Flesh and blood
SISTER Alphonsina is dead. She was one of the pioneer Sisters of our Community in Basutoland (now Lesotho). She was well known locally for spending many years running a spinning and weaving school, which enabled women to earn their own living. A stately, “traditionally built” figure, she was a matriarch in both Community and church, and the Sisters were expecting a large crowd of mourners for her funeral.
The first Basotho Sisters had begun their religious life as a group in the care of a South African community. When our Community took over responsibility for them, it was on the understanding that they would be full members of CHN, not a separate community dependent on ours. The Basotho province (founded in 1962), like the newer province in Zululand, is now independent and self-governing, on a level with the English province.
In the early days, the first four Basotho Sisters came to our former convent in Malvern, and had to adjust to living in the context of British culture. A medical examination proved a shock for them: they were all dangerously anaemic. Iron supplements were not enough, and blood transfusions were prescribed.
Sister Alphonsina demanded to know, “Whose blood will I be given?” The doctor explained that it might be the blood of any donors with the right blood group. She protested, “But I can’t have just anybody’s blood! My blood is royal.” Fortunately, she eventually accepted the transfusion, as did the others, and she managed to live to the impressive age of 94. May she rest in peace and rise with Christ in glory.
I FIRST heard about interim ministers in a conversation with some priests of the Episcopal Church in the United States. I learned that in that Church, it is standard practice to appoint a priest to cover a vacancy so that the congregation is never without a pastor.
I had not come across this in the Church of England until I met such a priest at a diocesan conference, but since then they have been popping up everywhere. One has been serving in the parishes where I have been until recently; he arrived after retirement as a member of the congregation, and, before long, found himself responsible.
In the American system, the aim is to provide ministry until a new incumbent arrives. I thought that was the idea here, too, but, in fact, the appointment process had barely started when the interim minister retired — permanently, this time. I know of two other local parishes where the same thing has happened. Does no one in the hierarchy ever learn?
The magic number
ONE Sunday morning last year, a young woman in the congregation was excitedly showing the after-service coffee-drinkers an image on her mobile phone, which featured an indeterminate blob and some wavy lines. It was her 12-week scan. None of us doubted that we were looking at her much-wanted and long-awaited baby. (The baby now comes to church in her pram, and is admired and cooed over by everyone.)
Some years ago, in a church study-group in which all the members but me were mothers, I asked them, “At what point did you begin to feel that what was inside you was not just a part of you, but another person?” I was prepared for a number of different answers, but in fact they were almost unanimous: “When I saw the first scan.”
IN MY young days, there were passionate demonstrations (both for and against) in connection with the debate about the Abortion Act, which became law in 1967. It seemed to be assumed at that time that, if you were a Christian, you were “pro-life”, and if you were a feminist you were “pro-choice”. But what, I asked myself, if you were a Christian feminist?
I could see both sides. I knew about the horrors of botched back-street abortions, and the desperation of women who felt that they had to endure them to avoid a situation which seemed unbearable. I knew about the contempt and isolation suffered by women who had children out of wedlock — and by the children themselves.
It was obvious, as the feminists pointed out, that the consequences of undesired pregnancy fell far more harshly on women, and that control of women’s fertility was one of the prime methods for men to exert power over them. I can also appreciate the anxiety of parents’ fearing that a child might be born with difficulties too great to be faced.
And yet I remember that 12-week scan. A recent demonstrator demanding the legalisation of abortion in Ireland was carrying a placard reading, “My body — my choice.” But I could only say, “Not just your body.”
I can sympathise with people who come to different conclusions about abortion because of the sort of considerations I have mentioned. But I find it hard to sympathise with anybody who does not think it is a difficult decision.
The Revd Sister Rosemary CHN is a nun at the Convent of the Holy Name in Derby.