We're still standing
THIS year, our community celebrates its sesquicentenary. No, we
are not using that word on our publicity, but I came across it and
rather like it; so I thought that I would get it in. One hundred
and fifty years ago this June, our first Sisters made their vows,
in the then new Parish Church of St Peter, Vauxhall.
Anglican religious communities began in 1845, when Marian Hughes
made vows before Fr Pusey. That means that we were not among the
very first wave of communities, but the last survivor of Mother
Marian's Society of the Holy and Undivided Trinity spent her last
years with us in our convent in Malvern; so we feel that we have a
direct personal link with that beginning.
The feminist in me is a little embarrassed that we began with a
Father Founder rather than a Mother Foundress. He was the incumbent
of St Peter's, memorably named Fr George Herbert, and he was well
known in his day for the colourful Anglo-Catholic worship in his
church, his pastoral care of his poor parishioners, and his
impassioned mission preaching. He gathered a group of ladies to
help in his work, and to devote themselves to prayer in the
monastic tradition, and they became the founding members of our
In those first years after 1865, it was by no means certain that
the community would continue. Sisters came and went, and numbers
remained very small; the community might easily have disappeared
without trace before long, as many did. As I look at the new-style
religious communities that are starting now, I see a similar
pattern, and wonder how many of them will survive for 150 years -
or even if they would want to; perhaps they see their vocation as
responding to the particular needs of the moment, and then coming
to an end.
WE EVENTUALLY acquired our Mother Foundress, Mother Frances
Mary, who deserves this title, even though she was not one of the
original Sisters, because, under her leadership, the little
community stabilised, then grew and prospered, and moved beyond
work in one parish to a much wider ministry, based on the new
mother house in Malvern.
We were also renamed the Community of the Mission Sisters of the
Holy Name of Jesus. We are usually known as the Community of the
Holy Name (CHN) for short, but the full title emphasises what we
see as our constant calling. As a community, we have never had a
specialist ministry such as teaching, or nursing, but have
responded in whatever way seems appropriate at the time to our
commitment to "do all in our power to draw to Jesus those for whom
We are now a small group of ageing Sisters, and cannot do the
widespread and energetic work we used to undertake; but our calling
remains the same, and we simply have to work out how it can be
fulfilled in the circumstances in which we find
Busier than ever
WHEN I was applying to be considered for ordination, I made the
point that, although at 52 I might seem to be a rather elderly
ordinand, Sisters do not retire; I would expect to continue my
priestly ministry as long as I was physically and mentally capable.
They were sufficiently persuaded that I might not be a bad bargain
to allow me to proceed to ordination.
Priests of the Church of Eng-land, however, do retire, and, last
autumn, I received the standard letter from the Bishop, informing
me that I could not continue to hold his licence after I reached
the age of 70. I could, however, hold his permission to officiate.
Accordingly, on my 70th birthday, this change of status took place,
and the parish responded with a wonderful party and generous
A few weeks later, I received a pastoral phone call from the
Bishop's Officer for Retired Clergy, who was anxious to find out
whether retirement had caused me any problems - practical or
psychological. Was I planning to move house, for example? Not, I
assured him, unless 26 other people were going to move as well. How
had my life changed since retirement? Not at all; in parish and
community, I am still doing what I was doing before, and still not
getting paid for it.
I can understand that, for some clergy, retirement makes a huge
difference. I have met more than one who was looking forward to
being relieved of the relentless demands, proliferation of
meetings, and burden of administration which go with running a
parish, but has found it a terrible shock not to be the one who
decides how things shall be done.
But, more than ever, recently, I have been aware of how much we
depend on retired clergy. In this last year, in our small deanery,
with several parishes in vacancy, we could not have continued to
provide services without their help. Are we retired clerics bored
with nothing to do? Chance would be a fine thing.
The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the
Holy Name in Derby.