The newest religious community in the UK has just received the keys to its very first convent – a converted barn complex near Dereham in Mid Norfolk
The newest religious community in the UK has just received the keys to its very first convent – a converted barn complex near Dereham in Mid Norfolk.
The Community of Our Lady of Walsingham began life in 2004 in the Slipper Chapel at Walsingham. It grew out of a London vocations group that began in 1999, then became a discernment community called Cornerstone, housed in Whitechapel by the late Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor.
Last summer it evolved into one of the Church's new forms of religious bodies, an ecclesial family of consecrated life, and has just received the keys to its first convent, a converted barn and other buildings near Dereham in Norfolk.
The building, christened the "House of the Divine Will", is monastic in style with cloisters, a double staircase and an upstairs loft space that serves as an oratory.
Unlike other religious orders, in such an ecclesial family, consecrated brothers, sisters, priests and laity all fall under the same juridical structure.
Already, people are queuing up to join the community, which is in the Carmelite tradition. These include people wishing to become lay members. No candidates can be taken however to join the five sisters already in situ until the new convent has been re-ordered with a chapel and offices and the rooms are adapted to meet the needs of a 21st century religious community.
The community raised £150,000 from individual donations and were also given a £350,000 interest-free loan by the Discalced Carmelite Fathers.
Sr Camilla Oberding, leader of the community, told The Tablet: "We have so many people who have helped us, it is wonderful. God has provided so much over the years, that in a way there is no doubt about things falling into place. It is a big project and a big dream. We just feel it will be all in God's time."
The sisters are currently writing their "Book of Life" or spiritual rule, by which lay members, whether single, married, or in a family, as well as the consecrated sisters and future brothers, will live their lives.
"It is all built around the spirituality of Walsingham," said Sr Camilla, "living fully the fiat of Mary and experiencing the joy our Lady had when she could say that complete and free 'yes' to God's love and his will for her."
The keys to the new building were handed over on the Solemnity of The Immaculate Conception.
Dereham is centrally located in the Diocese of East Anglia and about 30 minutes’ drive from Walsingham. The house is eco-friendly, running on a biomass boiler, and has the running costs of a small terrace house.
It comes with four acres of grounds and a large outdoor barn, but is also surrounded by some moors so there is a peaceful solitude and silence that will really enable the community to live out its contemplative vocation, said Sr Camilla. "It is miraculously suited to our needs, so much better than all the other properties visited that it seemed to be made for us. We aim not only to provide formation for novices there but also accompany young people discerning their vocation and support with prayer married couples and young families in the vocation they are already living, sharing with them the rich spirituality of Walsingham.