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From the Curate            

 (an excerpt from the sermon given on 14th June 2015)

Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how… when the grain is ripe…he goes in with his sickle because the harvest has come” Mark 4:26-34

In 1884 three women who were Third Order Secular Franciscans were helping out in a Hampstead parish.  These women went on to found a religious community in Aldershot, where they looked after 100 orphans.  Some Sisters from this community subsequently opened a 17 bed Maternity and General Hospital in Guildford.  The spirit of this place attracted many young women and kindled a fire and passion for mission, and in 1947 the first missionaries were sent to China and Zambia.

The Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood (FMDM), as they were now known, never made it to China due to the advancement of Communist troops, and instead diverted to Hong Kong where they helped out in a hospital.  During this time they were asked to take over a women’s TB hospital, which they did in 1949.  An early "dream" to build a Catholic Hospital in Singapore began to grow in the hearts and minds of the Sisters and in May 1952, there was a meeting at Mount Alvernia.  In October 1956 land was purchased and on 4 March 1961, Mount Alvernia Hospital opened with 64 beds.

Mount Alvernia Hospital was staffed entirely by the Sisters, who were professionally trained as Nurses, Midwives, Physiotherapist, Radiographer, Laboratory Technician and Dispenser. The hospital has developed and enlarged over the years into a 303 bed acute general and maternity hospital, and two medical centres.

A few weeks after the hospital opened in 1961, a young Chinese woman was in great distress.  She was due to give birth in a matter of weeks.  Her parents had disowned her because she had married a foreigner.  She was staying with friends, but had no idea where she was going to have her baby.  Her English husband was in the RAF and was on exercise away from the base in Singapore.

A friend mentioned this new Catholic hospital run by nuns. In desperation even though she was not a Christian and had no money, the woman agreed to see if they would take her in; of course, they did.  The day after she was admitted, a priest visited the young woman and was about to leave when she went into labour.  The priest needed to leave to say Mass, but the young woman begged him to stay.  He relented and when the baby was born, the priest made the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead and blessed her, before rushing off to Mass.  It was ten to eight on Sunday morning.

Why am I telling you this story?  By the time you read this, that baby will have been ordained priest at Salisbury Cathedral on 27th June 2015.  Because of those faithful Christians at Mount Alvernia Hospital, I was blessed, and placed in God’s hands from the day I was born.  I was not born into a Christian family, I didn’t go to Christian schools, or Sunday School.  I never went to church at Christmas or Easter.  And yet….someone scattered seed on the ground, sometimes in the most unlikely places.

Taking their inspiration from St Francis of Assisi and from Mary, the Sisters of FMDM say: “Our charism encourages us to conceive, birth and nurture the life of Christ - which is a life of love - in our hearts, in our communities, and in our society. “  St Francis of Assisi taught: “I have done what was mine to do, may Christ teach you what is yours to do.”  The sisters have discerned that to “serve all with love – this is what is ours to do.”

When my mother turned up on their doorstep, the Sisters served her…with love, and in so doing, they and the priest, brought to birth the life of Christ.  They had no idea what would happen to that young woman, to her baby…to many of the people they served.  But they knew “what was theirs to do” – they scattered seed, they proclaimed the Gospel, trusting that God would fulfill the promise of salvation, that God’s grace was sufficient. 

It took a long time for the seed to germinate in me until I finally, suddenly, encountered Jesus.  I couldn’t tell you how I got to that place, except through faithfully scattered seed and God’s grace.  We can agonize over declining numbers, be distracted by doctrinal arguments, argue about gender, sexuality, styles of worship, pews, buildings…

Or we can embrace the mystery of the kingdom of God, and trust that with God’s grace and our faithful willingness to scatter seed lovingly, to proclaim the gospel in our everyday words and actions, the harvest will be plentiful.

May we be alert to what Christ is teaching us what is ours to do, and in the words of Mother Teresa may we do “small things with great love.

Linda Carter

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