THE order of nuns who inspired the TV drama series Call the Midwife are having to sell up and leave their home, owing to lack of financial support.
Just five Sisters, now all aged between 50 and 90, remain in the Community of St John the Divine, which was founded in 1848 as a nursing sisterhood. Sisters from the community ministered in the Crimean War, alongside Florence Nightingale, and they went on to form the first school of nursing in Britain.
They have been made famous for a new generation after their work as midwives in poverty-stricken areas of the East End of London after the Second World War was portrayed in the TV drama. It was based on a series of books by Jennifer Worth, who worked alongside the Sisters, and has proved a hit with TV audiences.
Despite renewed interest in the Sisters, however, they have been unable to raise funds to maintain their current home in Birmingham, where they have been based for 40 years. The 20-bed, Grade II listed property, which they have used as a house of prayer and a retreat centre, is now on the market for £850,000.
Sister Christine Hoverd, joint leader of the Community with Sister Margaret Angela King, said on Tuesday: “Sixteen hundred people came to the house for quiet days and spiritual accompaniment last year, but there are only five Sisters now, and financially it is getting very difficult.
“Though we hear that people want to join the religious life, the reality doesn’t appear to match it — we have prayed for 30 years for people to come, but I think today it is very difficult for people to come to that decision.”
Sister Christine, 75, joined the Community at the age of 21, and worked for most of her life as a midwife in London. The community first bought its Birmingham home in the 1970s, when it could no longer afford the rent on its Poplar home in London; but not all the Sisters moved until 1996.
“We were in the East End for over 100 years; I was a nurse and midwife all my working life. When we left the East End, the Sisters who were midwives applied for posts in the NHS. Our main ministry later moved from midwifery to quiet days and spiritual accompaniment.
“We are doing midwifery of a different kind, now, bringing things to birth in a different way.”
The five Sisters have struggled with the upkeep of the large property. “We went through the stage of longing to be able to keep the house going, we prioritised and budgeted carefully to keep the house in good shape and good condition, we worked solidly to do the electrics and everything else — you name it, we did it.
“But it’s been very hard. The straw that broke the camel’s back was a couple of years ago when we had a leak in the ceiling. We had to have scaffolding up, and they found a crumbling medieval chimney that had to be repaired. It cost thousands of pounds to replace, and we have not got that kind of money for repairs out of the blue.
“It was a warning to us that, however much we love it — and we do — our stewardship of it is coming to an end; and we made a decision to sell the house and find somewhere smaller that we could manage.
“We are hoping it can be bought by a missionary society or a Christian organisation, but they can only afford a very small amount, and we have to have enough money to buy a new property. We want to stay together and carry on our ministry.”