THIS year, as I have mentioned in this column before — after all, it is the most exciting thing that has happened to us since we relocated the Convent 25 years ago — our Community celebrates its 150th anniversary. A small group prudently began to make plans several years ago, so that we would not be taken by surprise; all that did was to leave a longer time in which the unexpected could ambush us.
Like most communities, we are a small group of people who are mostly ageing and fragile. The fragility has increased relentlessly over these years, with deaths and health problems, so that we were beginning to wonder how many of us would be even in any condition to join in the celebrations. Those of us who are congenitally pessimistic, such as myself, were wondering whether it had been a good idea to make such ambitious plans in the first place.
The first event was an Open Garden day in July — like a sort of church fệte, but in our gardens, which are large and impressive (I can say that, since I have no part at all in making them so). The weather was kind, numbers were encouraging, and a good time was had by all.
I was at the diocesan synod: no accounting for tastes.
Back to Vauxhall
THE next event took a group of Sisters to St Peter’s, Vauxhall, in south London, where it all began.
This was where the then parish priest, Fr George Herbert (no, not the one who wrote the poems), encouraged some ladies to commit themselves to working with him in this very needy place — economically needy, but in his mind even needier spiritually. Besides visiting the poor and sick, the Sisters participated in the mission services that were a notable part of the Vicar’s ministry.
The first Sisters made their vows on 30 June 1865 (presumably on the Sunday nearest St Peter’s Day); so our celebration took place on 28 June this year, which was the church’s patronal festival. The president of the eucharist was the present Vicar of St Peter’s (a woman — what would Fr Herbert have said about that, I wonder).
The mother house of the Community moved from there as numbers grew, but a branch house remained in the parish for many years. It is good to be reminded of our origins, and to be joined in rejoicing with the current worshippers at St Peter’s.
A small experimental community, one of many springing up around the country, is now based at St Peter’s. We wish its members well in their discernment of what form the religious life should take in the modern world.
Hail, festival day
THE unforeseen difficulty that derailed our prudent advance planning was that Derby Cathedral, booked long ago as the venue for our main celebration, became unavailable because of work on the building. We needed the cathedral’s large space. We pessimists became disheartened again.
But cathedrals do not stop functioning because of little difficulties like an interior full of scaffolding. Services and other events were relocated to suitable other locations. In particular, St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church (an imposing Pugin edifice) hosted the weekday services of choral evensong. Might they agree to accommodate our festival eucharist?
Wonderfully, they did, and the cathedral staff worked amazingly hard with us not only to create a service that truly expressed our hopes, but to make it work in a space to which they were not accustomed, and to lend us the expertise of the cathedral’s Master of Music and Voluntary Choir.
A large crowd came to share the celebration with us: we really needed that big space. They came to mark our anniversary and wish us well, but perhaps some of their enthusiasm was for the president and preacher we had secured so long in advance, the Rt Revd Lord Williams, who stood resplendent in a new chasuble made by our African Sisters, and spoke simply, directly, and memorably, as he so often does — and sang, too.
Room for two more
THE service was the main event, followed by refreshments, but an unexpected highlight of the day was the journey to and from the church, made on a double-decker bus.
We wet blankets had prophesied that no one would be willing or able to travel upstairs, but to our astonishment the event took on the atmosphere of a youth-club outing, and people flocked to the stairs: “I haven’t been on a double-decker bus for years!” Two of the seven extra bishops joined us on the bus, looking like little boys let out of school.
The weather was kind to us again. It was a good thing we did not invite any members of the Royal Family: that would probably have guaranteed rain.
The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby.