mortal life. I am sure I speak on behalf of many others in thanking the Brothers of this Friary for the way they have looked after Francis in these latter years and the people of St Phillips for the way in which they befriended and revered him.

There are things which I believe he has bequeathed to us all. One is simplicity of life. He has traveled light. He seemed so detached from the pursuits and things of this world as he relied on the Providence of God. It may have seemed something that he held an extreme view of poverty – for he would not go to a barber for a haircut. He cut his own. He wouldn’t use a washing machine – “they ruin your clothes.” he would say. So he washed them by hand and refused to replace them until they fell apart. He was always mindful of those who have so much less than we have. He made himself available in heart, mind and body to be sent where he was required. It was a simplicity which appeared to radiate peace.

The second thing is unity. The divisions of the church and of humanity irked him. He longed for barriers to be broken down and for people to be reconciled, especially among those who claimed to be members of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. He made the unity of Christendom the intention of his life and of his frequent times of contemplative prayer. The recovery of Unity was his great desire because he believed so strongly that it was Christ’s will for His church.

The third thing he has bequeathed to us is fidelity. He has had to live through times of great change in society and in the church. Being a person of conservative nature he has found some of the changes very hard to take because he has felt that some of them have impeded the move towards the unity of Christians. This is why, for instance, he has objected to the ordination of women. Liturgical changes he found hard to accept. Although he was very well read in Biblical Theology, Systematic Theology and Mystical Theology, right up until the end his knowledge of Liturgical Theology did not compare despite his undoubted devotion to the Eucharist and his faithfulness in saying the daily office. Yet despite the agony of change he has remained faithful to the church and even the Anglican part of it, to his vocation as a priest and religious, to the Society of St Francis, all because of his faithfulness to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Tree Planting 65th Anniversary
_tree planting 65 anniversary_

Sometimes he has annoyed and irritated us when he has asserted his own independence about things of which he has disapproved, we have annoyed him far more. Yet through it all his love of God and his humility and graciousness have won our hearts. We thank You, God, for our dear Brother Francis, and we thank Francis for being Francis, end of an era.

St Paul’s Words top Timothy seem appropriate to conclude when he wrote:-

bq. “I have done my best in the race, I have run the full distance and I have kept the faith. And now there is waiting for me the victory prize of being put right with God, which the Lord, the Righteous Judge will give me on that day . . . . . . “

This Eulogy was prepared and delivered by Br Brian SSF at the Requiem Mass for Br Francis held at St Philip’s Annerley on the 3rd January 2004.

Brother Douglas Downes

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Br DouglasIt was in the late summer of 1923 that I first met Brother Douglas. He had recently taken charge of the little Franciscan community of volunteers and vagrant ‘wayfarers’ travelling the country in search of work. He was wearing a boiler suit with a red cross on the breast pocket. There was no unemployment benefit in those days and he told us of life on the roads, staying in the sordid casual wards. With the little community at Flowers Farm the men worked in the garden or at handicrafts.
Brother Douglas was keen not only to help them find jobs, but also to give them some spiritual reinforcement. There were services for the two or three brothers, but also prayers and talks every evening and a Bible class on Sundays. Over the door of the recreation room there was a sign: “Abandon rank all you who enter here”. The wayfarers, as well as the staff members, were called ‘brother’.

Brother Douglas was of Methodist origin, but became an Anglican at school. In 1906 he went to Corpus Christi, Oxford to read modern history. While there he helped with services for vagrants in a lodging house in the town. After training at Wycliffe, Brother Douglas was ordained and served as Curate, first at Walthamstow and then at Lambeth,

In 1908, he went to India as Vice Principal of the St Peter’s College at Trickinopola, until the First World War started in 1914. He served in Egypt as an Army Chaplain, ministering at a hospital to soldiers with venereal disease. At the end of the war, he joined the Oxford Evangelical Pastorate and was Chaplain first at University College and then at Worcester College.

Douglas was in his forties when he came to Hilfield. Lord Sandwich of Hinchinbrook, who owned the property, assisted with generous loans until the farm closed down in 1926, so they now had to rely on prayer, market gardening, weaving, basket making and woodcarving. A local landowner gave them a printing press and, when they needed a new car for taking their produce to market, they prayed and one arrived from an anonymous donor. When they were short of food or other things, similar gifts arrived. But Brother Douglas had a genius for making something out of nothing, whether it was men of things.

When Douglas went on the roads, he at first wore his boiler suit. Having been accustomed to evangelical ways, he was not familiar with catholic customs, but having a somewhat red nose, he was sometimes mistaken for a drunk, so he yielded to Brother Arthur’s advice that he wear the Franciscan habit.

Douglas was deeply concerned with the bad conditions of the casual wards. in June 1925, with to friends, he founded the Vagrancy Reform Society. As a result of this, reforms in the casual wards were introduced in 1930.

When war came again in 1940, Brother Douglas became Chaplain to the Old Westminster Hospital, now to be used to offer hospitality to the many servicemen passing through London. He was given a small room with a glass roof (not much protection from air raids). Responding to the call to “Dig for Victory’, he persuaded some young soldiers to help him haul sacks of soil, given to him by the head gardner of St James park, so he could grow tomatoes. Hens supplied the manure, but sometimes descended from the roof to the crowded street below. During the mornings, he would act as an Abbey guide to servicemen, many from overseas, with a patter more racey than the guidebooks followed by the Abbey Vergers.

In the evenings, he would invite servicemen and others to coffee and buns, after which he would go into the chapel and accompany popular hymns on a grand piano. On Sunday evenings he would sometimes take parties of men to Westminster Abbey ot to the Central Hall Westminster for Evensong, or the more informal atmostphere of St Christostom Peckham which was being serviced by SSF Friars. Once he took a dozen men to help the Abbey fire watchers to put out the flames during an air raid.

In the summer of 1943, Douglas was asked to go to the Canadian Diocese of Victoria. So he set out for the long wartime journey by sea and train to Vancouver where he taught for a short time at a school. After preaching at a school service, a member of the congregation suggested working among the loggers in the north of British Columbia. So he moved into a tiny bungalow with a large verandah and began a ministry among loggers of every race and language. There he started an Esperanto class, using St John’s gospel as a textbook. For two days of the week he held school in an open-air chapel. While there one of the boys brought him a young fawn named “Bambi”, who became his pet. He was instrumental in establishing a community of the loggers.

But his time in Canada was to come to an end when a cable arrived from Brother Algy: “YMCA wants you in Northern Europe”. Whilst returning to England the ship on which he was travelling was pursued by German U-boats until they received news of Germany’s surrender.

By the spring of 1946, Douglas was established in a YMCA hostel in Hamburg, Germany, He was shocked at the devastation caused by the allied bombings. Almost 20,000 people lived in cellars or dugouts. To the Church Times he wrote, “Let those who think that Germany had not sufficient suffering for her sins visit any of her flattened cities and spend a day with some of those who live in the ruins”. Douglas helped in courses for young Germans who had been trained in the Hitler Youth Movement. Some were badly injured in the war. Living in a tiny Nissen hut, he got handicrafts going, and his door was open to visiting servicemen, providing soup for them in the evening and food sent from England.

By Christmas 1948 things in Germany had improved and Douglas felt it was time to move on. Receiving an invitation to become Chaplain to the YMCA Services Hostel in Portsmouth, he returned to England. But in the autumn of 1951 he had a serious operation in the Portsmouth General Hospital. He had so many friends coming to visit him, the matron complained that he was the most troublesome patient she had ever had!

After recovering, he became concerned about ex-servicemen who suffered mental trouble from the war and decided to reopen an old wayfarer’s home in Andover for them, much to the alarm of the local population. After repairing the old building, he began to collect an odd selection of men who needed help. But he again became very ill and had to have another operation.

Finally, the day came when he was told that he had an incurable cancer at the base of his spine and Brother Charles came to look after him. His illness had a remarkable affect on the men in the home. Many of them began to attend Evensong daily and to the Eucharist when it was celebrated. He finally ended his days with the Sisters of St Margaret in their Hostel of God for the Dying. He passed away on 7 September 1957.

by Brother Francis SSF

Father Algy

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Father AlgyEdited version of a sermon in Pusey House Chapel, Oxford in 1978

William Strowan Amherst Robertson (1894-1957) was one of the pioneers of the Franciscan movement in the Anglican Church. He was “darling Strowan” to his mother, but everyone else knew him as “Algy”, a nickname of early and obscure origin. It fitted him admirably: small, refined, expensively dapper, he could have come from the pages of P.G. Wodehouse. A darting, mercurial figure, always the centre of a humming circle of friends, young and old, he found willing accomplices in his plots and parties.
In later life, chronically ill, his dumpy little figure, exaggerated by layers of clothing in which were stuffed books and bottles of medicine, he might have been merely comic – until you met his eyes. Deeply penetrating and sympathetic, they seemed to demand the friendship that was bound to follow. Friendship was the factor that fashioned his life, and it spoke to others of a deeper love of God. As a boy at Westminster, and undergraduate at Cambridge, a missionary in India and, most significantly in the creation of a religious order, unconditional love after the example of Jesus, seemed to motivate his life.

Algy had a irresistible urge to organise everything and everybody, yet he understood the frailty of human nature. He was always gentle. With a kindly laugh and twinkling eyes. he kept everything in perspective. He was always in a hurry, always late. It is said that, when he died, he left a string of broken engagements and unbroken love. He never gave up on anything or anyone.

To his mother’s evangelical enthusiasm Algy added his own version of Anglo-Catholicism. He delighted in the great evangelical hymns, but also in devotion to the Sacred Heart or the Cure D’Ars. Inspired by the great socialist Anglo-catholic apologists, he was always tortured by a guilty sense of his own privileged, upper middle class origin. The Student Christian Movement gave him a deep concern for Christian unity. The Oxford Group led him in the way of openness and the Quakers taught him to be silent – or almost! In India he learned respect for Eastern faiths and, when Ghandi was shot, he declared a day of mourning at the Friary.

Algy was one of the most effective preachers of his day. On one occasion in Cambridge, he preached for forty minutes to a packed city congregation, hanging on every word, his delicate little hands emphazing with sharp gestures. No word was wasted, every point was made with clarity ad challenge.

Central in Algy’s later life was his role was spiritual director. With loving understanding and infinite compassion, knowing his own share of weakness, with innate courtesy and endless patience. Wherever he went it seemed as though the whole world wanted his counsel. On his visits to Pusey House, as time was never concern, the collection of waiting people in libraries and offices would grow longer, even wondering if they had been forgotten.

Toward the end of his life Algy would be counseling and hearing confessions while he lay on his bed. His brothers remember him in his tiny room, books covering shelves, the floor and his bed covered with blankets and his old cloak. There might be several brothers squeezed in while he talked to one, dictated a letter to another, was being read to by a third. Another would be answering the phone. Others would be waiting in the passage or on the stairs outside, waiting their turn to see him, to be treated as though each one was the only person present. This might seem a sentimental picture of the little man, so we must place it beside his accurate, exact and almost ruthless insight. He could see through falsehood, fiction and fantasy with frightening penetration.

In the surrender of his personality, unconsciously, unreservedly and without design, Arlgy could be used by God to a rare degree. God used his wit, his wisdom, his experiences – good and bad; used his eccentricities, his illness, his reckless abandonment to human love; used his charm, his delight in poetry, music, art, literature – beauty of all kinds; used his prayer and his pain. Algy spent himself too soon, but, in doing so, brought many sons and daughters to glory.

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