WORD FROM OUR REVEREND MOTHER
(From Community Notes, Fairacres Chronicle 2022 Summer)
Greetings from the Convent of the Incarnation! People often comment that time seems to pass more quickly as you get older; it certainly seems true that the months have been pass- ing very quickly of late. We continue to re-establish ourselves as a community in the new building and hope that we will all be resident in the Convent in the next few weeks.
As for most of you, this was our first Holy Week and Easter without the restrictions of Covid as well as being our first Paschaltide back in the Convent; it was good to be able to celebrate the Feast once more together. In order to have as many sisters able to attend the ceremonies as possible, we made the decision to split the Paschal Vigil and the lighting of the new fire and Easter Eucharist. The Vigil was held on Holy Saturday evening, and the lighting of the fire on Easter Day at about 10 a.m., followed by the Eucharist. This was a change from our traditional practice of having the Vigil and Eucharist at 4 a.m. but did enable us all to be together for the Easter celebrations.
Blessing of the palms on Palm Sunday
Sadly, one of the main events of the past few months was the death of Sister Benedicta of Jesus on 23 May. Sister Benedicta had been unwell for some time and so her passing was not a surprise, although in the end she slipped away quietly and peacefully just before midday. Many of you will be aware that she was well known as Sister Benedicta Ward, translator of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, author of Harlots of the Desert and many other publications (a search of the SLG Press website will reveal some of them) and Reader in Early Christian Spirituality at Harris Manchester College, Oxford.
Unlike many in the Community, Sister Benedicta had visibility in the out- side world through her academic work. We were amazed during the time after her death at how far afield she was known, and how quickly, thanks to social media, news of her death spread across the world. There was an outpouring of love and gratitude from all quarters. Sister Benedicta spent her life holding the tension of her calling to academic study with her calling to an enclosed, contem- plative community. It wasn’t an easy thing to do, for her or for the Community, and Bishop Rowan spoke movingly of this in his homily for her funeral. It is significant that in the end she died in her cell at the Convent. A life which, in her work, spanned the centuries, was also able to be present in the still, silent place of the Convent cell.
Sister Benedicta’s funeral was held on Wednesday, 15 June at St Andrew’s Church, Headington, Oxford. The Convent chapel was not big enough for the numbers expected at her Requiem Mass, but we were able to have her coffin brought back to our Chapel on the afternoon of the day before the fu- neral for Vespers of the Dead and for the overnight Vigil – the first time we have been able to do this since before our building project began.
When a sister dies, the Candle that she received at her clothing, that was lit again at her Profession, is lit again and allowed to burn out. The candle symbolizes the light of Christ and our baptismal promises as well as our mo- nastic vows, and is a powerful symbol of our consecration to God as religious. Each of us has a candle stored in a cupboard, carefully labelled with our name and dates of clothing and profession. Unwrapping a sister’s candle after her death is always a powerful moment. There, in an unknown hand, is the record of her journey through Community. Our Rule says that, after Profession, our offering of ourselves continues until it is consummated in death.1 The dates of clothing, profession and death give a bare outline of a life lived in Community, but those of us who have lived with a sister are aware that between those dates a whole life given to God has been lived. For Sister Benedicta that life was marked by her writing and her teaching, and by the many people whose lives she touched along the way. But for Sister Benedicta, as for us all, there was an even deeper level of prayer, commitment and love, which we seek to ex- press in the daily living out of our vocations.
A more joyous event was the Queen’s Platinum Jubi- lee weekend. We arranged our timetable around the tel- evised events, decorated the refectory, and gathered to watch online! The picture shows Sisters blowing up balloons and putting up bunting in preparation for the celebrations.
It is some time since we last welcomed someone interested in exploring a vocation to the Community, and it is a general trend in the religious life that vocations are decreasing. It is of course true that there is only ever going to be a limited number of men and women living the religious life. However, there are people making enquiries, and Sister Margaret Theresa and I have been able to meet some of them through an online enquirers group organized by Brother Finnian SSF.
Having said that, during our time of dispersal during the building work we have had contacts from women enquiring about vocations to the Community. In recent months two women have lived alongside us to explore the possible vocations to the Community. One of them, Nadine Unger, was admitted as a postulant at Vespers on the feast of John the Baptist, 24 June. This is a time of reflection for us, as we inhabit our new surroundings and consider the way that we live our SLG life; the potential of new women coming to join us makes this even more imperative.
Many of you will know that Sister Avis Mary has been the Prioress for the last seven years; she retired from that office on Sunday 27 June (although she will be continuing with her many other tasks). Sister Eve was blessed into office as the new Prioress at the Eucharist that day.
We are also gradually reopening to guests, and it is good to be able to see some familiar faces again. We have the same amount of space as previously, but differently configured. The space formerly available in Fellowship House is now in the new wing of the building (a guest room is shown in the picture at the foot of the facing page), and we have new guest cottages replacing our old ones. The idea is to try to make better use of our space with everything closer together; the new cottages are on the opposite side of the garden to the old bungalows, each with a small area of garden of their own.
The continuity that grounds all this change and development is, of course, our vocation as Sisters of the Love of God, and our work of prayer. Like all of you, we have watched with horror the unfolding events in Ukraine, and we are aware of all the many other places of pain and tragedy in our world. We notice in our own garden the effects of global warming as the seasons shift and the weather patterns change.
It is moving to see the ways in which the work of the architects has brought to the fore the original vision of Paul Waterhouse who designed St Mary’s and the Chapel in the 1920s. Even when circumstances and build- ings change, and as time passes, I am reminded of the original vision of the first Sisters of the Love of God to live a life of prayer dedicated to the Love of God. A prayer in the SLG Way of Life reflects that commitment:
Draw us by the Holy Spirit
As you have drawn our Sisters before us
To enter into the love behind the Passion
As we engage with this world’s pain.
Please continue to pray for us as we continue to pray for you,