England - Parish Life in Nechells, Birmingham
Change is necessary for all growth ; we have faith in the smouldering flax and pray that as Mary went in joy to be with her cousin Elizabeth in her hour of need we too will be open to go with Christ wherever he leads us, carrying Him within us to share with those whom we meet.
It is over twenty years since I first came to work in this parish on the outskirts of Birmingham city – St Vincent’s parish Nechells. For years the parish seemed to function well with very little change other than that of daily living with parishioners helping and sharing life with each other, my mission here is that of Parish Sister which involves me in catechetics, preparing adults for the reception of the sacraments of Baptism, First Holy Communion and Confirmation. I also work in the school with the young children and prepare them also for the sacraments alongside their teachers. Until two years ago we had the same Parish Priest who was also Chancellor of the Diocese of Birmingham, a work which obliged him to work outside the parish daily. He had great admiration for the charism of the Little Sisters and helped us both here in Nechells and in Kingstanding whenever it was possible or necessary to do so. However, nothing remains static and for growth to take place change is necessary, Fr. John was appointed rector of the Beda College in Rome and Fr. Solomon Ghebrey a Vincentian Priest from Eritrea was named his successor. Fr. Solomon had spent some years working in Sheffield and so being appointed our Parish Priest was a complete new work for him.
Since his arrival he has not only settled in well in our Parish, he has transformed it by inviting the older residents of the parish to welcome a whole new community to join them in setting up a shared ministry. Fr. Solomon is responsible for the Eritrean immigrants in Birmingham and instead of keeping them separate he has integrated them with the local people. New life has emerged for both groups and they enrich each other greatly.
A parish outing
Where before there was an ageing community there is now a vibrant youthful community where great enrichment is taking place, the liturgy is alive with the song and dance of the African continent and Eritreans are being integrated into parish life here and learning the language.
I am part of the LSA community in Kingstanding and the two Sisters there join with me here in Nechells or I join with them in Kingstanding for the Chapter preparation or for any celebrations we have in either parish. For me since the arrival of Fr. Solomon a whole new cultural experience is taking place. The Eritreans follow the Julian calendar and so the feasts of Christmas and Easter are at different times. I have been so impressed by their prayerful preparation for these feasts and all of us in the parish have profited by their example of fasting and feasting in which we are welcome to join. Even at ninety-two years of age I am learning new ways of celebrating and sharing. Their weddings and christenings are a real source of joy for the whole community and I am learning to go at their pace and respect their customs. It is wonderful to see how the young children are taught how to pray and be reverent in Church and they are so anxious to learn.
Sister Mary Carrol with the children making their First Communion
The Eucharist Celebration specifically for the Eritrean people can last for as long as two to three hours with beautiful dancing and singing. Needless to say, this is not customary for us English but we can appreciate what it means to be Eritrean. The faith is certainly lived and is nourished, and the people are encouraged to live out this faith in their daily lives.
The young girls and boys are encouraged to become altar servers, the young adults are encouraged to do the readings at Mass and Eucharistic Ministers are becoming more numerous. As Fr Solomon is a Vincentian, he too is very concerned about the poor and needy within the parish and he is always willing to visit them when necessary, he has a particular concern for the sick and aged and his kindness to me is exceptional.
Change is necessary for all growth but the Blessings and Peace which His presence has brought to all of us here is a cause for thanksgiving daily. Our charism is certainly alive and active here among the people and although we may seem to be part of the remnant of the Congregation in England and Wales the flame of love is still burning and hopefully blazing.
As we prepare for the Chapter we are aware that our contribution is important as we have faith in the smouldering flax and pray that as Mary went in joy to be with her cousin Elizabeth in her hour of need we too will be open to go with Christ wherever he leads us, carrying Him within us to share with those whom we meet.
I am so grateful to the members of the General Council for the way in which they are leading us in the preparation for the Chapter and I assure all the sisters preparing for their Final Profession of my loving and prayerful remembrance.