Fresh woods and pastures new
Sister Mary Michael CHC thinks through a moving experience
Where there is no vision the people perish’. What has prompted the Community of the Holy Cross, latterly at Rempstone, to uproot itself and move on, albeit only some three-and-a-half miles away to Highfields Farm Costock? Vocations to the religious life are rare these days and time takes its toll on those already committed.
But then, what prompted Mother Elizabeth Neale and Father Charles Fuge Lowder to start the Community in the first place amid the squalor of the mid-nineteenth-century London docks?
Why was the Mother House established later at Haywards Heath and whence the decision to move from there to the Midlands a mere thirty-two years ago? In all of this there is surely to be discerned the single thread of the ongoing will of God for the Community and for his Church – yes even for the tiny portion which we name the catholic wing of the Church of England.
Trusting God’s providence
If the vision of God’s will were to be undetected, or even when dimly perceived, not acted upon, then the people would indeed perish, all of us together. Thus the Community, sensing the Spirit’s call and against all odds, has been graced to respond in faith, trusting in the ongoing providence of God for the days ahead.
The monastic life is essential for the catholicity of the Church so the Sisters’ removal to Costock on 16 March 2011 was no mere selfish whim. The building work is not even yet completed and the intervening weeks have often been far from an idyllic dream of the peace and tranquillity of the cloister! Yet already the daily rhythm of contemplation and the worship of God in Eucharist and sevenfold office is in place, together with the Benedictine balance of manual work, prayerful reading and hospitality.
St Benedict says in his Rule that visitors will never be lacking in a monastery. This continues to be the case for the Community in its new location despite some unavoidable ad hoc facilities in the transition period. Requests are coming in already for the latter part of the year when it is expected that the renovation work on the listed farmhouse building should be completed and the house open to receive resident as well as day guests.
Benedictine hospitality and breadth of view is not restricted simply to the reception of guests, however. The joys and sorrows of the manifold needs of the world and the Church are embraced in intercessory prayer, and through correspondence, internet and telephone links and spiritual counselling. Moreover, the Benedictine monastic lifestyle has traditionally been conducive to a deep respect for the created world, given to us in trust by God. Care for the environment therefore is an indispensable aspect of monastic prayer. For Benedict even the very implements and tools used in and out of doors are to be cared for as though they were the sacred vessels of the altar.
The convent at Highfields, Costock is set in the midst of open countryside and the Community sees it as its privileged obligation to protect, foster and propagate the flora and fauna, the bird life and the trees in the fields and woodland of their estate. As far as possible too the new buildings are environmentally friendly. Thus, there are boundless opportunities ahead in this place for a more authentic living out of the Benedictine life in our embattled Church situation. Benedictinism and prayer and work for unity and wholeness go together.
Benedict in fact assures us that wherever we are we are in the service of the same One True King. Monastic stability is more than staying in one place. It embraces and holds fast to the fullness of the apostolic faith, the Tradition, refusing to give up or seek escape when the going is tough. It is not so much getting off the battlefield as staying there in passive resistance until God changes the situation. Not for nothing are the Costock Sisters described as the Benedictine Sisters of the Holy Cross. Elizabeth Neale and Charles Fuge Lowder stood firmly in that same place.
There is an inspiring new church building here with ample room for guests as well as the monastic choir. Around us also is the sacred vista of the countryside. No more buildings can encroach for underneath are some of Nottinghamshire’s famed Gypsum mines. Who knows whether the alabaster carvings of Our Lord, Our Lady, St Stephen and St Katharine, which have travelled with the Community all through from London Docks to their current home in the new chapel, were not made from the products of these very mines? Somehow, this seems fitting and perhaps a prelude to new life and growth in the Community and beyond.
(A special note of thanks to all
whose prayer and almsgiving
are supporting this venture) ND