Reality TV in monastery changes five lives forever
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
Five men, ranging from an atheist in the pornography trade to a former Protestant paramilitary, have found their lives unexpectedly transformed in the latest incarnation of reality television - the monastery.
More Oh Brother! than Big Brother, the five underwent a spiritual makeover by spending 40 days and 40 nights living with Roman Catholic monks in Worth Abbey, West Sussex.
The experiment, which will be shown on BBC 2 this month, was designed to test whether the monastic tradition begun by St Benedict 1,500 years ago still has any relevance to the modern world.
Although participants were not required to vote each other out, they faced the challenge of living together in a community and following a disciplined regime of work and prayer. By the end, the atheist, Tony Burke, 29, became a believer and gave up his job producing trailers for a sex chat line after having what he described as a "religious experience".
Gary McCormick, 36, the former Ulster Defence Association member, who spent much of his early life in prison, began to overcome his inner demons.
Peter Gruffydd, a retired teacher, regained the faith he had rejected in his youth and Nick Buxton, 37, a Cambridge undergraduate, edged closer to becoming an Anglican priest.
The fifth "novice", 32-year-old Anthony Wright, who works for a London legal publishing company, started to come to terms with his childhood traumas.
The three-part series called The Monastery shows the five abiding by the monastery rules, with a strict timetable of instruction, study, prayer, reflection and work duties. They are also shown holding intense and often painful sessions with their religious mentors, individual monks assigned to guide each of them on their spiritual journeys.
At the end of one of these sessions, Mr Burke, his voicing breaking with emotion, confessed his feelings in a video-diary entry. "I didn't want this to happen," he said.
"But something touched me, something spoke to me very deeply. It was a religious experience.
"When I woke up this morning, I didn't believe in this but, as I speak to you now, I do. Whatever it is, I believe in it."
The participants, none of whom was a Roman Catholic, shared meals with the monks, worked in the grounds and joined in the daily office, from early morning Matins to Compline. They were also obliged to follow the monks' rules of silence, obedience and humility.
At the start, the new arrivals were sceptical and discipline did not come easily - two of them were reprimanded for leaving the monastery "looking for virgins and cigarettes".
By the end, they all conceded that the experience had made a profound impression on them.
Fr Christopher Jamison, the Abbot, said that the monastery had been delighted with the results.