St Paul’s At A Crossroads
Restore? Relinquish? Renew?
We are at a crossroads, precipitated by challenges to our financial resources due to the costs of maintaining our building. Our community is seeing the challenges we face as an invitation to imagine a different future, one that meets the needs of the local and wider city community and that builds on our desire to be a welcoming home to all.
Turning the challenges on their head (financial challenges with broken heating, lighting, and missing roof lead and challenges in our capacity) we recognize that the amazing resource in our community life and building could find new life in unexpected directions. To that end we are in a process of imaging a new future:
Restore – do we raise funds to fix the building problems and continue as we have been?
Relinquish – do we look for a new home joining with other churches and leaving the building?
Renew – do we look to identify a major new project, re-ordering and re-purposing the building with partner organizations in a way to make us financially sustainable and open up the space for much greater community use and enjoyment and new missional possibilities?
As part of our reflection we are meeting via Zoom at 5.48pm on Sunday evenings to share our stories of what drew us to St Paul’s and what keeps us here, discerning together our gifts through story-telling, shared silent reflection and prayer. Below are the stories so far. We would love if you would share yours. Email to firstname.lastname@example.org FAO Ginny Royston.
St Paul’s Church, Clifton- a personal contribution.
We retired to Clifton in May 1992 and the first Church we attended did not suit us. We discussed this with a former Archdeacon with whom I had worked, and he said “I know where you should go –St Paul’s! “ He was right; we were welcomed and became active members of the congregation, so belonged. Not only in St Paul’s but the Christian family as expressed by Churches Together for C.R.&C. What is it about our community that holds us?
CHESED is crucial; untranslatable Hebrew- generally accepted in Jewish ethics to express God’s Love by love and charity between people. It was translated by William Tyndall as “Loving Kindness.” The significant aspect of this is expressed in the Quaker doctrine of Faith and Practice – “Loving care is not just something that we ‘do’ for others but is a process that binds us together”.
It is summarised by the Collect for the 19th Sunday after Trinity, which contains the phrase-“Mercifully grant that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.”
A practical expression of this is an article I wrote for our local paper the Clifton Chronicle. It was a personal experience on behalf of St Paul’s and described The Soup Run-the cooperative exercise of Churches Together to feed the Homeless.
It concluded-“Don’t expect gratitude but do expect to learn more about humanity and yourself.”
Our future- A significant observation in Communities of Hope by Jean Vanier-
“What I see in the Churches today is openness to difference, We are moving away from Churches seen as fortresses with walls around them. We realise we need each other. The question is -‘Do we have the resolve and the motivation’?”
Isaac - Organ Scholar
I had a less conventional way into St Paul’s than most: I was looking for organ scholarships with churches attached to them rather than the other way round! To put that into context, my Dad’s a vicar and the year before that we’d moved parish from the church I grew up in; I spent that year before university playing the organ on a rota of four different churches, so was in a different place with different people each week. And that seemed fine. So I figured that if I ended up with a scholarship, I’d be happy with whatever church came with it.
I now realise that during that year, I didn’t have a ‘home church’: somewhere that would help grow my faith and challenge me. St Paul’s quite quickly became that for me.
From the outset I felt very welcome and valued, talking to people after church, being invited for lunch (it’s really nice when you’re a first year undergraduate in halls to have some home comforts!), going to Raymond’s for coffee and conducting lessons and going to the pub after choir. Marjorie’s thanksgiving service showed me how close-knit a community St Paul’s is, and the familiarity of the reasonably middle-of-the-road Anglican worship style was really important to me when moving away from home for the first time.
But, as I alluded to earlier, St Paul’s is so much more than just ‘nice’ and ‘familiar’ to me: I’ve grown in faith a lot over the past four(ish) years, and St Paul’s as my ‘home church’ has played a big part in that. I’m trying to pinpoint particular things that have been particularly important for me, but it’s actually everything I’ve been part of here added together that’s important. I know that the last four years have been really formative for me, and that’ll stay with me wherever I end up next year.
Music’s obviously been a really important thing for me, and while it’s not exactly been plain sailing with a diminishing choir and then Covid (which I think has got in the way of the choir growing again – it seemed like we had quite a lot of interest this year), I’ve loved all the music we’ve done here, particularly things like the Evensongs and Advent Carols: it’s definitely something that keeps me here, and is the reason I came in the first place! Having almost 24/7 access to the organ has been fantastic too: I’d often pop in in-between lectures, and the building’s become a home from home: I’ve lived in four different flats in four years so St Paul’s has been a constant place in all of that. The choir community is fantastic too and I’ve made a lot of friends through that, particularly going on tours. It’s been really good having a group of just students within a church with a whole range of ages – I get the benefit of both!
So I guess I came here for an organ scholarship and ended up with way more than I bargained for. This church has been so much more to me than I expected, and has probably been the most significant thing about coming to university.
WHAT WE LOVE AND VALUE ABOUT ST PAUL’S CLIFTON
We were invited to try St Paul’s after finding Christchurch our Parish church (incidentally where my Grandparents were married) too “happy clappy” for us.
Our arrival was in 1992, having recently retired, to live in Clifton after moving around England from the time of our marriage in 1956. We had been attending our local churches, now 58 and 60, active and able to offer our help.
We went to the 10.30am service and on sitting down were tapped on the shoulder from the pew behind, who introduced themselves and asked about ourselves. Were we new? Who were they?
The service was familiar and joyful and very much enjoyed the music and singing from the choir and congregation. The worship suited us. We made friends and had a religious and social life in the church. We also over the years invited some local friends, at least 7 people, to come and try St Paul’s and are as far as we know they are still with us! We have also seen clergy come and go and the arrival of Lutheran worship, with the services of the University Chaplains. Inevitably changes have and are taklng place.
However, over the recent years there does appear to have been a change-less participation.
The bounce has gone.
We agree that the present attempt to reassess St Paul’s during the Pandemic Crisis is essential and look forward to participation.
It was realised that we simply had not got enough money to continue the life of St Paul’s in the building as it stands and as we know it.
Sharing Cotham’s building or that of another church or being a buildingless church was a consideration
Make the building financially sustainable. etc etc.
I would agree with the PCC that this option should be explored.
I still haven’t managed to get into ‘Zoom’ although I am on the way to it!
I have been a member of St Paul’s for many, many years and originally I lived within walking distance. Now at over three miles away, this is no longer possible and parking a car during the week is time-consuming and more difficult. My age also, prevents me from doing many things – I have to admit. (I’ve run out of energy).
I think that some aspects of membership of St Paul’s include:
A high standard of preaching
A high standard of music using the traditions of the historical development of European church music. The organ scholarship is very important, along with the use of a good organ and, in recent years a grand piano.
I have made many good friends at St Paul’s – not many of them still around!
I have valued the social interaction and participation of St Paul’s, eg providing meals and entertainment for children in a disadvantaged parts of the city. The Soup Run was another activity I enjoyed participating in.
With good wishes,
When I moved to Bristol in the 1980s, church was not a big part of my life. I was very much brought up to go to church regularly and my immediate and wider family is steeped in church(!). But somehow when I went to University I got hugely involved in music and church didn’t feature much – I drifted away from it. And the same applied when I then moved to Oxford for a year – I went once or twice to a couple of the evangelical churches but they were not really for me. When I arrived in Bristol, music was again very much my focus for getting to know people – and I think it was a good friend who played cello in the orchestra I was in and attended St Pauls who, after a while, suggested I give St Pauls a try. So I started my tentative steps to going there. I was not a regular attender to start with and there was no pressure on me – that felt quite OK – I was allowed space to figure things out. As time went on I got to know more people, started to get on some rotas and things – and enjoyed the music. And (significantly!) I got to know Raymond and Roberta. At that time I was working in admin in the Bursar’s Office at the University and after a few years in that job, I noticed there was a vacancy for a secretary in the Music Dept but (strange to think of now!) I wasn’t sure whether to apply, despite the fact that it was basically my dream job! I am eternally grateful to Raymond who encouraged me to try for the job and subsequently appointed me! And I remained working in admin for the Music Dept for the rest of my working life!
Over the years St Pauls became more and more a key part of my life and centre of gravity. Somehow I found myself being church warden – how did that happen?! That took me significantly out of my comfort zone – but was probably good for me! For me St Paul’s has been and continues to be a place of numerous great and fruitful encounters, and wonderful friendships. A place that is very accepting, asks important questions, seeks justice, celebrates music and the arts, engages with people of all ages; all in a wonderful space for prayer, for worship, for music and creativity.
I have been coming to St Paul’s for something over 20 years. In the ten years before that a relationship had broken down and I had lost my partner, my home and my way. I was living on my own and feeling lost and awkward. As a child I had regularly gone to church (with my family – the United Reformed Church – both my grandfathers had been Congregationalist ministers) and then at university I had a fairly dramatic conversion experience, but things had gradually petered out. Once in a blue moon I would go into a church and sometimes walk straight out, sometimes sit at the back during a service and slip away. Once, memorably, I went to Cotham for what I think must have been a Maundy Thursday evening service (or was it Good Friday? – the liturgy was new to me) and before the end found myself walking out into the pouring rain just as Neville Boundy was dramatically narrating the scene in the garden of Gethsemane and describing the disciples scattering, slipping away into the darkness one by one, fearful, guilty and ashamed.
Occasionally, but gradually more frequently I found myself showing up at a quiet service in the Julian chapel here at St Paul’s on a Sunday evening at 6 O’clock. There would be a handful of people, a bit of prayer, maybe a short reflection on a bible reading, and quite a lot of silence. I didn’t really want to talk to anyone so I would hang around until I could slip in just as, or just after the service started, and then leave pretty briskly when it finished. It began to be a safe quiet place where I felt part of something without having to be interrogated. I decided I wanted to try out a Sunday service perhaps with a view to attending regularly.
The first Sunday service I came to – Berj Topalian preached. For those of you don’t know Berj, he is a large, bearded Armenian and a tad unusual. I risked staying for coffee and Berj spotted me and we chatted for a bit, and before we separated he said that if I came the next week I could have lunch with his family at Long Ashton afterwards. I came the next week.
After the service I caught Berj’s eye and he said ‘Ah, Ah, ah… You are ……don’t tell me, I’m hopeless with names … ah Mark, Got it , Ah oh Ah ….. I invited you for lunch didn’t I? Oh dear, I meant to go shopping yesterday but I got in a muddle. I’m not sure we’ve got anything. You couldn’t bring something could you? Ah, and Lucy’s a vegetarian’
At that moment I felt properly and immediately at home, though in a bit of a flap as to what ingredients I could come up with to make lunch for five in short order (Berj has two daughters). But I managed to get some food together, to find their house and then to make some lunch with Berj’s wife Susie out of what I had brought and what else there was in the house while Berj disappeared to his shed to transfer an obscure recording of church bells from tape to CD or something of the sort.
I think it was only a few weeks later that Patrick was gathering a work group to paint the Upper Room – again I was asked if I would like to help, and again I found I had something to offer, nothing special, just an ability to climb a ladder and a willingness to have a go at painting a bit of the ceiling.
I think what I loved was that the welcome I received was so quirky and particular that no Welcoming Committee in the world could ever have worked out a better welcome for me. Other people might have felt miffed that nobody made sure they were ‘properly greeted’
after the quiet services in the Julian Chapel, or that Berj had forgotten their name, or that, having been invited for lunch, they were then asked to provide it (or at least play a good part in providing it). But for me, all those things were perfect. Although I wouldn’t have put it this way at the time I would now say that the precision of what I received reflected a community that was holding itself together in prayer. The ‘welcome’ I received gave me the sense that I would be able to find my way into this odd church family and that I might be able to make my own particular contribution, even if on that first Sunday it was to help cobble together some rather original version of pasta bake that I think we finally ate at about half past 3.
Michael and Jan
Twenty years ago Michael and I visited a number of Bristol churches with a view to being involved in one . Our first random visit to St Paul’s coincided with a candle-lit carol service when the church was looking absolutely stunning. Not long afterwards the future Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams came to give a talk at All Saints’ and out of interest I went along. The only free seat was at the end of a pew and who happened to be sitting there but Maya Bimson, who later engaged me in conversation and encouraged us to go to St Paul’s again. This we did and have been there ever since, as we found ourselves in a very welcoming , accepting and good-humoured group of people and the services somehow struck the right chord for us. Maya and Dinny were particularly supportive.
Over the years we have become more and more involved, especially on the musical side; when we moved out of Clifton we preferred to keep coming, rather than go to our local church. This was because the Scratch Choir had just started up and we felt we might have a contribution to make. We met inspiring people at first through St Paul’s Group at the Selbys and the Warrens. It felt as though the church had an outward look on the world and an ‘international ‘ feeling ‘with previous members always coming back to visit when in the UK . Another reason was the beautiful singing of a cracking choir. To quote my point e) below: love for the building, with its high roof over the nave and the wonderful acoustic with choir voices soaring to the rafters, making me feel that with such beauty there really is a God.
Of course our first few visits were greatly enhanced with a welcome to stay for Golden Weddings, 80th birthdays and lots of celebratory wine and nibbles, which seemed non-stop at the time!
Michael & Jan
FIRST VISITS TO St. PAUL’S CLIFTON
I knew I would retire to Bristol and came ten years ago. September 2011
For my first six months at St. Paul’s I chose not to say that I was a priest hoping not to be identified immediately and only in a role.
I had visited other churches. How did I know that St. Paul’s was right for me?
I was surprised to rediscover that my very first visit to St. Paul’s was April 9th 2005.
16 years ago. The importance of notice boards. I came because an event :
“Remembering Dietrich Bonhoeffer” was advertised. A sequence of readings andmusic on the 60th anniversary of his death. Devised by Martin and Jutta. And the first time I heard Margaret and Ginny sing.
So – a creative church.
I sensed, without anybody saying anything, that members of the congregation were rooted in the community and engaged in things other than church-based activities.
The welcome is most important. The building, the music, the preaching.
The style of worship. And that intangible thing : the ‘feel’ of it.
And I stayed. And I have not been disappointed. Ever. This is where I belong.
Sunday school led to Crusaders and conversion. I was worried that if I was not for Jesus, then I must be against him, and that would lead to eternal darkness. So ultimately fear led me to a conversion. Following this I joined the Christian Union at University and went on to become involved in Billy Graham’s Mission England. Everything seemed very clear to me and there were no grey areas.
On my return to my Bristol home I was looking for a church and love, and I found both. Morwenna told me that St Paul’s was the place to be.
Life took a different turn.
Not so black and white.
A loving God who reaches out to all.
St Paul’s was a church where you didn’t have to be anything that you were not. I felt a sense of acceptance by those I met and have grown to love.
St Paul’s is also a church which actively engages in social justice and has challenged me to become involved in issues such as homelessness and the climate emergency. What holds me there are the people, the projects and a place of calm which offers the sustenance that I need in order to go out into the world and be.
What would your time in Bristol have been like without St Paul’s? What would you not have done? Who would you not have met?
Personally, the last five and a half years would have been incredibly different without the St Paul’s community. Arriving in Bristol in September 2015 as a timid, shy, wary 18 year old, I felt immediately welcomed, and I found a huge source of comfort in the familiarity of a friendly church community. It made settling into a new place, away from home, so much easier.
In my first year, I just sang in the choir – it wasn’t until my second year that I started with the organ scholarship. At this stage I had progressed marginally from that wary 18 year old who had arrived the year before, but I was still very tentative, and the idea of playing the organ in front of a church full of people was terrifying – let alone conducting the choir. Looking back, I can’t believe I actually applied for the scholarship – but I am so grateful to the friend who persuaded me into it, because I learnt a huge amount during my time as organ scholar. The opportunity I was given, allowing space for realising the potential that had somehow been spotted beneath the layers of self-doubt, meant that I learnt a set of skills which will stand me in good stead for life. St Paul’s has offered me a safe space and the encouragement to grow, and I can’t put a price on that.
St Paul’s has been the one common thread through my time in Bristol: I’ve changed where I’ve lived; whether I’m studying at the university, or working, or both; friends have been made and then moved on. But St Paul’s has always been there, every Friday evening for choir practice, every Sunday for services. Even online during a global pandemic.
So without St Paul’s, I’m sure I’d have found another church to go to, but I can’t imagine one that would have been such a perfect fit.