Sr Virginia Mahony: A ministry of rural hospitalityPrint
Sr Virginia Mahony rsc has a rural ministry in Woodend, Victoria. This is her story:
It is a blessing for many people that my Congregation, the Sisters of Charity of Australia, enables the rural ministry that I describe here. It is a rural ministry which has as its focus a pastoral response to an evident gap in society’s service provision for people who never have a holiday or indeed a break of any kind. A lifetime of visiting families has given me the preparation and skills needed for this special ministry.
In 1996 and 1997 my ministry was as Pastoral Associate in the parish of Woodend (a small rural community north of Melbourne). Those years form the basis of my current connection, now that I’m back in Woodend.
This time however, I have been missioned to the ministry of hospitality. So I offer accommodation to people in need of a break from life’s demands. Many people, especially carers, cannot afford costly accommodation for some time of respite. My guests say that it is the very informal nature of their stay with me that is so appealing.
All of us know the joy of “putting our feet under the table” awaiting the host’s cooking! Sometimes I’d like to be the one waited on! But mostly I enjoy providing tasty meals for my house guests.
Guests and visitors come from all different backgrounds and with a range of personal burdens: e.g. sick spouses, mental illness in the family, devastating financial loss, drug addicted children, abusive marriages ….. I am not here to provide counselling – rather, freedom from relentless responsibility, a warm, welcoming place to relax and unwind, and most importantly, a listening ear. Conversation is always interesting and bodies and minds go home refreshed.
Woodend is a town at the base of Mt Macedon and most of the year it is cool or cold. Visitors to the area enjoy the strip of shops and the coffee regardless of the weather. There are several other towns within driving distance. Some guests love this sort of wander, whilst others just enjoy the freedom to read a book, take a walk, or have an extra sleep.
While the guests are enjoying their freedom:
- I prepare meals
- I welcome local people to my home
- I visit local people in their homes.
For me, welcoming a visitor and being welcomed as a visitor, are vital ways of connecting pastorally. The very earliest Sisters of Charity visited people in their homes, providing the love and care of Christ for people in their respective need or poverty. I see my ministry as an extension of that important work.
Rural Ministry is a response to all sorts of needs in communities of today. The manner of that response comes in a variety of forms and styles. This is just a little window into my response to the needs of those in rural communities.