WE ARE preparing to move house again. Our last move happened in 1989, when we left the convent in Malvern Link where the Community had been based for 101 years. (We actually arrived in Derby in 1990.) To console ourselves for the daunting task ahead, we remind ourselves from time to time that “it can’t be as bad as last time.”
We are not leaving a building in four sections, each with three floors and a basement, containing a century’s worth of accumulated rubbish (otherwise known as “things that might come in handy some time”), plus a substantial guest house and a Grade II* Comper chapel.
We have fewer Sisters to move (we are 22 in total now, compared with 57 then). Some of the Sisters who moved us then are among the Sisters who will move us now — but 29 years older. I do not think they are looking forward to it with joyful excitement.
Nice up north
“WHERE are you planning to go?” we are always being asked, now that our intention to move is known. “Anywhere” is not a helpful reply, but it is at least partly true. One main consideration is the cost of property, which rules out the most affluent areas of the country, and we are concentrating our search on the Midlands and the north.
One interesting fact is that, when we were trying to move from Malvern, some Sisters were dismayed at our even considering the north; but I have not heard that voiced at all this time. Some then seemed to feel that even Derby was on the edge of the Arctic Circle, but the time we have spent here has reassured them that civilisation does exist north of Watford.
Feeding body and soul
THE place to which we move needs to accommodate not only our bodies, but also our religious life. We are officially described as living “the mixed life”, which I always thought sounded depressingly half-hearted, but what it means in the technical sense is that our life comprises both monastic and apostolic elements.
The monastic side of our life requires a worship space to accommodate a daily eucharist and the corporate Office. We shall also need some sort of chapel, although Victorian splendour must be a thing of the past; and even the simple chapel we inherited from the Roman Catholic community who worshipped here before us would be too large in the future.
A priest once asked me, “Do you say two Offices every day?” When I said “Five,” he nearly fell off his chair. (Admittedly, some of them are very short.) Singing does not form such a significant part of our Office as it used to, because of falling numbers, increasing deafness, and failing voices, but we carry on speaking the words, so that the work of God continues.
AT THE same time, our apostolic vocation needs people, and people close at hand. Many of us cannot walk far, and very few can drive. This means that we need to be in an urban setting, and not just on the edge of a city, as we are at the moment. We shall be dependent on the wonderful bus pass, so there need to be buses.
Our Community began in a very poor area of London, and much of our work has been in similarly deprived places; we would be glad to continue this pattern. We would hope to be within easy reach of a church or two where we could be involved in their worship and ministry, but we have also often worked in schools and hospitals, and in the wider community: for example, in residents’ associations, or helping asylum-seekers and pressure groups.
With a little help
WE ARE Mission Sisters by definition, and our declared purpose is “to do all in our power to draw to Jesus those for whom he died”. But, however high-minded our intentions, we do also need a space in which we can live without unnecessary strain. We are looking for a building that is, or can easily be made, fully accessible for disabled people.
When we are established in our new location, we would hope to receive guests. We have been particularly looking for a redundant care home or nursing home, or possibly a small hotel or small school, but we would consider anything suitable for our requirements, or that could be adapted without costs that we cannot afford.
Meanwhile, life continues. Now that we have decided that change must come, some of us are temperamentally inclined to live in the future, excited by new possibilities and impatient that things on the ground seem to be just as before; others, however, are understandably full of anxiety.
We found our present convent partly through a casual remark from someone in the vicinity. If any reader is aware of possibilities where he or she is, please let us know.
Sister Rosemary is a member of the Community of the Holy Name.