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 email@example.com 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.
You may know that Iola and I have been part of Fish Club since we started school 11 years ago now. Fish Club, and St Pauls as a whole is a source of stability for me because I’ve known everyone here for so much of my life, and you are all such lovely people! I thought I would give an example of how this has helped me during the pandemic, especially during the first lockdown.
When we were in the first lockdown, you all know as well as I do how uncertain life felt, and after school shut for who knew how long, I found it increasingly difficult to stay calm. Fish Club zoom meetings that Fish Club set up were something I looked forward to, each time we did a different activity, usually revolved around cooking food which fitted me very well!
When Claire planned us making pretzels, all day while I was opening emails with photos of textbooks I was thinking about being able to see everyone and baking with them. I was fantasizing about flavour combinations I could make.
Before the call my brother and I prepared the dough and kneaded it, all of Fish Club were exchanging their progress on a WhatsApp group, it was exciting to have an event to take part in, something to do that wasn’t in the daily routine I’d been melded to for months on end.
On the zoom meeting we could see everyone in their kitchens as well, some of us doing really well and others doing not quite so well, we all laughed and complemented one another’s pretzels, it was lovely to hear how everyone was doing, to actually see and hear everyone was a rare luxury I didn’t have much of in the lockdown. It was comforting to be reminded that everyone is going through the same strange detachment from life as I was at that time, which you all can relate to me on. My cinnamon sugar pretzels being very delicious to eat, helped as well!
Fish Club, and this church as a whole is a source of stability for me since I’ve known everyone here for so much of my life, and they are all such lovely people! So, it was perfect timing to be seeing them, even if on zoom, at a time of such instability.
Thank you all for listening to me, and I hope to see you all soon.
Every week children at St Paul’s meet in the upper room for what is called Fish Club while everyone else is listening to the sermon. We rejoin the rest of the church for the communion itself.
And every year, for a weekend in the early summer we join with Cotham’s Junior Church for Fish Club Camp.
Fish Club Camp, in my mind, is split into two very distinct halves.
The first part is from the arrival up to and including the barbecue on Saturday evening; the second is Saturday night and Sunday morning.
Part one is the one that most of the pictures are of, the definitive Fish Club Camp Experience. It’s full of energy, and excitement, and enthusiasm.
And I really love it.
But I want to talk about the underdog.
The second half is certainly less exciting, there’s less going on, less plans have been made. But it is still wonderful, in a very comfortable way. It’s always on Sunday morning that I think, “you know what, I think I could do this for at least another week, and possibly forever” Saturday is exciting, Sunday is gentle.
The last time we were at fish club camp, almost two years ago now, we made kites on Sunday. Out of bin bags. Because what else would we make kites out of? It was a bit of a “get the kids out of the way while the adults pack up” activity, but I’m not complaining. I still have my kite, in my room, tucked away behind my wardrobe. Making kites is a perfect craft activity in my opinion because you get to use the thing you’ve made as soon as you’ve finished making it. And we did! And it was brilliant. It was a beautiful day, blue skies with maybe two clouds. We flew all of the kites at the same time, which is a recipe for disaster but so much fun. They definitely got tangled a couple of times, and then we had to pull them out of the sky and try to detangle them. But it was okay, because we had all morning, and the sun was shining, and there was still one kite up in the sky. At one point we started to get confident with our kite skills, and started holding them between just a finger and thumb. This went surprisingly well. For about three minutes. And then one of the kites pulled free and flew over the hedge into the next field. We managed to get it back by pulling it through the hedge, but its flying days were definitely over.
I arrived in Wills Hall, University of Bristol on Monday 26th September 1966, a gauche, naive, and very young 18 year old. Somehow, got through ‘freshers’ week, before home-sickness kicked-in, in a big way, on my first Sunday away from home and family. Plodding on, putting one foot in front of the other, I decided to look up this “St Paul’s” place I’d heard about; it was after all the Anglican Chaplaincy (in those days, each denomination had a chaplaincy), it had an organ, and if I was to continue with my interest in playing the organ I needed somewhere to practise.
So I found my way to St Paul’s, and ventured inside, where I found possibly 100 or so, mostly young people, waiting for the 10.00am sung eucharist, Alternative Service rite B as it was known. What a stark contrast from my little village church in North Shropshire, where I had been press-ganged into playing the organ for the Sunday Mattins for some time, usually attended by a dozen or so faithful’s. I sat down on the end of a pew, behind a pillar near the back I recall. About half way through the service, as bread and wine were being taken up, during the ‘collection hymn’, a voice resonated in my head “this is your home from now on!” Slowly, but surely, the home sickness drained away, and after the service, I ventured upstairs, where coffee was being in served in a very crowded room. Tentatively, I plucked up courage to talk to people around me. Somehow I must have gained an introduction to the organist, as I was immediately recruited to sing in the choir! For a while after I was able to practice on the organ, until all practising had to be stopped as the organ was becoming ever more fragile and slowly falling apart!
What was so much more significant for me was becoming part of the regular congregation, and getting to know Canon Peter and his assistant Rev Hugh. It was Hugh in particular who was to become an important figure in my life. The camaraderie and the fellowship of the church was just amazing. We had a lecturer from the English department of the university among our congregation, who was a ‘legend in his lifetime’ among his students, and a great asset to St Pauls. Annually, he would organise a fantastic day out for the whole congregation when a coach load of us would disappear into the countryside on one of his ‘Waysgoose‘, expeditions. (I recently discovered that Dr Basil Cottle had been one of the crucial team of ‘code-breakers’ at Bletchley during the 2nd World War, described in his now published diaries *)
Somehow, I also got involved in the University Christian
Union (BIFCU) or CU as it was known, and, like Patrick, went to the Billy Graham event in Bristol in 1967. Whilst I admired the sincerity (and fearless) approach to faith and mission for which the CU was renowned, with its ultra evangelical approach, I couldn’t get my head around their ‘literal’ interpretation of the events in the bible, and I very quickly became very uncomfortable with where I stood. At that point, I found enormous help and reassurance from Hugh, and St Pauls. In time, it was publications like Hugh Montefiore’s “But that I cannot believe” which helped me to find a way forward.
At the end of my second year, Peter and Hugh took a party of some 25 of us to Berlin, where we joined a similar group of students from Marburg University. We stayed in West Berlin, in the Red Cross Hostel. and travelled daily, for about 10 days, across the city and deep into East Germany. There we worked in a place called ‘Ulmanhof’, a home for elderly and disabled citizens, who seemed to have been forgotten by the state. It was run by a small order of nuns, somehow allowed to live a life of faith in a communist state, who treated us like royalty! Berlin, you will recall was a divided city, deep behind the ‘Iron Curtain’, and our travel each day involved a nerve-racking trip across the city via the infamous ‘Check-Point-Charlie’ crossing. For me, getting to Berlin in the first place involved driving all the way from Bristol in my little Morris Minor, some 1000 miles, never having ventured out of Britain, let alone having driven on the ‘wrong side of the road’! It was Hugh, Canon Peter’s assistant, who encouraged me all the way, and acted as interpreter, as I didn’t speak a word of German! I have many amazing recollections and photos of our trip. I could not help noticing the enormous mansions which had survived the war, to become the province of the ‘upper class citizens’ in a ‘classless, socialist society’!
Having had such a tremendous experience in my four years in Bristol (3 as undergraduate plus 1 for PGCE) I realised that my life could not just stop here in Bristol; I needed to move on wherever it would take me. Eventually I reached West Germany again (after three years teaching in High Wycombe) where I spent five wonderful years teaching the children of the British Forces stationed there. This time I took the trouble to learn German!
Returning to UK, I spent the remainder of my professional life in Gloucestershire, Wiltshire and Herefordshire, until I made the decision to move back to Bristol, sharing a house here in Clifton. By this time, I was already playing the organ occasionally for services at St Mary’s Stoke Bishop, but where else would I want to go when looking for a church for regular worship but St Paul’s…..
So that’s me, and I look forward to seeing where we go from here.
I came to St Pauls in 1976 as a first year Theology student age 25. I was well travelled and had worked at a college but still felt new and a bit lonely in Bristol. It was “Faffy”, now sensibly called Freshers’ week. The Chaplain, Judith, was very friendly and persuaded me that I would enjoy St Pauls and a delicious tea that Sunday afternoon and the Linden Road Chaplain’s House! I immediately felt at home and have never looked for anywhere else. Jenifer was the first person to welcome me after the service. Little did I know I would still be there so many years later see our daughter Alice christened. She also became a founding member of the Fish Club!
I have always loved the buzz of other young people at St Pauls and the wonderful choral music, both of which I still enjoy. The eclectic congregation and clergy welcomed me warmly. There have always been challenging, far-reaching, sermons the where preachers are not afraid to question and provoke debate. St Pauls, even in those early days, was totally open and inclusive to gender issues, ecological concerns and local social needs.
Within a few weeks of my first attendance at St Pauls, we were filmed for three consecutive Sunday morning worship services on national BBC TV. This prompted an enormous positive public response; even at a national level St Pauls did not seem like your average Anglican Church! I loved the fact that I had heard Harry Williams ,the priest and author speak, as well as the MP, Tony Benn, and so many other interesting speakers right up to the present time.
There is certainly something different encapsulated in the topics and discussions, and always has been. I appreciate the way the traditions are adhered to but the clergy are never bound by dogma. In recent years the prayer and reflective groups have formed a safe and nurturing core respect and need for periods of silence in worship.
In the last year the use of art, poetry and music in the Zoom worshipsessions has been wonderfully, spiritually, inspired and enabled us all to feel totally included and involved despite the physical distance
I have strong concerns about the future of St Pauls, although that special life force, inclusivity and originality is still shining through. BUT are there enough younger people to carry that on in the future and fundraise, for example? Maybe we can hope to continue if the building can be a multi-purpose venue? The “fabric of the church” is a colossal project when it refers to the heating. Fortunately, as usual, the spirit of the church is very strong and I hope that the building, clergy and congregation, which make it so very special, will continue to flourish.
I will conclude with a reflection that symbolises the wonderful nurturing continuity I enjoy here. Roberta beautifully made the main altar cloth that is still in current use. It was placed for worship, for the first time, on our wedding day at St Pauls 41 years ago.
In normal times of Sunday worship, I kneel at the altar for communion and look at that cloth, with its embossed silk cross, as a symbol of continuity and hope; soaked in our prayers and worship.
Jean and Bill
We have been linked with St. Paul’s for 20 years. We are in church nearly every Sunday when in Bristol and we have participated in numerous other church events. We plan each of our visits so they begin and end with a Sunday at St. Paul’s.
As has been said by others, St. Paul’s is a welcoming and open congregation, willing to include two Lutherans from Chicago. Jean spoke twice at the St. Paul’s group, notably after the election of Barak Obama in 2008. She also spoke to the discussion group at Bob Robert’s place on an American’s impressions of England. Bill gave a “Cross Talk” on universities and community engagement following an Evensong. We were routinely included in the readings at the Advent parties which was often our farewell as we would leave for Chicago the following day. There were many conversations over lunches, suppers, coffees and teas and participation in events as diverse as a garden parties and evening summer solstice hikes in the Mendips.
Our initial reason to come to England was to visit Jean’s brother, a Cambridge professor. During that visit in 1998 we spent a brief time in Bristol. A meeting with a colleague at UWE led to a six month senior fellowship there during which we happened upon St. Paul’s almost by chance. We were impressed and became regulars in the pews. The six months in Bristol led to another fellowship, this time at the University of Bristol, and then to monthly residencies for several years. Although Bill’s formal relationship with the University ended years ago we have continued to visit Bristol annually, in part to be able to worship at St. Paul’s.
We have grown old during our 20 years at St. Paul’s. So have our friends, many of whom have passed on. We understand what happens when a congregation becomes old and too few young people join. But we also feel there is something truly unique about St. Paul’s, something too good to let pass into history. People at St. Paul’s take their religion seriously. It is where casual conversation is matched with serious discussion, contemplation, and literate sermons.
We have a church home in our Village of Oak Park where we have lived for over 40 years. But St. Paul’s is our second church home as is Bristol our second city of residence. For us, St. Paul’s is special.
When I moved to a Bristol with work in 1987, I looked for a church close where I lived. I could not find a place to settle. Someone suggested that I needed a ‘whacky’ church and then a mutual friend, put me in touch with Ginny. I remember clearly contacting her, and being invited round to her house. When you are new to a city, these hospitalities are very significant. When I visited I met Ginny’s house mate, who was the current University chaplain. They welcomed me with some bubbly (extravagant generosity and I was very touched!) and told me about St Paul’s, where they both worshipped.
Very quickly I felt that this was a church where I could belong. I was struck by the blend of traditional worship and liberal theology, and became involved in a group which I think we called ‘Third world First’ There were some inspirational members in that group and I felt that issues of justice were a key expression of the faith of the church.
I was married at St Paul’s and our 2 children were both baptised there. We have tried to leave, and find a church closer to where we live, but I am somehow put off when I attend other churches by the assumptions that are made about my faith. Our long history with St Paul’s and the friendships that we have made over the years are now interwoven into the fabric of my story. I have learnt, and continue to learn, so much from the many wise and thoughtful people who attend there.
I do not think that St Paul’s in a whacky church, as was first suggested to me but I do think that it is very unusual. In fact I think that it might be one of the only churches that I could belong to without compromising the things that I hold dear….tolerance, acceptance of difference, enquiring, open and inclusive, with justice for all of creation at its heart.