My profile photograph
was taken when a meal out with family was usual, didn’t involve thinking about how many could come or how to keep 2 metres apart. It was part of our old style of life that can seem immeasurably distant, but was in fact only last January. Acts that I took for granted then – like standing near to someone – seem almost threatening now; normal behaviour like taking Communion from the Chalice seem almost impossible to get back to; putting on face masks has become part of life, and touching a door handle without being able to clean your hands after seems potentially dangerous.
That’s not to say that the lifting of restrictions and the greater ability to see people again hasn’t been a joy. I’m quite happy in my own company, so lockdown wasn’t a challenge to me from that point of view. I was a bit concerned as to how rusty my conversational skills might get, but they seem to have survived intact. Exercise was a bit more of a challenge; I got my daily exercise, although it was difficult to get as much as I normally do in one session. I enjoyed exploring different parts of Norwich, and usually combined exercise and prayer. The reopening of libraries has also been a joy; luckily I had several novels which I like to reread to keep me going while they were closed, but access to more reading matter is wonderful! I managed to get spiritual reading done by moving into podcasts, which I found I enjoyed.
Life this year has been one of continual adjustment; my mother died of cancer in the early hours of 1st January, bringing with it relief that she was no longer in pain and the grief of losing her. Then I moved to a new flat in mid-March. (with thanks to the Trustee, who did all the work!) This is very similar to my old one, so I soon settled down, but minor things like lightshades had to wait a few months as we went into lockdown. (I think there were shops selling them, along with essential items, but I figured they weren’t essential). With lockdown came the added interest of seeing whether the supermarket had what I wanted to buy (mostly). Also came the shutting of churches and the arrival of online services. I didn’t find this as bad as I expected. Once I discovered YouTube, and the presence of many Sunday services throughout the following week, I tuned in to one daily, which I found helped, and also meant I got lots of hymns and more sermons than normal. Mostly this meant different hymns, but occasional weeks found everyone choosing the same one…. The sermons were all different though. Then came the releasing of restrictions and all of a sudden I found myself having to adjust to seeing people again, albeit outside and 2 metres apart. I much enjoyed the opportunity of catching up with Sisters, family and friends. One of my favourite memories of this time is sitting in Chapelfield Gardens with my sister and her daughter, who was only a few months old, when the baby turned and gave me this gorgeous smile. Whether she was smiling at me, or merely in my direction, I don’t know, but, either way, it was lovely.
As time went on, more was opened up and life changed again. We were privileged that the cathedral was able to open for services as soon as they were allowed – I am grateful for the huge amount of planning, work and expense that went and still goes on to enable this to happen. It did take a definite decision to go back, as I had got used to lockdown style worship, but I am glad I did. Services are necessarily very different, but we are worshipping together (even if 2 metres apart), and it feels safe. I have also gone back as a door steward in the hostry – this has also changed, with lots of Covid related safety rules to pass on, but it is lovely to welcome visitors back. We have had Ploddy, the Cathedral’s Diplodocus puppet, sharing the hostry with us for the past few months, which has been unusual, as well as interesting seeing the reactions of visitors. Dippy, who should have been here this summer as part of the Natural History Museum’s tour, wasn’t able to come, but should be coming in the New Year.
Changes like we have all experienced this year can give an opportunity to re-think the direction of our lives, although personally I find myself more rooted in where I am. As part of my research into the history of our earlier Sisters, I discovered two who also had a change in circumstances, which I wonder may have contributed to their decision to join CAH, although it is impossible to know for certain. I discovered that Sr Mary Rose and Sr Alice shared the same surname, then that they were also born on the same place. Further research on Census returns confirmed that they were birth sisters, the daughters of Mark Edward Wade and his wife Louisa. In 1851 Mark is the owner of 500 acres and occupier of 305, employing 13 labourers and several servants, including a governess. In 1861, the family are living elsewhere, seemingly having moved into the village, with several members registered in other places. As far as I can gather, Mark went bankrupt, and it is tempting to think this may have led these two Sisters to think about Religious life. In any case, it led to a very different way of life; in 1861, Mark is registered as ‘farmer’, his eldest daughter is now governess to her younger siblings, and both parents and eldest son emigrated to Canada later; I’m unsure how many of the family went with them. Sr Mary Rose spent many years at the House of Mercy, and served as Reverend Mother between 1899 and 1917. Sr Alice, who used her middle name, was at the Orphanage in 1871 and the Community House [convent] in 1881. She left the Community in 1885 – not a decision that would have been taken lightly – and I think joined her family in Canada. It is intriguing to have these glimpses into the lives of past Sisters, who, all too often, are merely names on a board or photos in an album; in the case of Alice, only a name in a book.
Whatever happened to the Wade family, it is important not to ignore the human suffering behind their story; not just for the family themselves, but for their employees who may have become unemployed as a result, and who would have had fewer resources to manage on. The same holds true today: whatever our individual stories this year, there are many for whom it has caused increased distress and suffering, increased anxiety about the future. Ongoing issues, such as climate change and racism, have also been brought to the fore. While we cannot solve these, we can be aware of others’ suffering, of our own reactions and unconscious bias. Whatever we do about them, I find myself brought back time and again to prayer.