The Community of Aidan and Hilda (formerly The St. Aidan Trust) was founded in 1994. It sounds a simple enough statement, but tells nothing of the story behind it. There were seven whom God called to this birthing; the Rev’d Ray Simpson, an “urban contemplative” working on a council estate outside Norwich, the Rev’d Michael Mitton, director of Anglican Renewal Ministries in England along with his wife Julia, John and Jacqui Peet, resident directors of a retreat and conference center outside Stratford-upon-Avon; and the Rev’d Russ Parker, assistant director of the Acorn Christian Healing Trust and the Rev’d Carole Parker.
Each of these seven came to the same place from different needs, perceptions and spiritual emphases. One of the seminal places in the founding was Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the coast of northeast England, just a few miles south of the Scottish border. In the seventh century Lindisfarne had served as mission headquarters for an Irish monk, Aidan, who had been sent from his community of Iona on the west coast of Scotland at the request of Oswald, newly established king of the Anglo-Saxon realm of Northumbria. Until the Viking raids made life on the island impossible Lindisfarne had remained a vital center in the evangelization of northern England, eventually gaining a new name: Holy Island.
On retreat on Holy Island, Ray Simpson found in the lives and witness of the Celtic saints that ideal combination of action and contemplation that was a primary motive in his life and ministry. In that same witness Ray also discovered a depth of Christian life that addressed many of his concerns about the shallowness and lack of vitality in the contemporary church.
Michael Mitton and John Peet met together for a personal retreat on Holy Island. In Michael’s words: “Both of us were gripped by the Spirit as we walked across the windswept island in a powerful gale blowing in from the North Sea. Drenched to the skin we stood at the northwest tip of the island and found ourselves praying for and prophesying over our land. It was as if we had been caught up in the prayers of Cuthbert and others who had served God here. We then found some shelter near the church where we spent some time in front of the statue of Aidan. This was really our first ‘meeting’ with Aidan, because as we stood in quiet prayer by this statue it was as if God was reminding us of the kind of faith he first breathed upon these isles.”
Russ Parker’s journey began with the blessed discovery of a place of belonging when he visited his ancestral village in Ireland and found an old man who remembered Russ’s family. Later Russ joined Michael and John at a mission for the Archdiocese of Nice, France. In Russ’s words: “On our day off we went into the hills above Monaco to talk and relax. During a time of prayer John Peet stood before us and made the encircling or caim prayer, focusing upon and proclaiming that all the land and people within the circle he had made belonged to the Lord of Hosts and he invoked the love of Christ to stay within this circle and all evil be kept out! Needless to say this sparked me off and we all began to share our thoughts and feelings about our love of the Celtic Christ. In fact we went into a chapel in the perched rock village of Gourdon and prayed and sang in the Spirit, almost as a celebration of our finding common heart. The whole building seemed to be filled with the angels of God, so much so that a few people came in from outside to see what choir was singing.”
Each of these three went back to study more of Celtic Christianity and share their experiences with their families. The power of their prayers and the prophecies uttered drew them together with Ray Simpson and the seven began to meet every couple of months for a period of two years. In this time of common exploration the group believed God was leading them to create this new ministry with St. Aidan of Lindisfarne as their model. Over the months a common spiritual discipline developed, now contained in the Aidan Way of Life. Together they planned a symposium, sponsored by Anglican Renewal Ministries (ARM) to share their discoveries. The symposium, “Celtic Christianity: Roots for Renewal” was scheduled for March 1994.
In the meantime, Michael Mitton traveled to the US to visit ARM’s counterpart, Episcopal Renewal Ministries in Evergreen, Colorado. Due to hectic schedules, the Rev’d Jack Stapleton, then rector of the local parish, was asked to provide hospitality for Mitton. During their time together they discovered a common interest in Celtic Christianity and a common vision for its application in the contemporary church. The visit ended with an invitation for the Stapletons to attend the symposium in 1994.
The symposium attracted more than 200 attendees, including Robert Warren, who along with Michael Green a director of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s task force on the Decade of Evangelism. During that time the formation of the St. Aidan Trust, along with the Order of St. Aidan was made public. The response was enthusiastic. By the conclusion of the symposium, the Stapletons were invited to carry this work to the US.
In the following year both ministries began to grow. In Britain, the Church of England was still in the throes of controversy over the admission of women to Holy Orders. The founders, after much soul searching, decided to change the name of the ministry to include a female leader of Celtic Christianity, Hilda of Whitby. After some sorting out of details the Trust and the Order were joined under one name: The Community of Aidan and Hilda. While the US community was incorporated under the original names we are also The Community of Aidan and Hilda in the US.
The US ministry faced different challenges. The sheer size of the nation, and the relative smallness of the Episcopal Church led the Stapletons to consider a more ecumenical approach. A newsletter, The Wild Goose, was launched in July 1994 and the liturgies, compiled primarily by Ray Simpson and Michael Mitton, were offered to an American audience. The US chapter remains quite small, choosing to remain a volunteer organization and declining to enter into fund-raising. This web site is now one of our primary efforts in distributing news of the ministry. In 1997 the St. Aidan Trust – USA officially incorporated as the St. Aidan Celtic Christian Trust – USA (the change was to comply with Colorado state banking regulations — a “Trust” in the US has a slightly different meaning than in the UK). We have been granted 501(c)3 status by the IRS, enabling such contributions as we receive to be tax deductible for our donors.