At home to mission
IN RECENT columns, I have written about the fact that we are an ageing community, and that we are less able to go out and do the kind of mission work that our sisters used to do. Our work, now, has to be more within our own convent, and we are trying to develop imaginative ways to make contact with people and continue to be mission Sisters, which is our calling.
As well as the “pounding the pavement and knocking on doors” style of mission, with which many of us began our time in community — avenues that are inappropriate now since most households no longer contain someone who is at home all day, and safeguarding concerns have made us aware of the dangers of cold-calling without preparation — we have also long been involved in leading groups of many kinds, from the “mothers’ meetings” and youth clubs of our early days in Vauxhall to retreats, prayer groups, and educational programmes at many levels.
We have recently been considering how all this expertise and experience could be used in our current, more static way of life. What can we offer to people in our own convent; and will they want to come?
Eat, pray, love
WE HAVE discovered that our garden is a great draw, and, when we hold an open-garden day, visitors come in droves. People also love to come and consume delicious home-made soup. This helps us to get to know our neighbours, and helps them to get to know one another — very worth while in our fragmented society — but is it (to use the currently fashionable word) “intentional” enough? How can we offer them something that will feed them spiritually?
We are also aware of financial pressures that make it necessary for us to find additional sources of income. It is a joy for us to give our services free, but we do have to eat. On the other hand, we do not want anyone to feel unable to participate because they cannot afford the charges.
Parable of the talents
ALL these considerations have led us to try an experiment. We have devised a programme for the year, offering events drawing on the particular talents of Sisters resident here, with content that, we hope, will be found helpful. A range of study days has been devised, with subjects geared to the capacity of available Sisters.
For the first time, we are organising group retreats led by a Sister. We avoided doing that for a long time, because the diocesan retreat house was near by, and we felt that this was better equipped to offer such a service. But, alas, that house, like so many, has now closed, leaving an obvious gap in the market. Our facilities are more basic than those now normally expected; will we find takers?
Link to the world
BUT, as our recent community magazine makes clear, we are not all at the convent, and our two remaining branch houses, in Manchester and Peterborough, do still contain Sisters who are out and about, meeting people where they are, in schools, foodbanks, charity shops, lunch clubs, and so on.
Or we are simply in public places, doing what our friend Bishop Bill Ind used to refer to as “loitering with intent”, where people may speak to us if they choose. And, often, they do choose: many an important conversation has emerged from an unplanned, casual encounter.
It is a struggle for us to maintain the branch houses when the number of physically fit and active Sisters is low, but they remain an important part of our community life and our interaction with people who do not seek us out.
They can also themselves act as small oases of peace and prayerfulness for people with hectic and difficult lives, and they keep us in touch with more varied communities of people than those in the immediate surroundings of the convent.
AND then, of course, there are our two provinces in Africa. When people ask us where in Africa we work, and we reply that one province is in Lesotho, we have sometimes been met by a blank look: “Where on earth is that?”
Perhaps that will happen less often since the television programme featuring Prince Harry’s involvement with the Sentebale project for children whose lives have been shattered by HIV and AIDS. Royal-watchers have been very impressed to learn that we do, indeed, know Prince Seeiso — the younger brother of the King of Lesotho — who is co-founder of the project.
Southern Africa is a different world, and our problems here look less formidable when we read about what our African Sisters are doing in the midst of the huge difficulties their societies are facing. They are an inspiration to us when our energies are flagging and we feel our age. (There — I’ve done it again.)
The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby.