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(From Community Notes, Fairacres Chronicle 2023 Winter)

Dear Friends,

I am starting these notes rather earlier than usual this season because I am soon going to be away having a brief time of Sabbatical. As I type, Mark, our gardener, is mowing the grass, possibly the last mowing of the year as we move towards late autumn and then winter. We have had our yearly celebration of the Harvest and continue to enjoy the fruit of the garden, although I have to admit that the pictured quince came from the garden of a friend and not from our tree! The garden continues to be a real blessing for us; apples straight from the tree are very different to shop-bought ones: the taste is quite different, and there is the pleasure of knowing that it has come from our ‘Fair Acres’.

Recently our new fishpond was completed, and some of the fish were transferred from the pond by the old main entrance to their new residence. Many of you who have visited will remember the original pond, one of the first things that you would have seen on arrival. It still contains a lot of fish. For many years Sr Freda, who died last year, cared for them, and although it is sad that she did not live long enough to see their new home, I think she would have approved.

Our Harvest Festival celebration saw the Chapel filled with all manner of good crops harvested from the garden. We decorate the Chapel during the afternoon of the day before the harvest thanksgiving Eucharist, and the space becomes delicately scented by fresh apples and other produce. Vases of dahlias and sunflowers complete the decorations. Afterwards the produce is taken to The Porch, our local homeless drop-in centre, originally founded by the All Saints Sisters of the Poor and based not far from Fairacres.

Earlier in the summer we had a very happy celebration of the Centenary of the Dedication of the Chapel and St Mary’s in 1923. Bishop Michael Lewis, our Bishop Visitor, celebrated a sung Eucharist and we were joined by many of our Priest Associates, Companions, members of the Fellowship and Oblate Sisters as well as many other Community friends and Religious from other Communities. Although we were celebrating the dedication of the Chapel, we knew that we were expecting many more people than would be able to fit into that space comfortably, so we chose to hire a marquee which was set up in our new Quad in front of St Mary’s, and we celebrated the Eucharist there. The photo shows the marquee set up and ready for the service, but the entrance procession set out from the Chapel itself, following a blessing from Bishop Michael. Once the Eucharist was over, we invited everyone to help us move chairs and set up tables for the buffet lunch that followed. It was good to welcome many friends whom we have not seen for some time due to Covid and our building work.

Sadly, this celebration of our history at Fairacres and the bounty of our garden comes against the backdrop of the situation in Israel, Gaza and the surrounding areas. It is hard to fathom the suffering experienced by both Palestinians and Israelis, and the accompanying increase of antisemitism and Islamophobia in our own country and many others. Taken with the continuing war in Ukraine, this casts a pall over our celebrations. We are richly blessed in our surroundings and our safety, but we are aware of those who do not enjoy such safety and security, who live among rubble, rather than in a secure building with the use of a beautiful garden.

Many years ago, before the Second World War, the Sisters of the Love of God were invited to go out to the Holy Land to set up a house of the Community at Ain Karem, near Jerusalem. Mother Mary Francis visited the proposed site with brethren from the Society of St John the Evangelist and bags were packed ready for the first Sisters to set out. Although the war intervened and the foundation never came to pass, prayer for Jerusalem and the Holy Land remains a central part of our intercession.

After our building project was completed Sr Judith had the idea of sourcing ceramic nameplates from the Holy Land for the doors of the rooms in the Convent, to enshrine that concern for the Holy Land in the bricks and mortar of our buildings. She contacted the Friends of the Holy Land for help in finding an artisan: they were able to link us with the Dar Al Majuz Bazaar in Bethlehem, a social initiative supporting Palestinian women, individuals in need and those with disabilities. The resulting process involved quite an adventurous journey to get the nameplates back to Fairacres, which you can read about on the Friends of the Holy Land website . The nameplates are now on doors throughout the building and are a tangible link to the Holy Land.

I find their presence even more moving in the light of current events: a reminder of the people involved each time I open the door of my Cell or my office or see them on doors as I walk along a passage. Recently at our Sunday Eucharist the Gospel reading was from St Matthew and reminded us of the great Commandment given by Jesus in response to a question from a Pharisee:

Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. (Matt. 22:37–40).

In his homily, which is printed in this Chronicle (page 16), Bishop Humphrey Southern reminded us that it is as simple, and as hard, as that. Jesus is, of course, quoting from the Hebrew scriptures: the Shema, that great confession of faith of the Jewish people and, in the second part of the quotation, a reminder of the ways in which the Torah enshrined care for the needy within Jewish law. It seems to be part of human nature to stereotype, to scapegoat and to blame the ‘other’, but the Gospel message turns that around; we are to love God and to love our neighbour who, like us, is made in God’s image, just as God loves that person.

Of course, it isn’t that easy, especially when you live in places where tensions between people of different faiths, nationalities, and beliefs are a daily reality. When that overspills into violence it is hard to see where to go next. There may be many things we can do practically to support those longing for peace; there also may be literally nothing we can do. But underpinning all our response to the situation both in Gaza and in Ukraine needs to be the opening of our hearts to prayer for peace and reconciliation, for healing and justice. The SLG Rule puts it well:

The Sisters shall gather and hold to God’s love the concerns of the temporal and the many requests for intercession which are brought to the Community, for it is through Christ in the fellowship of the Spirit that the wholeness of spiritual power proceeds for the healing of the world’s disorders.

We are approaching the Season when we celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace, born into the very place we now see consumed by war. The well-loved Christmas carol, ‘It Came upon a Midnight Clear’, expresses this in the words:

Yet with the woes of sin and strife
The world has suffered long;
Beneath the angel-strain have rolled
Two thousand years of wrong;
And man, at war with man, hears not
The love-song which they bring;
O hush the noise, ye men of strife
And hear the angels sing.

The Carol also reminds us:

For lo!, the days are hastening on,
By prophet bards foretold,
When with the ever-circling years
Comes round the age of gold
When peace shall over all the earth
Its ancient splendours fling,
And the whole world give back the song
Which now the angels sing.

Please join the Community as we pray for the peace of the whole world and peace in our own hearts.

Our Christmas card this year is printed on the Chronicle cover rather than being a separate item, so I add here our Christmas greeting: the Sisters join me in wishing you a very Happy Christmas and a blessed New Year.

Sister Clare-Louise slg