Help from outside
We in the Community have recently experienced a visitation. No, not of the plague, or the wrath of God, but of the Bishop Visitor. This is a bishop whom we invite to be a link between us and the wider Church of England. His duty is to be a critical friend, learning to know us well, but seeing us from a more objective angle than we can manage.
After investigating the current state of the Community, he offers us his interpretation of where we are now, and his advice about our planning for the future.
It is obvious that we need to change; the difficulty will be to decide what specifically we need to do, and then to face the effect that that change will have on our lives. Those of us who are temperamentally inclined to interpret the monastic virtue of “stability” to mean “no change” will find this particularly difficult, but it will not be easy for any of us.
Nevertheless, as with all living organisms, if we do not change, we die.
Back to the future
THE new history of our Community — What’s in a Name? A History of the Community of the Holy Name (Moorley’s, 2015) — is a potential help for us in these challenging times.
It is fascinating to go back to our earliest days, and encouraging to see how often we have survived setbacks and precarious situations. Our beginning was marked by Sisters arriving, departing, and returning, and the very existence of the Community often seemed to hang by a thread.
Fr George Herbert, our Founder, became the first priest of the riverside parish of St Peter’s, Vauxhall. The parish included the area formerly occupied by the notorious Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a place for frivolous entertainment and illicit assignations. Not surprisingly, the Victorian Church disapproved of this, and St Peter’s was welcomed as a wholesome influence in a polluted place.
But, in the 19th century, Vauxhall was a poor area, and in a sequence of events familiar to anyone ministering in such a place to this day, as soon as residents began to be prosperous, they moved to more attractive places, to be replaced by a new influx of the destitute. To build any settled community in such a place was a heavy task.
Hopes and fears
WE TEND to think that struggling to make an impact in an unchurched society is a modern phenomenon; but this is an observation from one of Fr Herbert’s friends about the state of religion in his own, similar parish: “The special difficulty of the parish was attracting the people to church. They had lost the habit of attending public worship, and it seemed as though nothing would enable them to recover it.”
Fr Herbert observed that “during a mission week, he had come across a grown person who was ignorant of the very existence of Our Blessed Lord”.
Fr Herbert started schools in his parish, where, before, there were none. His chief concern was not for the children’s general education, desperately needed as this was, but for their instruction in church teaching. “The fact that no child is ever withdrawn from such teaching raises a hope that, through the children, the parents, too, may be reached,” he said.
Such optimism is often found today, but the harsh truth taught by experience led him to add, “Not, I think, likely to be realised.”
FR HERBERT had what in those days was called “a zeal for souls”, and, as well as the routine work of a parish priest, he devoted himself to mission.
Contemporary accounts make it clear that he was not remarkable for learning, oratory, or a charismatic personality; he was simply enthusiastic about mission, and prepared to work tirelessly for that end; and he expected the Sisters whom he gathered to help him to operate in the same way.
I SUPPOSE that Fr Herbert in his wildest dreams would not have envisaged an institution such as the General Synod — let alone that one of his Sisters would be a member of it. I have just retired after 13 years, and am looking forward with mixed feelings to the opening of the new Synod this month.
I know it is time for me to give up, but, like an old racehorse at the starting gate, I am itching to set off again. I shall be taking a keen interest in the proceedings, and in the gathering of the new membership.
The quinquennium just finished was marked by the wearing and bruising struggle to achieve the legislation for women bishops, and I think that many members who had hung on to see this through felt that their particular task was done, and were glad to step down; so there has been an unusually high changeover of membership this time.
I am afraid the new Synod will not find its own business any less demanding than we did ours, but I hope that the new members will enjoy the tussle as much as I did.
The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby.