Novice of Community of St Francis (CSF)

I do know right to my marrow, that God loves me and wants, as cliched as it is, the best for me. As a dear friend of mine puts it, whatever happens “you will be looked after.”

Novice of CSF

What's it like to explore a vocation to religious?

A Novice Sister in the Community of St Francis (CSF) has kindly shared her reflections on her year or so with the Community. This article has some reflections written whilst she was a Postulant and as a Novice.

Postulancy and Novitiate is a time of exploring, listening and discerning God’s call on an individual’s life. It can exciting and also a little daunting – please pray for Postulants and Novices across all the Anglican Religious Communities.

What does being a 'Postulant' and 'Novice' mean?

A Postulant is someone in the very earliest stages of exploring their vocation to Religious Life. The postulant will live with the community and share their daily life, although they will not be bound by any obligations to the community, do not take vows, and are free to live if they wish. This initial period of exploration and ‘living the life’ is likely to last 6 months or a year, depending the community and the individual. At the end of their postulancy, a postulant can ask to become a Novice. 

A Novice is someone has spend time in a community and is taking the next step in their discernment. They continue to live with the community and wear the habit of their community. The length of the Novitiate varies between communities; its usually 2 or 3 years. You can find details about different communities on their website. You can search for communities through our Communities page or on the Anglican Religious Life Book website directory. You can find out more about the steps in discerning a vocation to religious life on our ‘Are you Called?’ page. 

My first days with the Community of St Francis as a Postulant

A mound of stuff littered my bedroom floor, far more than a tunic or two and a pair of sandals. That was OK, this was not the time to chuck away everything, though I had variously recycled a considerable amount of possessions already, into new homes. I worked out in retrospect clearing out all the dinner plates before my last night at home had been the wrong decision!

So here I am, entering the community, something I have thought and prayed about for the last couple of years. At the time of writing I have now been a postulant for a whole month give or take a couple of days. Before I came, those who knew me, variously said what a courageous step to take or that they could see me doing it. I actually think it is neither. It is simply what God has told me to do,speaking as he does, through, dreams, others words and during quiet times. I had no doubt that this is the next fork in the road for me.

Questions from friends, family and my church

Exploring the local countryside

Back to the lovely countryside, literally within yards of the house we are blessed with an amazing network of footpaths, connecting fields and woodland. At the time of writing ( October) the deciduous trees are taking their turns coming into their Autumn glory. For many it is so brief, a sapling I relished yesterday marvelling at its crimson decoration has now started to fade into yellow in parts. It reminded me yet again of the transient nature of life.

What happens next?

I do not know what the outcome of coming into the community is,nor do I need to know whether I stay in the Community, go to another one or whether there is something else all together. When I was younger, I thought I had to have my life all mapped out, experience has shown me that I was wrong. Instead I have learnt to live with possibilities not expectations. My Novice Guardian has taught me to write my diary in pencil, as of course life changes and wisdom dictates to hold everything lightly.

I think part of postulancy and actually the Christian life is to live one day at a time to be both present in the day and be aware of His presence still leading on the right path. When I was accepted to join the Community I was told that I was called at this moment in time. That is all anyone can really say. Everyone has books that they have read more than once, one of mine is Pilgrim’s Progress. I relate to the windy road and the diversions, rather than the super highway to the summit of the Holy Mountain. From learning about various religious communities, it is fair to say that not everyone stays and I have been reassured that that is OK. This is a step on the journey and indeed not only do members evolve and take different paths , I have discovered that communities on the whole do as well. God is in control – we do not have to be. His will is the perfect way.

I do know right to my marrow, that God loves me and wants, as cliched as it is, the best for me. As a dear friend of mine puts it, whatever happens “ you will be looked after” .

My journey continues as a Novice

Both literally and spiritually. I have now moved from Lincolnshire to London, a place I visited but would not have dreamed of living in as a self confessed country mouse. In fact, on every train journey previously into London, I have thought how on earth do people live there. So knowing that I would have to move to live in the sprawling metropolis really was a leap of faith.

Spiritually, I have also been journeying as I am now a novice of a few months’ duration. It was really strange trying on a  habit for the first time, I was supposed to look at myself in the mirror to see what I thought of the fit and just as at the hairdressers, I wanted to look everywhere else but at myself. The other problem was once the habit was on, how on earth did it come off ? With much laughter was the answer.

Why stay?

Religious life is rich. I cannot describe it better than this extract from a blog which Father Richard Tuset has kindly given me permission to use. (You can find the full version in his article on his website).

I have been revising and updating this reflection whilst on retreat with the Sisters of the Holy Cross at Tymawr, the Wye Valley. I am on the retreat by a small, last minute miracle – a week became free, a frantic online search via google maps (‘convent- Wye Valley’) followed and I have found myself in this beautiful Welsh piece of heaven.

To be honest I assumed it was a Roman Catholic Convent which would have been fine. I was brought up a Roman Catholic and went to a convent school, so it’s all familiar to me - though the prospect of not being able to receive Holy Communion wasn’t ideal of course. I arrived just before the midday ‘Mass’ and was warmly welcomed by Sister Catherine who guided me to my seat in the beautiful and simple stone chapel dominated by a large wooden crucifix. Looking up I spotted a woman priest in a chasuble and there followed the most beautiful Eucharist. Clearly this was no Roman convent but was in fact a Church of Wales convent and the sisters were an order founded in Chichester in 1914 as part of the Anglo Catholic movement to re-establish monastic orders. 

The services I have attended whilst being here have been a spiritual delight. The nuns, whilst dressed traditionally in habits and wimples, are joyful and unfussy in their worship. There is both great lightness and depth to their devotion. They quite rightly use the liturgy of the Anglican Communion and don’t appropriate the liturgy of Rome, recognising the sufficiency and catholic authority of their own church – and by extension their own ministries and calling. The services are therefore both traditional and modern and this was made powerfully apparent at the second Mass I attended, where one of the nuns was the presiding priest, wearing her wimple with a chasuble. 

To me it was the most extraordinary sight and I was surprised, moved and inspired by the absolute catholicity and prophetic declaration of this beautiful nun taking the Mass. She presided with such gentle authority and grace that I found myself with Christ and through this encounter I was both healed and transformed in some way. 

I can't imagine the journey this community of nuns must have been through to accept women's ordination, then for nuns in their own community to be ordained and to start presiding at the Mass in the convent. This radical, prophetic and subversive spirit is I believe God inspired and the presence of Christ in this community is tangible. For me this is a sign of what the Anglo Catholic tradition is capable of and I pray we see more of it, helping and inspiring the broader Church to respond and have meaning in this most challenging post modern age.

Father Richard describes the presence of Christ being tangible. I have yet to visit the Sisters of the Holy Cross, but as a Postulant/Novice I have had the great privilege of visiting other religious communities for training. As well as living in one of course and yes the presence of Christ is tangible. 

Within a few days of joining the community as a postulant, I found myself in Oxford on a course exploring the roots of Anglo- Catholicism, whilst staying with SLG Community. On paper, the opposite end of the scale to the community to the one I had been called to.  It is fair to say I had some reservations in attending, such as how I would cope with very different offices. Yet, what Father Richard describes was also there, along with what I have found in every place, a Christ centred servant heartedness towards visitors as well. God really being the hub of the wheel and all other activity flowing from that central point . So rather than a loss of freedom, that so many people ask me about, there is actually a generous gift of being so much more aware of God’s presence. Having time to seek, kneel and listen.

Please don’t think that I am sugar coating it, of course there are little irritations of day to day life – but no more than any “normal” life. A daily Examen tends to put everything in perspective.

A final reflection

I have spent a considerable part of my adult life longing to work full time for God  and I suppose I cannot fulfil that ambition any better than religious life. I wonder what God is calling you to do?
The Community of St Francis
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