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RIP – ANGELA HELEN CSF

From the sermon preached at her funeral by Sue CSF

page 16 Angela Helen

‘Such it is.’ Something Angela Helen said frequently, with a rich variety of meaning. The words could convey gentle acceptance of the pains and limitations of her illness, or her quirky humour about some of the more awkward aspects of that or another situation. It could be prayerful, down to earth compassion for others in their troubles, sometimes a contemplative ‘being with’ someone in their distress and holding them in God, and occasionally it signalled the recognition that nothing more could usefully be said about a particular situation, and at times an encouragement to stop going on about it!

Angela Helen was born in Sydney, Australia into a committed Christian family. Her father, to whom she was very close, was a missionary priest, and she had two brothers Nigel, who is very unwell, and a younger brother Rodney who died earlier in 2015. The family moved several times as her father served in different areas. Some of the schools she attended were run by the Sisters of the Church, and by the Society of the Sacred Advent. In 1953, aged 20, she joined the Society of the Sacred Advent, making her profession in vows as a Sister in 1956.   During her 17 years with SSA she taught English, Mathematics, Speech and Drama in several of the Community’s schools, and was superintendent of a Children’s home run by the Society. Latterly she also served as their Novice Mistress. In 1970 she left SSA and went to university for three years studying for a Bachelor of Social Work degree. After several years as a social worker in Queensland and Tasmania, Angela lectured in Social Work at James Cook University in Queensland from 1978-84. In her spare time she was also an examiner in Speech and Drama, from 1965 until she left Australia to join CSF. She had a life-long love of poetry and literature.

Our gospel reading was one with which Angela Helen had a particular connection, at times feeling that like Peter she had denied her Lord. Her community in Australia went through an extremely difficult time, and it was necessary for her to leave when she did. The intervening years before she joined CSF in 1984 were in many ways very fruitful; yet they were also a kind of wilderness. She grieved that she had needed to leave her community, and when in 1987 she made her profession in CSF, there was a deep sense of re-connection with the gift of herself to God that she had made as a young woman in her community in Australia.

Throughout her life and in different ways, Angela tried to answer Christ’s call to Peter, ‘feed my sheep’ – in teaching and caring for children in SSA, in social work, and training others for that profession, and more recently in spirituality and spiritual direction ministry.

In the late 1980s in Birmingham, Margaret, a young woman from a troubled background, moved into a hostel where Angela was working with other CSF sisters. The woman was naturally anxious and fearful of entering a strange environment. She recently wrote to us: ‘Then along came Angela. Wow what a welcome! With open arms and a friendly smile – I needn’t have been so worried. Angela taught me to learn to trust, she provided me with security and an assurance – not having to live in fear of other adults; a greater and much safer understanding of my faith.’ Margaret went on to describe very positive developments in her subsequent life and prayed a blessing for Angela saying ‘What a wise old bird you were’.

In more recent years after moving back to Somerset in 1989 and then to the CSF house in Gillott Road in Birmingham in 1997 Angela’s main ministry was in spirituality and spiritual direction. At Compton Durville a steady stream of people came to talk with her, and to have Individually Guided Retreats. I remember one senior cleric saying in somewhat awed tones as he left ‘That sister really knows her business’. However she could be vague about practical arrangements. Very keen to practice hospitality she quite often forgot to say when her directees wanted to stay for lunch, which naturally didn’t endear her to the sister in the kitchen who had unexpectedly to feed extra mouths each time this happened, and it happened frequently!

Angela Helen was my spiritual director for over 10 years, and I would echo the testimony of one of our SSF brothers who said on hearing of her death, ‘She was the best spiritual director I ever had.’ Angela Helen was deeply convinced that we are all held constantly in God’s creative love throughout our lives whatever happens and wherever we are. Psalm 139 was one to which she regularly returned, and her ministry of spiritual accompaniment helped many of us to experience its truth more fully in our own lives.

While in Somerset, Angela was for some years one of the leaders of the Exploring Spirituality course run by Bath and Wells Diocese. Later, in Birmingham, she was part of the Manresa Link, but her influence and encouragement of initiatives in spirituality spread very much more widely. We heard since her death of a Year of Reflective Prayer involving 300 people meeting regularly in groups and the formation of a Spirituality Network, in the Bristol Area, which came about through Angela Helen’s enthusiasm, and her encouragement and support of a key leader who was one of Angela Helen’s directees. In these and other ways Angela Helen helped many people to experience the treasures of life in Christ, described in our reading from the first letter of Peter. She also based her own life on that living hope, and love for God in whom she believed and rejoiced.

Angela Helen had known suffering at various stages of life, and found great inspiration in the figure of St Francis and his identification with the suffering Christ. She lived courageously with Multiple Sclerosis for over 25 years, continuing to exercise a ministry and to be as involved as she could in community life. She was interested in the concerns of her sisters, and many found her a wise and encouraging listener. In very recent years when Angela was becoming frailer she could still be relied upon to join in enthusiastically with activities at Albion Court where she was a resident, and her participation was much appreciated by both staff and residents.

We rejoice that by the great mercy of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Angela now enters that heavenly inheritance – imperishable, undefiled and unfading – the living hope that we share, and which is offered to all through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. f

 

Angela Helen CSF was 82 and in the twenty-ninth year of her profession in vows.