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ACNS - Canadian nuns play host to overseas members
Worldwide Faith News <email@example.com>
Mon, 10 Jun 2002 16:02:51 -0700
ACNS 3018 - CANADA - 10 June 2002
Canadian nuns play host to overseas members
by Leanne Larmondin
[Anglican Church of Canada] It says something about a community - even a
community that, by its very nature, is exclusively women - when even the man
delivering the heating oil is considered nearly family.
Smack in the middle of the general chapter meeting of the Community of the
Sisters of the Church, one of 11 Anglican religious orders in Canada, the
doorbell rang just as the gathering was to celebrate Eucharist. The fuel man
was serving his last day before retiring, filling the two large tanks that
heat the sprawling St Michael's House. He wanted to say goodbye to the
residents, the Sisters of the Church. Several members of the community filed
out of chapel to exchange farewells with the man and to take photographs to
commemorate the moment.
The recent general chapter, held every two or three years in a different
province each time, brought representatives of the 100 or so Sisters of the
Church to St Michael's House, a home and meeting place nestled on the old
tree-lined lakeshore drive of stately Oakville, Ontario.
All seven members (including two retired nuns and one postulant) of the
Canadian province attended. In addition there were two sisters from
Australia, three from the Solomon Islands and six from the United Kingdom,
including the order's head and mother superior, Sister Anita, who is also
sister provincial (or head sister of the province) of the UK.
The order is facing widely differing challenges: firstly, of shrinking
numbers in the Western world - namely, Canada, the United Kingdom and
Australia - and secondly, the burgeoning membership in its newest province,
the Solomon Islands. Last September, the Australia/Pacific province was
divided in two - Australia and the Solomon Islands - to accommodate the
The sisters brought in facilitators for most of their week-long meeting to
help the gathering focus on its challenges, including how to live and work
together 24 hours a day, with the same individuals. The sisters co-exist in
such close proximity that they must develop skills to cope with basic family
dynamics, said Sister Anita. The group also used a healing circle, a
traditional aboriginal gathering with a circular formation where each member
is encouraged to speak.
"It is a very different format from our Western-style discussions," said
Sister Anita, a Briton. "It is very time consuming, but things can really be
said and be heard."
The sisters also pledged to continue to build and maintain inter-provincial
connections. There is some movement among the provinces: one Australian
sister has lived in the UK community for more than a decade and Phyllis, the
former sister provincial from the Solomons, is studying theology in England.
Although she will bring that education back to the islands, the time that an
experienced nun spends away from the community is tenuous, said Sister
Bringing a Solomon Island sister to the UK or Canada to study and learn from
more experienced members "would be great," she added, but the community is
still young and somewhat fragile in the Solomons. Removing one of the more
seasoned nuns could upset the community's existence.
The challenge for the nuns outside the Solomons, said Sister Anita, is
sharing their experience "without being overbearing."
Sister Doreen, the sister provincial of the Solomon Islands, reported that
her community continues to grow. Now totalling 54 professed nuns and
novices, there are presently more members in the Solomons than there are in
the other provinces added together. In an interview, Sister Doreen noted
that the community is an attractive option for women in the islands,
particularly since they have few employment options and are expected only to
marry and bear children.
Communication is a challenge for the province, since many members in
isolated communities have no access to fax, e-mail or telephone.
"Traditional mail or radio are the only methods of communicating," said Sr
Meanwhile, the Australian province said that its challenge is how to remain
a community when the sisters no longer live together. The sisters closed all
three of their houses because they could not keep up the maintenance, nor
could the sisters - ageing and dwindling in numbers - sustain the
ministries. One house in Melbourne was both home to some sisters and a day
conference centre, similar to the ministry at St Michael's House in
Sister Linda Mary, sister provincial for Australia, said that much of her
job now is co-ordinating communication between members in her province, most
of whom live alone. One sister who used to live at one of the order's houses
has developed a simple ministry of "befriending people" and hosting
meetings, said Sister Linda Mary. Another has become involved with a parish
church, which would have been unlikely when she lived in community with
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