Our Life

Hello. My name is Sr Lizzie Ruth. Through the following photos and words I would like to give you a glimpse into a typical week in my life here at St Mary’s Convent. As well as sharing with you something of my own daily life here as a Novice, I hope that it helps give you a real feel for the character and spirituality of the Community of St Mary the Virgin as a whole.

Saturday

Sat 6:50am Our chapel is at the centre of our Community life. We gather here daily for Lauds at 7am, Terce at 8:15am, Eucharist at 10am, Sext at 12:30pm, Vespers at 5pm and Compline at 8pm. One of my roles here is to light the altar candles for each of these acts of worship which form the framework of our lives.

Sat 8:30am We gather each morning after Terce to hear a portion of our Rule read out. This is followed by a brief meeting which we call “Conference” in which we look at our communal diary and the day ahead. Our Rule is influenced by both St Augustine and St Francis de Sales. The Sisters here make the traditional three-fold vow of poverty, chastity (which for us includes celibacy), and obedience. We also feel called as a Community to be a blend of Mary and Martha; to maintain a balance between contemplation and ministry.

Sat 11:15am Here I am cleaning and polishing the brass that we use in chapel. Unless conversation is necessary we maintain silence while we work. Performing my work this way helps me to integrate prayer with my daily activities. Some of my duties are the same every day and there are other duties such as this one that I undertake to a weekly pattern.

Sat 5:30pm I’m somewhat responsible for the Quiet Room on our Retreat Wing which groups or individuals can use as a prayer space. When I first furnished the room I enjoyed filling the windowsills with visual prayer aids, choosing icons for the room, and putting together some written prayer resources. At some point each weekend I check that all is well in here and that the supplies for the room are sufficiently stocked up.

Sunday

Sun 5:40am As part of our rule of life each Sister commits to an hour of personal prayer every morning. I have mine earlier than some of the other Sisters do but it is an essential daily discipline for each of us. Some of us prefer to pray in our cells, and some of us prefer to pray in the larger of our two chapels which has various ‘prayer corners’ in it. Everything we are and do springs from our personal relationship with God.

Sun 10:00am Christian prayer is corporate, not just individual. Our Sunday Eucharist together is a highlight of our week. We sing parts of the liturgy in plainchant as well as singing well-known hymns. Sometimes we’re joined by guests who are here on retreat, or by friends of the Community who live locally. It’s my role to prepare the chapel for our worship before the Sisters and guests enter.

Sun 11:00am I like the fact that we interact quite a bit with our guests and priests. I especially enjoy coffee and conversation each Sunday morning with everyone who joined us for our Eucharist. We’re blessed with a number of priests (female and male) who take it in turns to preside for us; parish priests, university chaplains, cathedral clergy, academics, priests of specialist ministries… I really value the richness and variety that our priests bring to our Eucharists and to our conversations over coffee.

Sun 3:45pm On a Sunday afternoon all the Sisters come together as a family for tea and cake. I find joy in the fact that even though we’re of different ages, personalities and backgrounds we find plenty to talk about that interests us all. This weekly Sunday afternoon tea always emphasises for me the beauty of living in a residential religious community.

Monday

Mon 9:30am Monday is our weekly Community Rest Day. On this day we have a break from our work and from some of our daily duties. Every few weeks my Monday is also my monthly retreat day. I tend to spend some time in our Craft Room on our Rest Days making little tea-stained cards and envelopes.

Mon 11:00am Another of my hobbies is music. I love singing and I like tinkering around on the piano. Thankfully we have a Song Room with a piano in it where I can do both without worrying about disturbing anyone else.

Mon 2:00pm Being on the edge of the Berkshire Downs we’re surrounded by a lot of beautiful countryside. We’re also within walking distance of the Ridgeway. On Mondays I like to make the most of this by going for a long walk.

Mon 5:00pm Time to join my Sisters for Vespers. We sing the whole of Vespers in plainchant. (We sing it in English rather than Latin.) I feel there’s something very spiritually deep about plainchant; both the sound of it and the experience of singing it. When I first arrived here I wasn’t so familiar with reading this form of music but I was given regular lessons by two of the Sisters and now I take my share in helping lead our singing.

Tuesday

Tue 8:45am My first work period of the day is between Conference and 9:45am at which point I must light the altar candles and do other preparations a little ahead of our Eucharist.  During this first work period I tend to be doing research in our archive rooms or working at the computer. I’m very grateful that we have computers downstairs for this purpose so that our cells can remain work-free and electronics-free spaces.

Tue 12:50pm We eat our meals together in the Refectory. Apart from on very special occasions we take all our meals in silence. I like the profound ‘togetherness’ that I experience from this.  I also appreciate the silent space at mealtimes just to sit with my own thoughts or not to have to think at all.

Tue 1:30pm After dinner we come together to chat over a cup of tea. This is an important part of our spiritual life together. We find ourselves chatting about all kinds of things such as nature or novels or hobbies. After this we have some free time. I really value the balance here between times of coming together as a group, and space for being on my own.

Tue 4:15pm Another daily discipline we commit to is 30 minutes spiritual reading. I’m expected to schedule my afternoon in such a way that I give myself some free time, attend any meetings I’m expected to be at, fulfil my afternoon duties such as marking up books for guests who will join us in chapel, and do my spiritual reading. When it’s nice weather I like to sit with my book in our Water Garden.

Tue 8:55pm I retire to my cell some time between 8:30pm and 9:00pm. Our cells are private places with great spiritual significance. We would never normally go into or look into another Sister’s cell and, as I’ve mentioned, we don’t do any work in our cells or use electronic devices in them. My cell is protected as a place simply for sleeping, resting, reading and praying. I personally find that this really deepens my spiritual life.

Wednesday

Wed 10:45am After our daily Eucharist I get a chance to sit for a few minutes with some coffee. Apart from on Sundays and Principal Feasts we have our mid-morning coffee on our own in silence. I tend to bring my mug out into the garden in the summer. I like how this silence helps me grow in continual inner conversation with God.

Wed 11:00am My second work period of the day is my time for more hands-on tasks. After I’ve done the cleansing from the Eucharist and prepared the vestments and books for the following day, I turn to my cleaning responsibilities. This morning I’m sweeping and mopping our main corridor. I really like the variety within my days and weeks here and the balance between quiet manual tasks, reading and writing, and ministering to others.

Wed 2:45pm I’ve offered to buy a few communal supplies. The shops are less than 10 minutes’ walk from the convent. Since our Community has links with our parish church and local primary school and various local residents, I often find that I bump into someone I know and we end up chatting for a bit. I’ve also had some enjoyable conversations with complete strangers asking me questions about religious life.

Wed 5:30pm Today I’m doing some personal study between Vespers and Supper. My Novice Guardian arranges various teaching sessions for me on themes connected to prayer, spirituality, religious life in general, and the Rule of the Community of St Mary the Virgin. Sometimes she invites local priests to give a study session on a particular spiritual topic that they are well versed in or have written about. A great deal of my teaching has come from my Novice Guardian and from her many years’ experience of living the religious life herself.

Wed 8:20pm Our Greater Silence begins at the end of Compline which means we don’t talk at all between the end of Compline and the end of breakfast the next day. As well as committing to an hour of personal prayer each morning, we also commit to half an hour personal prayer each evening. I like praying after Compline in the stillness and silence of St Mary’s chapel. This gallery is one of my favourite places to pray.

Thursday

Thu 7:40am One of my first duties each morning is to set up for our daily Eucharist. I make sure that this is done before going to the Refectory for my breakfast.

Thu 8:00am Intercession is an important part of our life. Our intercessions board is regularly updated with prayer requests that we receive. In my news intake I try to avoid the temptation to absorb more information than God needs me to. I’m finding it helpful to limit myself to the 60 second BBC headlines each morning on iPlayer, then to look at the Guardian Weekly and Church Times over the course of the week. Very occasionally we gather as a community to watch a documentary on BBC iPlayer.

Thu 10:45am On a Thursday morning I spend time on our Infirmary Wing chatting with our older Sisters and helping them with any specific tasks that they would like my assistance with. I find it very enriching to hear stories of their lives and of life here at the convent in former years. I feel part of a long tradition of CSMV Sisters. I find the older Sisters very wise and very open to the Holy Spirit.

Thu 2:30pm I try to go for at least a 20 minute walk each afternoon as it’s good for me physically and mentally. Sometimes I walk around our grounds which are large and beautiful in themselves and sometimes I go off our premises. We have some very scenic walks just on our doorstep.

Thu 3:30pm I have a one-to-one pastoral meeting with my Novice Guardian every week. She accompanies me in adjusting to Religious Life and she helps me in my ongoing discernment about my vocation. Each week she invites me to talk with her about whatever has come up for me in the past week or whatever is going on inside me at that point in time.

Friday

Fri 6:45am A special moment for me each morning is going for a 5 minute walk in our grounds before preparing the chapel for Lauds. I like listening to the birdsong. I think Jesus liked being outside early in the morning too.

Fri 1:20pm On Fridays after a simple lunch we have singing practice. We practice the plainchant for the coming week and we choose the hymns for Sunday’s Eucharist. I find it a lot of fun choosing hymns as a group.

Fri 2:30pm Once a week I contact a friend or family member – usually over Skype. I’m also pen-friends with two Novices in other religious communities who I’ve come to know through our national Anglican Novice Conferences. This afternoon I’m writing a letter to one of them.

Fri 5:30pm Occasionally a guest coming here on retreat asks to be spiritually accompanied by a Sister over the course of their stay with us. Sometimes I am the one assigned to them for this purpose. When I’m accompanying a guest I tend to meet with them in the Josephine Butler Room after Vespers and I trust the Holy Spirit to guide our conversation.

Fri 8:00pm At Compline we commit ourselves and the world into God’s loving care. At the end of this last Office of the day we all sit for a while in stillness with the chapel lights turned out and with our eyes naturally drawn to the sanctuary lamp. Through the rhythms of our life here at the convent our thoughts, activities and whole beings become increasingly permeated by Jesus, the source, meaning and centre of our lives.