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Declining years of honour

16 August 2013

IN 1866, Etheldreda Benett founded the Anglican community of the Sisters of Bethany, in East London, to offer regular prayer for Christian unity, and service, and - for the first time - to provide retreats for women. Since then, the community have had a wide and varied history.

Their mother house was in Bournemouth, and they have worked in Persia, Syria, and South Africa. But, as with many of the religious communities founded in the days of 19th-century Anglo-Catholicism, they have dwindled in recent years.

They gave up their convent in Bournemouth in 1986, and are now a group of fewer than a dozen elderly nuns, with a mother house in Southsea, where they offer hospitality for retreats, and continue to spend much time in prayer for Christian unity. They plan to make the next couple of years "a period of discernment for the future".

Their Visitor is the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Trevor Willmott, who recently accompanied Reverend Mother Rita-Elizabeth and the Sisters to St Clement's, Bournemouth, in Winchester diocese, for a thanksgiving service on the 100th anniversary of the death of their Mother Foundress.

They then visited her grave in the churchyard (above), which also commemorates several departed Sisters, and Bishop Willmott blessed a stone alongside it, remembering the 19 children cared for at the end of their lives by the Sisters between 1882 and 1934, when they had an orphanage next door to their former convent in Bournemouth.

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