My journey to St Clare’s by Ruth Nelson
Thirteen years ago I was a member of my local parish church and even in a leadership role. However, I wanted a more relational type of church gathering and what did all that church thing mean anyway? Locally there was a group of people in their twenties who were meeting in an organic church type gathering and that was much more of what I wanted than just showing up on Sunday and saying I’m fine.
However, it was a fairly well-established group and so making friendships was more difficult than I thought. A friend suggested that instead I should come along to a church that was merging with another and growing. There would be things there for me to do and people to meet. I came, and I did, but found that being a single parent, working almost full time and with other commitments hindered that development. I was giving some of my time to support a charity which meant I was away some weekends. I also found it hard to relate to other people because of dominant groups within the church. I drifted away and although I went and came back again and had some great friends within the congregation, I never fully felt like I belonged.
At the beginning of 2016, I felt that I needed to look elsewhere, and my Celtic and almost hidden Anglican inclines made me think of going to the Cathedral. I could go, read, stand and observe, and for a while be anonymous. I did that for about six weeks but it felt such an effort, and I didn’t know where to start with talking to people, so I stopped going. I went to a couple of other Sunday morning gatherings but really was ready to give up going. In fact, I stopped going to church on a Sunday for over six months. Instead, I saw friends or just took it easy. I also started open water swimming. I went and found joy in community, in being with other people with a similar interest (and a slight hint of madness). I found laughter and sharing, a need for some communal singing and the telling of stories together, all under the wide open sky. I found God in new ways, in looking at creation, in blue skies, the river bank, the laughter, the community and the simple joy of swimming in something that he’d created. This gave me a fresh insight to how life could be. A simpler life.
But I still felt the pull to be part of a Christian church and do something with my Sunday mornings. I liked the fact that Coventry Elim were now meeting in a new space (to them) at the Belgrade Theatre. It appealed to me to see how a building built for another purpose could be used as a gathering place for people to worship God; to build community in a larger place and use the space as it is and grow around it. It took a while to get back into it, especially forty five minutes standing to sing songs of worship, but slowly I got there. I also enjoyed being part of the hosting team. Going to church and wearing a radio and earpiece really ticked some event management boxes I have!
Then via Facebook, I heard about the development of St Clare’s. It was being started by Charlotte and Naomi, who were the ministers at the church I had left (shortly after they did) thirteen years earlier. As I read their story, a lot resonated with the journey that I had been on. About trying something different in doing church, about it being simple, about building community, about it being a space for people to come and be (or even buy a gift). And it was about walking alongside those who had lost their way, those who had got disillusioned with “church”, the storytellers, the wanderers, the widows and the orphans, the people who don’t quite fit anywhere else, the amazingly creative people that God has made. A new group of people, but with lots of experience of life to bring, who together could be part of building something new.
So, I came along a painting party to help convert the shop to a church in July, and kind of knew that this was where I should be. It was just so right for me, so connected to what I had been working on in my day job and how I believed church should be.
A lot of what I love to has come to the fore. Connecting people, being creative, linking, using pictures for reflection, telling our stories, sharing a meal together, sharing life. If we live lives too structured then there is no room for God to breathe; if we do what we have always done we will get what we have always got; if we hold on to something we will lose it; if we don’t find the joy of the simple every day, we won’t find joy in the adventure; if we don’t let go of what we have we will never fully enjoy the better gifts to come.
There are new things coming and more stories, many more stories to be told…