According to the BBC, three times more women in the UK entered training to become nuns last year than 5 years ago. The actual numbers are small – 45 compared with 15 in 2009, but it’s still worth noting this faith choice that is also a lifestyle revolution.
In times of conspicuous consumption, casual sex and “life is all about me” attitudes, the fact that 45 women have chosen to commit to ancient vows of poverty, chastity and obedience is a positive message that faith in God calls for radical decisions by all women.
It’s also a choice that will bring life-long friendship and support for the women, plus the freedom to go into the world to serve radically.
I have met with amazing nuns defending refugee rights in Australia; developing pre-school curriculum in the local Tetum language in Timor Leste; and running activity centres for traumatised children in the midst of Sri Lanka’s civil war. I have also seen nuns at the UN calling for justice for India’s widows and I have worked alongside many who have campaigned against landmines and for peace.
Somehow, being a nun (like being in a Salvation Army uniform) bestows authority and garners respect in the community. And that is not just outdated tradition – it is something to do with the recognition that these women have made a pretty radical life choice to serve and love the least.
My friend Felicity has made a similar decision. She is training to become an Anglican vicar. The process to be accepted was arduous and she has faced all sorts of challenges as a young single woman. But she is stronger as a result of her willingness to step out of the world’s path to success to be part of a different story.
And a new friend is Dorothy (in the pink shirt), who decided to move from the States to Thailand to help in any way she could in the refugee and minority communities around Chiang Mai. At 72, she has become ‘grandmother’ to many women and children and has discovered new skills as a textile entrepreneur!
All of us should bear some badge (or ‘habit’) that declares our identity as Jesus followers – people prepared to obey God’s call.
It’s deeply unfashionable but also compelling because it is not just giving things up and clenching our teeth in reluctant service.
It is a call to love, as a response to God’s amazing love. Nuns (and lots of women from different traditions who choose to stay single) take that literally by choosing Jesus over earthly marriage. But I know that whenever we act out of love, other lives are touched by God and our own lives are much richer.
So I celebrate Felicity, Dorothy and the nuns.
Please pray for all the people you know who are radically serving and loving God.
And pray for women everywhere to have a radical habit in loving God.
 I’m aware that some of you may have doubts about the whole system of entering Catholic orders. I’m not defending the whole Catholic church structure but within it are amazing women of faith. And of course there are nuns in other church traditions whose vows are different.