One of a series of short articles on ‘Why’ taken from the printed 2016-17 edition of the Anglican Religious Life Year Book
by Sister Annaliese CSC
“You have become family to me”
“You saved my life”
“This has become my home”
“I’ve never had a room of my own before”
These moving words are just a few of the comments we are so privileged to hear from some of the beautiful women who have come to live with us.
Jesus said : “Knock and the door will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7). For most of the women who have come to live with us at CSC Ham Common, they have had to knock on many, many doors before one opened for them.
For us, sharing our home with women who have suffered extreme exclusion is a natural extension of our ministry of hospitality. It is also part of our Christian stewardship – we had some empty rooms while there are any number of women who are suffering on the streets or in very unsafe accommodation.
We linked in with a wonderful, well-established Charity called ‘Praxis – the Place for People Displaced’ who we have been working in partnership with for over 4 years.
As Religious Communities many of us are needing to rethink what to do with our spacious buildings. It is possible to offer hospitality via Praxis to individuals suffering from extreme exclusion, on a short term or long term basis. Praxis is sensitive to the needs of Religious Communities and gives ongoing support and advice to the ‘Host’ as well as the guest.
Jesus also said that by welcoming the stranger we are welcoming him (Matthew 25:35). Over the last 4 years we have welcomed 11 (mostly young) women as a type of Alongsider. The majority have stayed with us for several years. We of course, had all sorts of ideas about how this was going to work out but much has needed to develop and adapt as we have gone along. We have 7 women living with us at the moment plus 2 toddlers and another baby on the way! We had not planned on having children living with us and they do pose some challenges to a Convent offering retreats(!) but they bring so much joy and fun and are very loved indeed.
Each of these Alongsiders has a precious and unique story – some are refugees or asylum seekers, while others have been here since childhood originally staying with friends or distant relations and have all but lost touch with their country of origin. Those women who have been here since they were children, had been in paid work or at University until they were suddenly told that they hadn’t got the right papers and were not allowed to work, receive student grants or Benefits. Waiting in ‘the system’ for years is what all of our women have in common.
We have been able to access funds through a local Charity and other Trusts which has made it possible for most of our women to attend Courses, have English tuition, study with the Open University and cover extra expenses for them and the babies. This has made a huge difference to the quality of their waiting.
As a Community we responded to a need but could have no idea how many blessings we would be given in return – our hearts have been widened along with our horizons. Their youthful energy is a real tonic, and I like to think that these women help keep us our spirits young! We have been very grateful for help around the house, enjoyed all sorts of exotic foods, hosted a large wedding blessing in our garden – (followed by a disco on the grass) and at times had our Midday Office transformed by some rather more modern Christian music than we have been used to! It was very moving to be able to help one woman when she couldn’t go to her mother’s funeral by holding a memorial Service in our Chapel, and this and the feast afterwards was attended by many of her friends. There have also been delightful parties for the children’s first and second Birthdays; but for the most part, our lives interweave (relatively) quietly as Grace moves gently between us.