Sr. Camilla Oberding
I never dreamt that I would end up in life being at the founding stages of a new religious community. Since the age of 15 I had thought of religious life and although I had a strong desire for marriage during my university years and beyond, I knew that God was asking something else of me. Discovering what exactly that was has taken me 25 years since the first inkling of a call to give myself 'warts and all' to him. At the same time I constantly tried to 'run away' from him but as the Hound of Heaven aptly shows, running away from him is running away form our true selves and any chance of real happiness in life.
I come from a close knit and loving family and I believe that my Czech/German background has given me a certain strength and stamina that has helped me get through the ups and downs of my vocational journey. After graduating as a nurse, I joined a new religious community in Italy in 1985 as I could not find what I was looking for in terms of religious life here in the UK. I was with them for 11 years but choose not to take final vows as the experience did not satisfy the hungers of my heart and although it was a community founded in 1978, it still had vestiges of the old models of formation. I believed that there must be some other way of living a more contemplative but not enclosed religious life responding to the signs of the times and, at the same time, respecting the needs and using the gifts of women in today's world.
On my return to England in 1997 I met a lot of young women searching for their path in life and after a providential meeting with Fr John Armitage ended up starting the Vocations Group. Their sharing and my own experience of a certain 'recruitment mentality' in the church led me to create a space for young people to grow in the freedom and maturity to make their own choices. One of my greatest joys is to see someone 'move on' from the group into a vocational commitment of some sort, whether it is to marriage, committed single life, priesthood, or religious life but especially when one follows a call to give their all to Christ and his church. As one young woman said to me, describing why she felt called to the contemplative life: "I just really, really love Christ. I want my whole life to say 'I love you.'" And yes, there is a lot of love for Christ and a great generosity amongst young people today.
Cornerstone, a discernment community, developed from the Vocations Group and out of that came the Community of Our Lady of Walsingham of which I am currently the Community Servant or leader as well as formator. God certainly 'writes straight on crooked lines' although we often do not recognise it at the time! Without my experience of youth work and of religious life in Italy I could not be doing what I am doing now. Rome recognised that experience and allowed us to establish an official novitiate when we were founded in January 2004.
Since then, the sense of being part of some much bigger plan has continued to grow in me, especially seeing that Providence is providing everything as our various needs arise. It is truly one big faith journey and I am sure that Our Lady will help us discern the right way ahead. It is she who helps me to dream big because as St Therese of Lisieux said "My hopes touch upon the Infinite".
Holding tightly to the God who sustains me allows me to be authentic in my joy and in my witness. In addition to my relationship with God, personal relationships with people who know me well and with whom I can be totally relaxed also allow me to have the strength to keep going, despite the inevitable difficulties of the founding years. Friendships within community and outside of community, along with my family, are a vital part of who I am as a person. I need other 'pilgrims' to both support me and challenge me to be my best self, and I need time for serious heart-to-hearts, as well as some time with no purpose other than to enjoy the life God has given us and watch his dream for me and for the community unfold in time.