‘One community, one mission’ – Sr Gill talks about URSpace, vocation and change
Posted: Thu, 25 Feb 2021 14:28
This week, Sr Gill McCambridge FMA talked about her vocation, inspiration, and the URSpace project she directs in Glasgow, on Clergy Café, a live weekly broadcast by Shrewsbury Youth Mission Team (SYMT).
Interviewed by SYMT Director, Sandy Fairley, Sr Gill's passion for the inspiring examples set by Don Bosco and St Mary Mazzarello shone through, as she outlined the charism of the Salesian Sisters, who, in serving the young, live to be signs of God's love, through the 'witness of the joy of our lives as consecrated women'.
She pointed out a parallel with our own times in St Mary Mazzarello's experience during the typhoid epidemic of 1860, when she was in her early 20s. This was a pivotal moment in Mary's life, when she realised she had to make changes to fit new circumstances. She had contracted the disease herself after caring for sick relatives, and although she recovered quite well, she was no longer the strong, fit farm labourer she had been before. Like many of us during this pandemic, as her situation changed, she took a decision to learn new skills and began to change the direction of her life. Mary learnt the practical skills of dressmaking and tailoring, to pass on to the other young women of the village in need of training for work, and gradually, she understood God was calling her through this to religious life.
Speaking about her own vocation, Sr Gill spoke about the importance of the youth group she attended at home in Glasgow in providing a space for her to explore and deepen her faith with other people her age, and the experiences she had as she discerned her vocation. After a degree in Theology and a PGCE, a 2-year contract as Assistant Team Leader at Savio House Youth Retreat Centre grew into an 8 year stay, eventually taking over from Fr Pat as Team Leader.
'I loved the retreat work and the community life with the Salesian priests and brothers and young people; and being able to accompany the young people who were volunteering,' she said.
She summed up the Salesian spirit as: 'the whole sense of family, of journeying together towards God – we all have something to teach the other; it's not about the teacher and the child, it's that mutual learning and mutual accompaniment.'
Sr Gill outlined the Glasgow-based URSpace outreach project she now leads, which delivers retreats to children and young people in schools and parishes across 3 dioceses, 'and a space for older young people to have a community experience'. The community is made up of three Sisters, and 3 or 4 volunteers each year, who have ' the accompaniment experience of working with the youth, sharing their faith and developing their own faith.'
The shared religious and lay community of URSpace calls for mutual understanding and balance, 'You're one community, one mission,' said Sr Gill, but the sisters have commitments in religious life that cannot be imposed on the volunteers who are living as part of the same community
She spoke about the positive challenges of having volunteers as part of the community – breaking the 'this is the way we've always done it' tendencies that she admits can become entrenched in religious communities. 'One thing that is a challenge—but it's a really positive thing—is that we know that our community will change every year. We're challenged to think about what has worked, what is good, and what can be changed. Often, the volunteers will bring in those suggestions and just give you a different way of seeing things … things can change and you can still be faithful to the mission.'
This past year has brought unexpected challenges to every organisation, as the usual ways of working have gone up in the air. Speaking of the impact on URSpace, Sr Gill said, 'I think we've coped surprisingly well … Nobody really knew when things were going to be lifted or not lifted ... we've had to completely rethink how we do things.'
Although by summer, their outreach work in schools and parishes was still affected by the closures and restrictions, Sr Gill said, 'we made the decision to have a team this year in the hope that things would change and schools would reopen. We were blessed with a six-week window in November and December—and that was it! … Like everybody, we've gone down the technological route.'
The team now has a weekly meeting with the Caritas group of one local school, for prayer time and sharing, and has been working on other new strategies like the Salesian Goodnight which is posted as a video on the URSpace YouTube channel, and preparing resources for Lent. Social media channels have become extremely important in keeping connected to the young people they serve. 'We are always trying to reach out and get the young people involved, which is not always that easy … it's definitely been much more intense,' she said.
At the close of the interview, Sr Gill was invited to share a thought directly to young people about vocation & religious life. This was her message:
I want to use a phrase we use a lot in our Province—a phrase inspired by Don Bosco: 'You are young, you are precious, and you are loved.
Sometimes it can be hard to believe that. It can be hard when things are difficult and we're separated from our friends and we're feeling the intensity, maybe at home, or we're not quite sure what's happening.
But you are: you are precious and loved, in the eyes of many, and in the eyes of God. And if you feel that you are maybe called to religious life, that you're called to serve God in a particular way, then don't be afraid to explore it.
All of us have got a vocation; all of us, God is calling to something in life, something that only we can do.
So take time with him, and listen to what he's saying in your heart.
If you feel God may be calling you to religious life as a Salesian Sister, contact Sr Elizabeth, Provincial Secretary, on email@example.com to arrange a conversation or, when the times allow, a visit.
You can follow URSpace on Facebook @URSpaceglasgow, Twitter @urspaceglasgow, Instagram @urspaceglasgow, or to visit their YouTube channel to see the Lenten Goodnights and other videos, follow the 'More information' link below.