Community of St Mary the Virgin
By Sr Lizzie Ruth
The track can be heard here: Community of St Mary the Virgin
More information about the community can be found here: CSMV
The text is as follows:
Hello, I'm sister Lizzie Ruth, a sister of the community of St. Mary, the Virgin in Wantage, and I'd like to tell you a bit about our community.
Our community was founded in 1848. It was very pioneering at the time because Church of England religious communities were nowhere near as common as Roman Catholic ones. It was the vicar of Wantage parish church, William John Butler, who had the idea of setting up our community. Right from the start, the vision was for a community of sisters who combined being contemplative with being active, whose lives were rooted in prayer and silence and stillness, but who also gave a lot of time to serving others.
The main ministries of our community over its 170 years so far have been in education on the one hand and support of women on the other. At first, the sisters' focus was only on Wantage itself. The sisters helped educate children in various schools they set up. St. Mary's perhaps being the best remembered, and they also helped train future teachers. The sisters moved into the convent on Denchworth and Challow Roads, where we still live today, in the late 1850s.
As a separate ministry, the sisters invited young women who society at the time considered wayward to live with them at the convent for a two year stay. The young women lived at one end of the convent and from the sisters, they learned about discipline and self worth. And they gained practice in sewing and other housekeeping skills to increase their job opportunities for the future. This ministry at the convent lasted a hundred years and it became known as St. Joseph's Domestic School.
Over time, the ministry of the sisters grew and spread to locations all over the country. Sometimes the sisters were attached to a school, sometimes they were running a home for UN pregnant women or elderly women, and sometimes four or so sisters lived in a normal house and supported the local vicar in serving the people of that area. As the community grew and became increasingly well known, bishops in other countries, asked the sisters to go abroad to serve there too. For many decades, CSMV sisters served in South Africa, Botswana and India.
Aside from the more public ministries, the sisters have always had ministries of welcoming guests to the convent for a day or a few days, and of helping people who ask for guidance with their spiritual lives. On any given week, we have a number of individuals staying on our retreat wing, and we regularly have groups using our convent rooms and chapels. The sisters' traditional work in education continues to this day in new ways with sharing our building and grounds with education trusts and helping young people engage with their spirituality.
The prayer life that undergirds the sisters' work has remained very much the same over every decade since the community was founded. We join together in chapel six times a day. We have times in the morning and evening for praying on our own, and we keep silence for certain parts of the day and at meal times. There are currently 10 of us, and we continue to aim for that balance between being contemplative and serving and helping others.