WORD FROM OUR REVEREND MOTHER
(From Community Notes, Fairacres Chronicle 2019 Summer)
My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast.
I will sing and make melody.
Psalm 57:7 NRSV
Steadfastness seems to be in very short supply in our world today, and as I write this summer I am very conscious of all the Brexit ups and downs in our national life. Wherever you stand on the Brexit divide, there is no doubting that the country is facing a time of major uncertainty and disruption as we wait to see what the path forward and its results will be. The debate has become polarised, leading to deep divisions within society.
As a Community we are also facing disruption, and it relates, of course, to our building project! I have said a few things about this in Notes over the past couple of years, but now the reality of the project is coming near. As you know, the Convent as it stands has a number of issues which are a problem for us, especially for those Sisters who are now less mobile and find getting around more difficult. Years of development on this property have led to a very long, thin building with a number of changes to floor levels. It is no longer possible for all of us to get to the Common Room or Library, and getting to the front door from one end of the Convent to the other is quite a trek. Anyone who has visited in recent years will have seen the notice on the door asking callers to wait patiently until the Sister answering the bell gets there!
Our architects, MEB Design Ltd, have produced a design which will involve a mixture of both new buildings and renovations. All the ground floor of the Convent will be on one level, and a new wing will house the Library and monastic offices. In the new wing there will be guest accommodation to replace Fellowship House, and new bungalows within the garden to replace St Seraphim and St Columba. We hope for a building which is more ‘gathered-together’ with a more efficient use of space and a greater sense of enclosure for the Community. On the back cover is the architects’ concept of the new layout from the orchard: the new entrance is on the left at the end of the new wing, with the existing buildings of St Mary’s and the chapel in the background and St Raphael’s to the right. A cloister with views over the garden will link the new building with the chapel and refectory, the whole forming a quadrangle around a formal garden.
Depending on all being well with planning permission, we hope that building will begin during October. But before that we have to clear and pack all our belongings and move out of the Convent completely! We have lived at Fairacres since 1911, so as you can imagine there is quite a lot of stuff to sort into categories: what will we need over the next couple of years; what can be stored; what should we dispose of? We are becoming experts in recycling and re-homing!
We are not going far: four of us will be living in Fellowship House, and the rest living in rented houses in the surrounding roads. Our hope is that we will be able to share at least some of our worship in what is now the Workroom (where our habits are made), which will be reordered as a chapel. Each of the smaller houses will have a room set aside for an Oratory. The architects are expecting the building work to take around eighteen months; but knowing how construction can be delayed, we are planning for at least two years.
All this means that, like the country as a whole, we are facing a time of change and uncertainty, which can cause both excitement and dread. When I wrote my Community Chapter Charge recently, I reflected on the question of where our stability lies when everything is changing, a question not just for SLG, but for many people throughout the world. For Christians, of course, the answer is in God. John Mason Neale’s hymn puts it well:
Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the head and corner-stone
Chosen of the Lord and precious,
Binding all the Church in one;
Holy Zion’s help for ever,
And her confidence alone.
Times of change and disruption are opportunities for exercising trust in God, as well as realising that our faith is in God, not in structures and buildings which have become so dear to us. The Sisters will need to draw to a large extent on their internal disciplines, and the practices of silence and stability in the absence of the physical enclosure in which we normally live. It will be an opportunity to explore our expression of the Religious Life in very different circumstances.
We also find ourselves in a liminal space as we move from a familiar, beloved space, into a transitional space, and then into our newly ordered buildings. In the Chapter Charge, I quoted to the Sisters something I found on a website called ‘Liminal Space’:
The word ‘liminal’ comes from the Latin word limen, meaning threshold—any point or place of entering or beginning. A liminal space is the time between the ‘what was’ and the ‘next.’ It is a place of transition, waiting, and not knowing.
Liminal space is where all transformation takes place, if we learn to wait and let it form us.
Author and theologian Richard Rohr describes this space as:
[the place] where we are betwixt and between the familiar and the completely unknown. There alone is our old world left behind, while we are not yet sure of the new existence. That’s a good space, where genuine newness can begin. Get there often and stay as long as you can by whatever means possible. … This is the sacred space where the old world is able to fall apart, and a bigger world is revealed. If we don’t encounter liminal space in our lives, we start idealizing normalcy. The threshold is God’s waiting room. Here we are taught openness and patience.
That is the challenge that lies before us; not just the challenge of de-cluttering, packing and moving, but the challenge of seeing in this stage of the Community life a liminal space inviting us to growth and transformation. The process will call for steadfastness, as Psalm 57 reminds us. Our hearts need to be steadfast and set on God even as we move into our new circumstances.
To do that we will rely, of course, on the prayers of all who are associated with us. We, in turn, will continue to keep you in our prayers. Perhaps we could also pray that the conflicted and contradictory nature of public life in our country would also become a liminal place out of which real change for good emerges. Most of us find that the only place where our opportunity to work for that kind of change is in our own ordinary, everyday circumstances. But we can all pray for the grace to be faithful to that work—even as we head into the unknown.
With prayers from all of us here at Fairacres,
SISTER CLARE-LOUISE SLG