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Sharings - Starcross' Seasonal Newsletter

Sharings - Summer 2000

EULOGY FOR THE BARN: 1902 - 2000

A reflection from brother Toby

On the afternoon of July 31st a fragile line of the local power company, one that had been repaired many times, dropped to the ground about 150 feet from the barn. It sparked in over 30 places, hot enough to turn the ground around it to glass. Fires were ignited in the dry grass. Despite the courageous efforts of many firefighters and neighbors, a powerful river of flame eventually struck the barn. Our three-story barn was finished in 1902. Preparations had taken many years. The foundation was an imposing brick wall 11 feet tall. Huge timbers of heart redwood, 20 inches square, had been hand hewn years before. When I put my hands on those adz marks I use to think I could feel history. There was not a nail in the framework. The joints were mortised together and neatly joined with one perfect fitting peg. The redwood flooring, roofing, and siding were nailed on with square headed nails forged in a shop a few feet away. There was nothing like this barn. It was meant as a statement, placed as it was in the most prominent position in the area; a monument of a structure with a belvedere gracing the large roof.

For many years we started every day by opening the giant doors into the center of the barn. Here, in former times, the tall hay wagons could be driven in. From the doors on the other end the cows entered for milking. We used the same original wooden stanchions, worn to a beautiful finish by the necks of many generations of cows. Milking was a quiet time, after which we would go up to the simple chapel we had constructed on part of the second floor. When the children were babies we would put them in their portable infant seats and place them where they could watch the cows as we milked. They would come to the chapel in the same carriers to listen to us sing and pray. We used the barn chapel until 1991 when we built the new one. Most of our children were baptized in the barn chapel. There were also funerals of those we loved. Some days we were joined by visitors. A bishop was visibly moved as he heard the cows softly lowing below while he presided at a Mass in the Christmas season. A Chinese monk sang his own song of sadness and hope. A well-known author from Belgium would bring her nieces and nephews there every year. Many of these folks wrote when they heard the news of the burning. One was Maureen Green:

" I have such fond memories of that barn walking across the meadow, the warm barn type smells, the beautiful chapel, the filtered light. The shyly smiling children, all dressed in their Sunday best and very intent on the service. Marlene [now 33 with children of her own], finally able to read, reading a lesson at the Christmas service.”

The barn was also a place for the children to have fun. They jumped around in the hay. Several times a year we had celebrations there. The event that stands out in my mind is the Halloween supper. We set a table with linen and silver surrounded by stacked hay and recently harvested pumpkins.

Part of the second floor was where we stored and shipped out our wreaths and dried fruit. Here the children learned to work. The first thing David (14) asked, on hearing of the fire, was " were the rollers destroyed? He was five when he began pushing boxes of wreaths up the metal rollers into the UPS trucks.

So many memories. The calves being born. Neighbors coming in the middle of the night to help with difficult births and leaving at dawn with a new love of life. Christmas gifts mysteriously appearing in the rafters. Ethan (now 32) and Kevin (now 34) when they were teenagers, at home on the high cross-beams like sailors in the rigging. Thousands and thousands of wreaths going out across the country - year after year. The hundreds of swallows nesting under the eves each March. The smell of cider being pressed in the fall. But mostly I will miss the silence. The barn was an enclave of peace through a century of war and great change. 98 years of quiet had seeped into those beautiful beams and pillars. Entering the barn stilled my soul. Now it is gone. It was a great barn.


Sister Marti

Helen House is the first hospice for children in the world. It was begun 18 years ago by Sister Frances Domenica, an Anglican nun. Our first contact with her was in 1989 when she wrote the introduction to the British edition of one of brother Toby’s books. Frances is still very involved in the vision and the dream of Helen House, though it has grown considerably since it began. Her idea is to give support and respite to families who have children with life-limiting illnesses, by caring for the children for a few hours or a few days, and establishing an on-going relationship with the families so that they can feel free to ask for help. She has a beautiful facility and a remarkably dedicated staff.

I never thought to be in Oxford but it became obvious Toby and I had to visit Helen House to learn from their experience as we plan for Morning Glory House in Santa Rosa, which we hope to open next year. We were surprised at how much we saw things the same way. The model is “home-care” not “medical-care.” They try to avoid continually asking for money or relying on the government. Their top staff rule by consensus. Etc.

It was wonderful to be able to actually see the program in operation and learn what we would like to emulate and what we should avoid. Within minutes we were down to very practical issues. We established contacts which we have used many times (through e-mail) since our return. Frances is also the adoptive mother of an adolescent African boy. Parenthood is another bond between us.

After our visits Toby and I would walk in Oxford’s ancient courtyards and consider what we had learned about life from the children, families and staff at Helen House.


Part of what any monastery does is to preserve treasures from the past. One of the ways we do that at Starcross is with the Memorial Books. Each evening at Vespers we read the name, dates and a few words by a loved one about someone who has died. Though we didn't know most of these people in life, they have now become friends we remember year after year. We feel privileged to share in their stories. If there is a special relative or friend you would like us to remember, contact sister Marti with the information.


On July 22nd Andrew made his First Holy Communion. He had been working and studying for a year. It was a wonderful day. Our friend Father Paul Mark came from the Cistercian Abbey at Vina to preside at the Mass. David had come home from school just a few days before. He and sister Julie played "Panis Angelicus."

David has finished his first year at The Yehudi Menuhin School outside London. The reports from his teachers are very glowing. Don and Maureen Green, who are sponsoring his musical education, invited about 80 people who have an interest in David to their Sonoma County country home on July 30. It was a joyful experience to hear David share what he has been working on during the year. As one person, associated with a musical festival put it, "David plays straight from the soul."

Another said "Watching David play is like watching someone pray". David himself is not too comfortable with all this spiritual vocabulary. But it goes down well with his family!

The harvest was hard this year. In fact, we had to let a lot of it go because of not enough hands. This was mainly because of the trouble resulting from the loss of the barn. But what we did harvest, in berries, corn, tomatoes (pasta sauce!), corn, apples, Damson syrup and the like was and will be much enjoyed.

The children are increasingly bringing the world to us and us to the world. As they grow they have put us in touch with all the many issues parents in this world must face. Now something else is beginning to happen. They each are defining for themselves what it means to live as we do - the Starcross spirit as sister Marti puts it. An outgrowth of this has been the beginning of some special meetings, a sort of family spiritual confraternity which may well go on forever. When we meet, everyone, from almost nine-year-old Andrew to almost 70-year-old brother Toby attempts to answer two questions: "How do I live the Starcross spirit?"

and "How do I take this spirit out into the world?" The first time we came together we planted an olive tree. It is growing well.


Part of what any monastery does is to preserve treasures from the past. One of the ways we do that at Starcross is with the Memorial Books. Each evening at Vespers we read the name, dates and a few words by a loved one about someone who has died. Though we didn't know most of these people in life, they have now become friends we remember year after year. We feel privileged to share in their stories. If there is a special relative or friend you would like us to remember, contact sister Marti with the information.


A year ago when we began our website, we thought we were doing a simple few-page description of our life. It turned out to be something quite a lot more. As we were working we realized that this was a wonderful opportunity to relate to our friends and to communicate ourselves to the world. So we dived in and planned a very ambitious website and did a lot of work on it. The trouble is that for the last few months we have not been able to keep it up and large parts are still not finished. We keep thinking we will soon have time to continue, but meanwhile, we must apologize for being incomplete. Even so, if you have not seen it before, it’s worth a visit.


 We have problems! All our supplies and equipment for the wreaths burned up in the fire. Friends in Santa Rosa immediately came forth with donated space for us to work in. We think the insurance will cover the supplies which we are working hard to replace. And, that isn't all as you will see below. If you can lend a hand, now is the time.

 1. Order wreaths. This has to be a good year. Please give wreaths as gifts to your friends and family. We are making a special effort to encourage commercial and professional interests to send wreaths to customers and associates. They are much appreciated. You will receive our flyer soon.

2. Sponsor children in our African House of Hope. Our 86 AIDS orphans in Uganda are growing in body and mind so well they are entering secondary school in increasing numbers and the costs are also increasing. It now costs us $ 800 a year per child. We have 10 children with no sponsors at all and 34 who are only partially sponsored. We are their only hope.

3. Digging a well at the House of Hope. The cost is $5000. The kids have to gather water at the river. It is not only that a well would make life easier but a lot safer. Children in the region have disappeared while going to the river. This isn't nice to hear, but some have been killed as sacrifices.

 4. Suggest people for the staff of Morning Glory House. Our planning for the facility in Santa Rosa goes on. It will be a respite for families caring for children with life-limiting conditions. We need two key people for the next stage of planning: the Head of Care (who supervises the care the children and families receive) and the administrator (who handles all the non-care matters including generating funds.)

 E-mail us at:

Call: (707) 886-1919

Fax: (707) 886-1921


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