On March 19, 1930, the Sisters of the Cross and Passion moved into Drumalis, the ‘big house’ in Larne, a staunchly Unionist town on the Antrim Coast. It was almost a military operation because of the apparent need of secrecy!
Who could have guessed that 90 years later, on March 19, 2020, we would not be celebrating the anniversary as planned but shutting our doors and, along with the rest of the country, entering a period of lockdown and withdrawal? Who could have guessed that, rather than gathering together to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Elizabeth Prout, our founder, we would celebrate in a virtual way, through our lecture series, through planting trees and taking photos, through reaching out on a mission, limited only by the world.
Just as the original sisters had witnessed the devastating effects of the 1918 flu pandemic, so too the current sisters, the extended community of Drumalis, the staff and retreatants had to come to terms with a global destabilisation of lives, jobs and expectations, the loss of a sense of predictability and the control we in the First World believe we hold.
As the pandemic unfolded and after much prayer, discussion and consultation, the management of the centre made the painful and difficult decision to extend the closure until the Spring of 2021.
Sympathetic reactions of concern and apprehension included one response from a friend who was delighted to read about the re-opening of Drumalis in the springtime. Her reading of the announcement brought a totally different perspective to the situation. She was energised by our optimism, courage and sense of hope. We now realise that the future is determined by how we read the present reality – a terminal situation of doom and gloom, or an invitation to take stock, to re-visit the ministry of the centre and look for the opportunities it offers.
How we choose to deal with the situation, depends totally on how we see it. During these quiet months we have come to realise that the people and Church we belong to and serve have changed, never to return. The ecological crisis has come sharply into focus. When we look at the conditions of countries where the virus has been most virulent, the social inequalities and injustices of our world are clear for all to see.
The spiritual practice of people of faith everywhere has changed beyond recognition, we have been forced to find new ways of praying, celebrating and being community together. The evidence that climate change, pollution and consumerism have contributed to the spread of the pandemic is an invitation to open to new possibilities within the retreat ministry. We have a choice as to how we respond- bewail our losses or take up the challenge which this new world is calling us into.
Yes, it all depends how we read the situation; the choice is ours. Do we proceed as usual or adapt to a new world? Let us not despair at the empty spaces in our places of prayer. We can also see them as new spaces opening for renewal and enrichment of our faith and practice. Let us go forward in hope, we are not alone.
Margaret Rose McSparran is a Sister of the Cross and Passion from the Glens of Antrim. As director of Drumalis Retreat and Conference Centre, she has been involved in the development of the programmes, the facilities and outreach. Her particular interest is in ecological matters which are an integral part of life at Drumalis, as well as programmes for faith development, growth in prayer and spiritual nourishment and providing hospitality for groups and communities from all over the world.