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Sisters of Bethany are looking forward, not back

23 August 2013


From Amma Sue Williams OCMM

Sir, - I was somewhat dismayed by the negative tone of the reporting of what had been a joyful, enjoyable, and hope-filled day of celebration for the Society of the Sisters of Bethany ("Declining years of honour", Real Life, 16 August).

The day had seen the gathering of many members of religious communities, both old and new, and the Service of Celebration had been as much about looking to the future as about celebrating the past. Far from being merely a nostalgic looking back at past glories, it was, in the spirit of Mother Etheldreda, a time of looking to the future with hope and expectation at new opportunities and relationships.

The service celebrated the continuing ministry of SSB in providing opportunities for retreats, quiet days, and parish visiting, as well as a presentation from a Sister SSB about the community's growing ministry on Facebook and Twitter, and the ways in which this ministry reaches out to those whom one would not expect to be meeting and chatting with a group of nuns.

We, the OCMM Sisters (Order of the Companions of Martha and Mary), were invited to speak about growing links between SSB and OCMM, and the opportunities that they have to offer for the development of our new community, and for the religious life in general.

Mother Charlotte Hetherington spoke about the development of a new expression of religious life among the ministry teams of the parishes in her local cluster group, and the ways in which the community of SSB was enabling this to grow and develop.

It may, indeed, be the case that, along with other communities "born" in the 19th century "they have dwindled in recent years"; nevertheless, it is clear that their energy and vision has certainly not been diminished by time or smaller numbers. (There are some members of the community who would justifiably be offended by the inaccurate epithet "elderly".)

Mother Ethedreda was a far-seeing woman with some revolutionary ideas for her time. The Sisters of Bethany are more than worthy daughters of this visionary woman.

The Vicarage, Church Lane
Mellor, Blackburn BB2 7JL


From Mr Richard M. Smith

Sir, - I must take issue with the description of the Society of the Sisters of Bethany. I have been associated with the Community for the past seven years, and was present at their recent celebrations in Bournemouth.

It cannot be denied that their numbers have radically declined. But it is quite wrong to describe the Community as "a group of fewer than a dozen elderly nuns". There are younger Sisters. The House of Bethany is not an old people's home.

Even if some of the Sisters are of advanced years, theyare partof a lively and forward-looking Community, whose contribution to the life of the Church is immeasurable.

St Margaret's Vicarage, Southsea
Portsmouth PO4 9RP

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