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(From Community Notes, Fairacres Chronicle 2021 Summer)

Dear Friends,

The Community had hoped that by the time this Chronicle reached you we would be safely moved into our new and newly-refurbished buildings. Unfortunately, the first thing I must report in these notes is another delay in our move back to the Convent. Building projects rarely seem to run to schedule and ours is no exception: currently we hope that the works will be completed at the end of July. I am aware that there are a number of you who would like to come and visit us in our new guest accommodation as soon as is possible, and we look forward to wel­coming you; but realistically it is going to be a while before we are estab­lished back in the Convent and ready to open our doors again.

In the meantime, our circumstances mean that we have needed to be creative in how we carry out various procedures. At the beginning of June, we held the Election for a Reverend Mother. Our normal practice is to hold the election in Chapel with all the Community present, but social distancing made that impossible. Instead, Sr Judith travelled by bicycle to our different houses with the ballot box in her basket to collect the votes, ending in our temporary Chapel, where our Warden, Fr Andrew Teal, counted the votes.

The result was my re-election as Reverend Mother for another term of office. Our next challenge will be holding the Installation, which is to be on 29 June, the Feast of St Peter and St Paul. Again, this would nor­mally be in our Chapel, but instead we will be holding the service at a local Church, St Alban’s. We look forward to welcoming our Bishop Visitor, Bishop Michael Lewis, for the occasion and wait to see what the impact of any remaining COVID restrictions will have on the format of the service!

Earlier in the year we managed to hold a Rogation Service in the Con­vent Garden: using a variation on our usual Rogation Service, a group of Sisters blessed the garden with holy water, including a heap of top­soil awaiting re-distribution as the foundation of landscaping around the Convent buildings. An unex­pected part of the proceedings was our discovery of a bee swarm at the bottom of the garden! One of our local beekeepers was able to catch and re-hive the swarm successfully.

Sr Judith transporting the ballot box

Sisters gathering in the garden.

There have been sad losses to the community: Sr Barbara June in January (her funeral address is printed here) and Sr Tessa of the Love of God, who died on 22 June, just as we were going to press. We will say more about her in the next Chronicle; meanwhile please remember her in your prayers. Our Oblate Sisters form an important part of the life of the Community, and I note with sadness the deaths of Jean of the Love of Jesus (Jean Hennig-Baarson) on 10 December 2020, Evelyn Silouana of the Cross (Evelyn Born) on Christmas Day 2020 and Sheila Margaret of Christ the Servant (Revd Sheila Whittle) on 11 February 2021.

Like all other Religious Communities in the Church of England we have been reviewing our Constitution in preparation for submission to the Advisory Council for Religious Communities in response to the recently adopted Canon DA1 on Religious Communities. This is the first time that Religious Communities have been included in the Canons of the Church of England and will ensure both accountability and support. This is a sig­nificant moment for Religious Communities and emphasizes our place within the Church as a whole. The opening of the Canon states that:

The Church of England affirms that, since the time of the early Church, there have been Christian people who, in response to God’s call, have committed their whole lives to God in the religious life, a radical com­mitment, shaped by the evangelical counsels, marked by consecrated celibacy, poverty and obedience, and fulfilled as a member of a commu­nity where the religious life is lived in common or as a solitary …

It is over 150 years since the religious life was re-established within the Anglican Church, and for some it is perhaps still the Church’s ‘best kept secret’. We are now also in a time when many new and fresh versions of religious life, lived both in common and in dispersion, are developing. Relationships between traditional and new communities are important as both forms of community discern their way forward. Even though there seems to be a shortage of new vocations to the traditional religious life, communities continue to look to the future in hope and faith.

This is one of the areas in which our Associates and other readers of the Fairacres Chronicle and our other publications are of such importance. We are grateful for your support of us; please tell others about the religious life when the opportunity arises, and about our forthcoming publication, Vocation, written by Sisters of the Community, and describing aspects of our life and commitment to a monastic rule (see p.50 for details).

These events have kept us busy during the past months, but at the same time we have been reflecting on our return to the Convent. After well over a year apart in small groups we will be returning to the Convent of the In­carnation as a community. We have the opportunity of a fresh start but also the challenge of learning to live together again under one roof.

As I write, the country is waiting to hear from the government whether the lifting of lockdown restrictions on June 21st will take place as hoped or not. We are all in a place of uncertainty and emerging from an experi­ence that will have changed us profoundly. There has been a hope that the ‘new normal’ will be different to the ‘old normal’, and that the experience of pandemic and lockdown will lead us to reflect on how and why we do things and perhaps make changes. Many of these questions are echoed in the questions posed to the Community as we prepare to move.

In such a world of change and uncertainty, where does our hope lie? Of course, it lies in God. We have just come out of the season of Paschaltide and have celebrated that wonderful Feast, Trinity Sunday, bane of many a preacher called to preach a sermon on its inexpressible mystery! We are often not comfortable with the mysterious and especially the uncontrol­lable. A wonderful quotation from Mr Beaver about Aslan, in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, puts it well:

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

We do not have a God who is ‘safe’, but we do have one who is good, and our faith in him enables us to live in the uncertainty of our world. A ‘safe’ and comprehensible God would be one made in our image; but God is greater than ever we can imagine.

Earlier, I quoted from the new canonical affirmation of the Religious Life. I will re-quote part of it here:

[Those who] in response to God’s call, have committed their whole lives to God in the religious life, a radical commitment, shaped by the evangelical counsels, marked by consecrated celibacy, poverty, and obedience, and fulfilled as a member of a community …

The Canon goes on to say that members of religious communities have:

… responded to the same call, fulfilling their baptismal promises through particular forms of public commitment and of accountability in obedience to Christ …

The description is that of religious communities, but the call to radical commitment is shared by us all. As the Rule of the Community puts it: ‘All Christians are called through Baptism to sanctification in a life of total commitment to the service of God.’ (Chapter 1)

That is lot to ask, but perhaps in this pandemic time of change and un­certainty, when our world is shaken by events, its necessity becomes clearer. Left to ourselves we cannot solve our world’s problems, but through dis­cipleship and prayer we can seek the will of God for the world. The Feast of Pentecost reminds us that we do not do this alone; we live out our Chris­tian journey enabled by the indwelling Holy Spirit. Fortunately, we do not have a God who is ‘safe’ and easily definable but one who is mysterious and unpredictable and above all ‘he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you’. The Sisters join me in prayer for all of you, and we thank you for your prayers for us.

God Bless,

Clare-Louise SLG

New cloister quadrangle

New wing South elevation and cloister

Guest cottages with ‘living roofs’ seeded and growing