How can I put into words the unfathomable loss many of us feel on the imminent closure of St Oswald’s Pastoral Centre near Whitby? Longstanding branch of the Anglican Order of the Holy Paraclete – it has offered a unique ‘place for all reasons and all seasons’.
Now, lack of postulants is prompting closure, with the two remaining sisters, Janet Elizabeth and Helen, due to rejoin the mother house in the new St Hilda’s Priory on site at Sneaton Castle, Whitby.
So I am here on a final retreat, looking out over the beautiful Esk Valley through teardrops of rain. A flowering cherry tree laden with deep pink promise frames the left foreground, whilst sentinel oaks to the right butt into a skyline of blue green hills. The toot of a steam train drifts up from below as it chuffs cheerily along the North York Moors railway line towards Pickering, marked by a long plume of white smoke.
Years ago I arrived for my first visit to be greeted on the doorstep by sister Janet Elizabeth wearing sweat shirt, denims and a beaming smile. I was early by some hours, she explained, hence the mufti which they wore in free time. My error in no way dimmed the warm greeting as I was shown around. There was an immediate sense of stepping back half a century – from the general decor, eclectic shabbiness, uneven tick of the grandfather clock, clutter of newspapers, magazines, sign-in book – to the large tortoiseshell cat purring contentedly on a cushioned chair. It felt like a warm and loving home.
Prayers happened in chapel four times a day, optional for guests but an essential part of the daily routine for the sisters. I ventured in tentatively. Formality and strange silences were accompanied by a heady mix of reverence and humour, especially when guests got it wrong. Once, proceedings had to be halted to release a feral cat gyrating around the chapel in terror at being trapped. Another time the cricket score (for the match abandoned on the sounding of the chapel bell) was given out with the intercessions.
It has become an annual pilgrimage, allowing me to write, walk, sleep, eat, read novels, study weighty tomes, knit, crochet, reflect and contemplate. Just now the gardens are glorious with a kaleidoscopic mix of colours – plus a variety of greens, pervasive scents, twittering birds, atmospheric woodland and views across the wide fertile valley. God is everywhere.
But most of all he is in the humour, love and nurturing rhythm of the warm Benedictine hospitality lived out in work, prayer, provision of food and rest Things go wrong: my loo cistern is currently on the blink, someone’s roof has leaked, cook may go off sick, a guest loses their key …….. but faces are constantly turned towards God in joy and expectation. The bell tolls for chapel through thick and thin. God’s in his heaven and all is so right with this world.
Eileen Padmore has retired from a life spent in health care and academia, having worked in Sierra Leone, Zambia, Eire and Northern Ireland (in the troubles) as well as inner city Birmingham and Leeds. She has had articles published in Woman Alive, Christian Writer and contributed to the popular ACW Lent Book. Last November she claimed NaNo 2018 winner at first attempt. Married to a professional musician, the family includes a feisty springer spaniel and a large African tortoise.