Brother Martin SSF gives and account of a recent conference of FiF Religious

THE ORDINATION OF WOMEN and many other of the modern trends which have invaded the Church of our day have caused distress and division in many of the monastic communities as well as in the parishes. The problems have been met in a variety of ways. Some communities are more united than others. Some are divided on these issues with a greater of lesser degree of understanding and sympathy on the part of their leaders. In some Sisterhoods there are very real problems because an ordained sister presides at the Eucharist in the convent chapel, what do traditionalists do? In many such communities it is impracticable or virtually impossible for the sisters to escape by gong to Mass elsewhere. So there is need for a forum in which such matters can be discussed.

A number of Brothers and Sisters are members of Forward in Faith, and an annual conference takes place, providing just the right forum where common concerns can be shared. This conference owes a great deal to Mother Teresa SSM (Walsingham) who initially provided the inspiration for this event. The planning and organising is done by her, in collaboration with Father Gregory CSWG (Crawley Down).

This year’s conference (July 1-2) took place at St. Stephen’s House, Oxford, through the generosity of the Principal and Staff. The hospitality was lavish and all at cut-price cost! There were eighteen participants from eight communities, and letters were received from many others who were prevented from coming because of other commitments. The Bishops of Ebbsfleet and Richborough and Fulham joined us for part of the conference.

Father Alan Rabjohns (from St. Saviour’s, Cardiff) was the guest speaker. He took as his subject “1992 and All That”, and his talks were full of insights into the problems facing Religious Orders, as well as assisting in the process of enabling those of the ‘two integrities’ to live together under the same roof. He stressed that we should do what we can together, and yet not yield on principle at the point where the issue of priesthood divides us. He also pointed out that stability should not be confused with being static, and that we should maintain the tradition without wavering but that we should go on exploring. He led a through a rationale of the general secularisation of our age, and pointed to our role a faithful remnant, which is a biblical theme. A penetrating remark came almost at the end of his final talk when he said that a parallel example of ‘two integrities’ in the medical world is when cancer cells grow; if they continue to co-exist with the body cells, then the body will be heading towards death. This was a powerful warning against acquiescing in the present situation.

Disappointment was expressed that the new ‘Anglican Religious Communities Yearbook contains an article on ‘Priesthood in a Women’s Community’ without counterbalancing this with an article outlining the attendant problems which are certainly felt deeply in many communities.

Frequently one comes away from a conference with a feeling that a good deal of times has been wasted, though one had enjoyed good company. Certainly friendship at this recent conference was very real and was treasured by all, but the content of the actual sessions was most valuable, and it is our hope that many more will come to next years’ conference at St. Stephen’s House. The dates are July 7-8, 1999