NOW that many of us are not able to go out to minister as we used to, we are looking for ways to develop the ministry we can do at home. Although Sisters have long been experienced in conducting retreats, we have not hosted retreats led by a Sister in our present convent.
When we moved to Derby in 1990, we decided that we would not need to provide facilities for residential retreats, since the diocesan retreat house was in the next village, and we wanted to collaborate with that, not compete. Alas, the retreat house, like so many of its kind, has now closed, and there is a gap in the market for its facilities.
We, therefore, decided to see whether a retreat led by a Sister on our own ground would be appreciated. The first of its kind has just taken place, and we were delighted that the participants included both old friends of the Community and newcomers who had simply found us on the web. We and they found it a fruitful partnership. I am sure there will be more to come.
Value of maturity
THE community was recently asked to participate in a vocations day organised by the diocese. It had proved difficult in the past for us to find a place on such days, since the Church is still inclined to equate “vocation” with “ordination”.
Some years ago, I remember taking part in a vocations weekend, where the advance publicity said: “This is a chance to listen for God’s call to you, which may lead you into any way of life or sphere of work.” At the final planning meeting, the chief organiser asked: “Shall we send the names of all the participants to their DDOs?”
He was surprised at the concerted cry of “No!”
This day provided information about various forms of ordained ministry — yes, we did start there — but also Reader ministry, and other forms of lay pastoral ministry.
There was emphasis on the Church’s current preoccupation with recruiting young people. Yes, their energy and zeal can make an important contribution to the life of a Church that seems old and tired, but I think it is as well to remember why more mature candidates were preferred at times in the past. Experience of life, and a recognition that answers to difficult questions are seldom clear and quick to reach, are valuable resources.
ON THIS particular day, we were invited, as a community, to take part. We made it plain that we would be happy to talk to anyone about entering the community, but also about ways in which our convent might provide space for reflection for people considering any vocation, and Sisters to help them in their discernment.
We were not overwhelmed by numbers of people wanting to join us, although several wanted to discuss our other suggestions. The religious life (often inaccurately termed the monastic life) is unexpectedly fashionable at the moment, but most interest is centred on dispersed or temporary communities, such as the Archbishop’s Community of St Anselm. Communities such as ours, composed of ageing members committed for life to a rather unexciting routine, are understandably not attracting many recruits.
There are still small numbers who feel convinced that God is calling them to such a way of life, and are entering traditional communities. I am impressed by their faith and courage, and hope that God will bless them in their search.
THE vocations day was blessed by the participation of the Bishop of Repton, the Rt Revd Jan McFarlane, who told us something about her own vocational journey. Her history includes belonging to both the conservative Evangelical and traditional Catholic wings of the Church of England; so she certainly has wide sympathies.
She told us that, while working for communications in her former diocese of Norwich, she married Andrew, a television cameraman. (She explained to the Bishop: “Well, you told me to establish friendly relations with the media.”) At services where Bishop Jan has been centre stage, Andrew has been an unobtrusive presence in the congregation, warmly welcomed and appreciated.
NOT long ago, it was revealed that the Bishop of Grantham, the Rt Revd Nicholas Chamberlain, is in a same-sex relationship (“within the Bishops’ guidelines”). He had been appointed with the full knowledge and approval of the diocesan and church hierarchy, although without the facts’ being made public.
The Archbishop of Canterbury responded to the revelation by remarking: “The Bishop’s sexuality is completely irrelevant to his office.”
I find this statement astonishing. We in Derby diocese are already confident that Bishop Jan’s marriage makes a great contribution to her personal happiness and her effectiveness as a pastor. It would not occur to us to suggest that it is “completely irrelevant to her office”.
The Church of England needs to think again.
The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby.