Sr Elizabeth Pio SSB

As with any vocation, over time God gently, and oh so patiently, led. Prayer is work and, boy, does the world need those who will turn up and clock in.

Sr Elizabeth Pio SSB

Who are the Society of the Sisters of Bethany (SSB)?

The Society of the Sisters of Bethany is a religious Order for women within the Anglican Communion. Founded in 1866 we were the first Order within the Communion to offer retreats for women. We follow the Rule of St Augustine in the form modified by St Francis de Sales and St Jean Frances de Chantal. We are a group of women who feel called by God to live as a family in Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, under vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. 

Through prayer and activity we seek to share in the work of reconciling the divided Churches of Christendom and the whole world to the glory of God the Father. By simplicity of lifestyle we try to identify with those for whom we pray, sharing in Christ’s work of intercession in the power of His Holy Spirit. Under the patronage of the household at Bethany we seek to live a life that is the expression of a shared concern to love and serve God and one another after the example of Mary, Martha and Lazarus. 

Curiosity killed the Marketing Manager...

During my late twenties and early thirties I was living a fun-filled life as an atheist, and enjoying a career as a Product Marketing Manager for a global engineering group.  Fat pay packet, international travel, company car, a lovely partner, a great life, bish, bash, bosh, sorted!  I guess it was when my relationship with my partner ended that, with a roaming mind, I began to ponder what turned out to be a fatal question, one I hadn’t ever considered before – why on earth do people go to church?  What do they do there?  What’s the point? Oh dear, there endeth my career path…

HMV ... Her Master's Voice

I decided, much to my family’s amusement, to purchase a cheap, children’s illustrated Bible.  How utterly bizarre.  How utterly mind blowing when from the first pages of Genesis, a disembodied voice told me that ‘In this you will find everything you’ve been searching for.’  Clear as day it was, as clear as Fiona Bruce reading the evening news.  Who was that?!  From that moment, my thirst for this great mystery grew, and there was only one place that could quench it – no, not the Red Lion, but the Church…

I feel like chicken tonight...

Now the last time I had been to church was for my sister’s wedding when I wore a bodiced emerald frock, the size of which I doubt I would get one leg into now.  After much analysis of the fine wood grain and metal work of the huge door, and a prolonged admiration of the dog-eared notices in the porch, I finally crossed the threshold of our parish church.  Laden with musty hymn books and getting ‘looks’, Frosty the Snowman would have felt at home in the ambience.  Feeling a sinful idiot among such Holy Joes, it was an elderly lady who eventually made it all OK. ‘I hope the sermon doesn’t go on too long,’  she fretted, ‘cos I’ve a chicken in the oven.’ Aahhhh… I felt I’d found the perfect church.

Bye, bye boardroom, hello...my old bedroom

When I wasn’t learning about vestments and pining for the church, I was giving palliative care to my dwindling career.  From the first sign of symptoms it was eight months of laboured breathing, with choir practices as pain relief, before the end finally came.  I resigned, packed up all my belongings, moved back in with my parents, took a cleaning job at the church hall and began studying theology.  And so I boldly went where few other Marketing Managers had gone before…

Google's got a lot to answer for

Church crawls, Bible studies, Quiet Days, prayer days, you name it, I did it.  I even started listening to Enya.  A 24 pack of Evian wouldn’t have even begun to quench my thirst.  My spiritual director and vocation advisor were nudging me toward the priesthood, but somehow that didn’t feel right.  Every time I Googled ‘Anglican nuns’ the Sisters of Bethany appeared.  So I visited them one weekend… with a friend of course, ‘cos I was scared.  I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the experience but, listening to God, felt He wanted me to return, and what He says goes.  So I went back… alone this time ‘cos I was getting braver.  God kept talking and I carried on listening…

Going under the knife of life

Back then, some twelve years ago, it all felt right somehow, and it’s been that way throughout.  Believe me, it hasn’t been easy for me or the Sisters.  Neither of my references, both priests, felt God was calling me to the Religious Life.  From day one I chose to shimmy up onto God’s operating table and grin and bear the scalpel.  Deep cuts, surface scars, a lot had to go –  attitudes, arrogance, pride, unhealthy attachments.  No pre-med, no anaesthetic.  Large doses of humility came thick and fast.  None of this has ever really stopped, I guess I’ve just moved from ICU to a general ward.  However, the Divine treatment doesn’t end there…

Contem...what?

When I arrived at the House of Bethany, God said He wanted me to see prayer as my work.  Like any potential nun worth her salt I carefully heeded those words… for about a couple of weeks.  As the years have passed, I’ve come to realise their significance, and have felt drawn to the more contemplative life, rather than the active.  Now, I had always thought contemplative nuns a bit odd and viewed them with suspicion – Therese of Lisieux, Clare of Assisi, Beryl of Basingstoke – I just didn’t ‘get’ them.  It’s like they were in on some cosmic joke that I hadn’t been told.  Now I get them, and the joke, and it’s not been through my own efforts.  As with any vocation, over time God gently, and oh so patiently, led.  Prayer is work and, boy, does the world need those who will turn up and clock in.

What would you say to someone feeling 'called'?

If you’re wondering about a vocation to the Religious Life then I would advise two things:

1. Spend time each day in prayer.  Ask God for guidance, then listen and wait. 

2. Spend a day or so at a convent or monastery.  It gives you the chance to soak up the atmosphere, and God the chance to speak.  Note how you feel when you come away.  Would you like to return?  Good.  Or would you prefer to watch paint dry?  Good.  Now you know more about your vocation. 

 As the mystic Dorothy Kerin famously said, ‘Where God guides, God provides.’  God bless.

The Society of the Sisters of Bethany
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