Greetings and blessings of peace and joy to you at Christmas. As we arrive at the end of this year of 2021 we look back and share with you some of the main events of this year at Glencairn Abbey.
A second year of living with Covid-19 has meant for us at Glencairn as for you further adaption to this ongoing reality. Although we have faced some significant changes, thankfully we continue to be safe. Our life and mission of prayer and praise as Cistercians has not been impeded by this pandemic. We have taken all necessary precautions, with our elder sisters participating in our nationwide vaccination programme in the early spring of 2021. All of our community are now fully vaccinated since July of this year and also recently availed of the booster vaccination. We continue to pray every evening at Vespers for an end to Covid-19 and for all those affected by the virus. We especially continue to remember those who are most vulnerable during this time of pandemic and its many related hardships and losses.
With our guesthouse closed in the first half of this year and our eucharist bread-making industry virtually at a standstill due to restrictions on masses, the community were, in spite of these setbacks to our normal way of life and hospitality, able to benefit from a greater monastic solitude and simplicity. We took advantage of our empty guesthouse with its new technical facilities, gathering in the guesthouse function room for community formation talks via the internet on different theological and spiritual subjects including an ecumenical prayer service held via zoom in January. Although novel at the time, online video meetings and conferences became a valued monastic resource in communities throughout the world during this past year, facilitating both our formation programmes and communication at the level of leadership and administration in our order.
The spring of this year sadly marked the departure of our dear friend Fr Arthure who had been staying with us since the pandemic began. His death has left an absence that has been felt very much at Glencairn. We miss his quick wit and pastoral heart together with his generous availability to us even in his final months. We were privileged to share the final year of life of this most dedicated and devoted priest.
As lockdown continued, spring 2021 also saw a renewal of fervour for gardening among many of our sisters at Glencairn. A number of projects outdoors throughout the year yielded a great variety of fruit and vegetables, from a luscious crop of strawberries, cherry tomatoes, pears, plums, potatoes, apples to a huge crop of pumpkins and spaghetti squash in the autumn. We gratefully received a gift of apple trees and were able to plant a second orchard. A wild meadow is currently also being planned for a plot outside the church as part of our continued focus on nurturing pollinators.
Our love of living close to nature has also found its way to our photography and card designs and a popular butterfly range has been introduced by Sr Maria Therese. Sr Michelle’s photography has also been showcased in a new calendar for 2022 with a focus on wild life, birds and butterflies. Sr Fiachra continues to beautify our altar and liturgical celebrations with her flower arrangements from the many varieties of flowers cultivated by herself and Sr Lily, which delight us both in our cloistergarth and outlying monastic gardens.
By summer of this year, with a lifting of covid related restrictions, we were able to begin baking and selling our eucharist bread to parishes around the country and in the UK once again. Our card department team was also busy; in addition to its mortuary card production, sisters have been developing a new online shop to sell our card products.
By June, we were also able to resume our hospitality and re-opened our guesthouse and have been continually busy welcoming guests arriving and departing for retreats ever since. Caution continues to be exercised in following recommended hospitality procedures and we have had to reserve our small guest space in our church for resident guests only during this unusual time. As a result we have greatly missed the participation of our local friends and neighbours at the liturgy and at Sunday mass at Glencairn. We look forward to an end to this prolonged period of social distancing when we can safely congregate for liturgy in our church once again.
Among our special guests this year were our Glencairn Associates who were able to enjoy the benefits of our new guesthouse space to have their meetings and annual retreat. We were also able to host two Monastic Experience Weekends in August and October for women who are interested in finding out more about monastic life. These weekends provide a friendly space to those taking first steps in discerning their vocation and we encourage them to take advantage of this time-out to evaluate their lives and choices in the light of monastic wisdom tradition in the church. We continue to accompany those who have taken further steps along the vocation discernment path and we have rejoiced to see Sr Beatrice’s vocation come to fruition when she made her first profession of vows as a new simply-professed member of the community on the feast of St Benedict in July of this year.
We value our connection with our surrounding monastic neighbours and continue to support each other in our mutual Cistercian vocation. On a regional formation level, members of eight different Cistercian communities in Ireland, England, Wales and Norway gathered online in November of this year for an excellent conference on the monastic vow of Conversatio Morum given by a Dutch Cistercian nun, Sr Benedict Thissen, who is currently living in our community at Glencairn. Her input was very enthusiastically received and we discovered the benefits of connecting and sharing together from a distance. At the level of our order, Mother Marie and Sister Fiachra attended our Central Commission meeting in Rome in December of this year in preparation for the OCSO General Chapter next year. We were happy to see their safe return for the final week of Advent before we celebrated Christmas together as a community at Glencairn.
As we look back at the year that has come to pass, we thank God in recognition of the continued growth of our community life, our individual gifts, and the challenges that this year has brought. We are especially aware of the gift of friendship that continues to help uphold and support our community, enablling us to be a praying presence to others and we send our love and best wishes to you all for a very happy and growthful new year of 2022.