Society of the Sacred Mission
The Society of the Sacred Mission (SSM) is an Anglican religious order founded in 1893 by Father Herbert Kelly, envisaged such that "members of the Society share a common life of prayer and fellowship in a variety of educational, pastoral and community activities in England, Australia, Japan, Lesotho, and South Africa." "Our Society was founded in 1893 in Kennington, to train people for missionary service in Korea. Somehow we got side-tracked into training clergy for the Church in England - but that stopped in the 1970s." Members have included Gabriel Hebert and George Every.
The motto of SSM is Ad gloriam Dei in eius voluntate ("To the glory of God in his will.").
SSM was inaugurated on 9 May 1893, with Kelly, Badcock and Chilvers as its initial novices.
Central to its ethos since then has been the inclusion of ordinary men. Kelly was clear from the outset that this was not a way of life for religious virtuosos. "No system can be sound which depends for success upon rare and special gifts, rather than upon the steady use of those more limited and commonplace powers which God ordinarily wills to bestow." - H. H. Kelly (SSM, 1898)
Kelly's missionary work began in 1902 in South Africa, and the next year Kelham Hall was purchased to become the main centre, a theological college and the head office. The college was established in 1894; their hoods were "black, the cowl faced 3 inches and bound 1 inch (with) Sarum red."
"The present Kelham Hall was built between 1859 and 1862 by Sir George Gilbert Scott. He also built St Pancras Station a few years later and both building share the same Gothic style. In 1903, it became a theological college for Church of England priests known as the Society of the Sacred Mission. They added a great domed chapel in 1924. In 1969 the hall was taken over by Newark and Sherwood District Council. A few hundred yards from the hall, situated within the trees is the delightful parish church."
Kelham Hall really was the core of the organisation for the first sixty years of its existence. "It had no lighting except oil lamps, no heating except open fires and no water above ground floor, but there was room for 100 students and plenty of space for gardens and playing fields. Kelham remained the mother house of the Society for seventy years." However, it was occupied by military personnel during both world wars. The Great Chapel was built there in 1928: "it was almost square with a great central dome, (62 feet across and 68 feet high) the second largest concrete dome in England."
Kelham Hall "was sold to the society of the Sacred Mission in 1903 and housed the Monastic order for the next 70 years...the main accommodation building at the front of the Hall was completed in 1939 to house the Monks and the theological students but its first occupants were a garrison of the ‘Blues’ cavalry and also Texas and Oklahoma oil men who were involved in drilling for oil at the nearby Eakring oilfield. After the war, the SSM Order returned to the site and, until their organisation was re-structured in 1972, continued to live there adding a certain charm and interest to the village."
While in 1962, the "SSM reached a numerical peak of more than 80 members and a large novitiate..by 1972, the college at Kelham closed as number of student applications drop." Applications to Kelham "dropped from 400 a year before the war to less than 40 students in 1971 and the college closed in 1973." Consequently, by 1973, a "subgroup of SSM move to Willen (Near Milton Keynes) to run a priory." By 1997 the contraction went further as "SSM members move out of Willen priory to a smaller house in Willen."
A view of life at Kelham Hall can be seen from the memories of its former student. Reverend Vincent Strudwick studied at the college in the 1950s. The Revd John Mullineaux "attended Queen Elizabeth's Grammar School, Blackburn, and Manchester University where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree (Honours English Language & Literature). He trained for the priesthood at Kelham Theological College, a monastic institution near Newark, Nottinghamshire where he served five years as a Novice. Amongst his duties were the regular feeding of the pigs, being in charge of the kitchen garden, stoker of the coke boiler and electrician - learning house re-wiring."
The Revd Eric Mercer was a student at "Theological College in Nottinghamshire, then the mother house of the Society of the Sacred Mission which for several generations had broken new ground in opening its doors to non-graduates, boys and men from all backgrounds. The spartan tradition at Kelham in those days owed as much to First World War economies as it did to monastic asceticism."
Chad Payne was a professed member of the society from 1971-1980, having formerly been a student at its theological college from 1966.He was the last person to make his profession in the Great Chapel. He recalls the authoritarian nature of the Society in those days,an authoritarianism that was to last well into the early years at Willen, and the inability of those in charge to relate in any meaningful way with its members. Childish petulance was the response to any questioning of local leadership . Many left the Society with their vocations crushed rather than supported, but went on to considerable achievements elsewhere. The Society may have been highly principled but lacked humanity and the ability to come to terms with the changing needs of its brothers, preferring to bury its head in pseudo intellectualism. There had always been a difference between clergy members and so called lay brothers. The clergy more or less did what they liked while the rest had to do what they were told being consigned to doing the real work which kept Kelham going. Chad recalls advice given to him by Brother Patrick shortly before he died ' leave while you can, lest you become a child like the rest of us and unable to leave '
Revd. Clement Mullinger describes the Kelham Theological College as "a very rigid and compartmentalised hierarchy...Kelham in its heyday of the late 1930s had certain built-in authoritarian terrors comprising histrionic monologues, directives on notice boards, and a general atmosphere under one roof and round one holy table of a great gulf fixed between them and us...the Society was too concerned with its own satisfactoriness and permanence to think that communication with people not actually enclosed behind its hedges needed much attention. Nor was there any awareness that (apart from subscriptions) we needed anything of love, sympathy or care from them...(there was) a militaristic atmosphere said to derive from Kelly's time at Sandhurst."
There are three orders in the society: professed members who remain celibate and live in community, taking vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience (the Evangelical Counsels); associate members who live or work in community but do not take those vows and may be married; companions who do not necessarily live in community or directly but are part of the spiritual and prayer life of the society. The Companions, who take only one vow - to "endeavour to live [their] whole life to the glory of God" - make up the Company of the Sacred Mission.
In 1997 SSM helped to create a new ecumenical lay community called "The Well" at the old priory in Willen. In 2016 it was changed to St. Michael's Priory. The name 'The Well' derives from the story of Christ and the woman of Samaria in St John's Gospel. The Well runs a conference centre as place of retreat and is a resource for the local community. Its members work with the homeless and people in distress and are active in the peace and justice movement. They also work to foster interfaith relations. The Well also supports SSM's library (brought from Kelham Theological College) alongside the library of the Living Spirituality Network - another project partly supported by SSM.
In 2007 The Well community became a work of the Society of the Sacred Mission and so the house is once again an official SSM house.
In 2008, the society completed a new purpose-built priory in Maseru, Lesotho.
Current provincials and visitors
The provincial of the European province is Fr Jonathan Ewer. The visitor is John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford.
The provincial of the Southern Province is Christopher Myers. The visitor is Philip Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne.
Robertson Davies depicted the society fictionally in his novel The Rebel Angels.
- The Society of the Sacred Mission Homepage on the Clutch Club website
- The Bridge, Easter 2002, Special Report - The Society of the Sacred Mission
- History of the Society of the Sacred Mission, Alistair Mason, 1993, The Canterbury Press, Norwich
- Theological College Hoods
- Dining Pubs in the East Midlands
- http://www.internationaltreefoundation.org/files/FTS_kelham_hall.htm Kelham Hall, Kelham, Newark, International Tree Foundation
- Historic England. "Kelham Hall (242751)". Images of England.
- Historic England. "Monastic buildings and chapel (242857)". Images of England.
- http://www.priory.lancs.ac.uk/revd_jm.html Obituary, John Mullineaux, Lancaster Priory
- http://news.independent.co.uk/people/obituaries/article37528.ece David Woodhouse, "Obituary: Revd. Eric Mercer", The Independent, 26 November 2003
- SSM St Michael's Priory web site
- Radical Faith - an SSM web site
- SSM Records at the Historical Mansuscripts Commission
- Current Kelham Hall web site
- (in German) Kelham, by Manfred Knodt. Article in Quatember 1962 (p. 77-80)