It’s just three weeks since we were given the keys to the building that would be St Clare’s. We had just three weeks to transform a tired and somewhat neglected building into a warm and hospitable space, ready to open our doors on St Clare’s day.
It’s amazing what you can achieve in three weeks with hard work, and love.
The vision for the building has grown with our vision for St Clare’s. We wanted a space that people would feel confident, even eager to walk into; that inspired interest and curiosity; that looked like a friendly, safe place to enter. Naomi and I recently had a sabbatical, and taking the opportunity to visit other churches we were reminded afresh how daunting it can be to take that first step through the doors of an unknown church. If we – a pair of seasoned priests – found it hard, how much trickier for a tentative explorer.
We are blessed that our building has large plate glass windows (this may not feel quite so blessed in the depths of winter!) so people can see in. We have gone from drab white, to rich, warm colours, with things to look at and comfy seating. Half the space is a shop. The shop is partly there to help us financially, but it has another purpose. Anyone can walk into a shop. That’s what you’re supposed to do. There are seats where you can browse our huge selection of second hand books, and if you want to pause for a chat, there will be coffee on hand.
Our vision is to be open, and we have tried to create a space that is open and welcoming to all.
But that has been a tremendous amount of hard work. We have taken down old fixtures and built new ones. We have painted endless swathes of wall, ceiling and woodwork. We have scrubbed, sanded and drilled. We have negotiated with the contractors doing the bits we just couldn’t manage ourselves, all the while making friends with all our new colleagues at the cathedral, who seem amazed and bemused in equal measure by our efforts.
We couldn’t have done it on our own. We have been deeply touched that so many friends – old and new – have shown up to help us. On day two in the building we had a painting party. Ten of us set to with rollers and brushes and got a first coat of paint of at least part of every wall. Another friend has given two whole days each week to come and help. Other friends have turned up to do more painting, plumbing and sorting of books, or simply to offer encouragement in what we are doing.
Our vision is to be generous, yet the first experience of generosity of St Clare’s, has been receiving the generosity of others.
We have felt so surrounded and upheld by love. The love of friends and of course, the love of God. We have received unnumbered blessings, and have loved every minute of the challenge.
St Clare of Assisi, the saint after which this new church community is named said, ‘Love God, serve God; everything is in that’. God blessed us with a vision, and in serving him, in beginning to make the vision a reality, with have had fun. More fun than we could ever have guessed. We almost have to pinch ourselves that this is real.
And so the transformation of the building is nearly done. Now comes the next bit. To start growing a church community; to start being a place where people can come as they are, and find that love which nurtures and transforms; to turn our bricks and mortar into the living, breathing body of Christ.
Our vision is to keep things simple, and this will be a challenge; not to try and hurry the community into being; not to guess for God rather than wait for him.
So before all that, we might have a week off.
Rev Charlotte Gale, 11 August 2017, St Clare’s Day