St Paul’s at a Crossroads

“Awaken your spirit to adventure. Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk”
John O’Donohue

St Paul’s at a Crossroads – One Year On

In Autumn 2020, St Paul’s was facing an uncertain future. Today we’re journeying on with a renewed vision for the future.
We have been on an amazing journey.

Thanks to God’s guidance and our faithful response we are now ready to move on into the next chapter of the life of St Paul’s, and we need to continue to pray for St Paul’s and its future ministry. Ginny has written a prayer that we might all use if it is helpful:

‘Loving God, we give thanks for the gifts and the hope you give us at St Paul’s.
As we embark on new beginnings, we pray for wisdom, discernment
and your presence close to us in all that we do.
For your name’s sake. Amen

Here’s our story so far…

At the Crossroads – Autumn 2020

St Paul’s was faced with a significant challenge – our ancient heating system was finally declared unserviceable, just as our reserves were cleared out by the costs of repairs following a lead theft. Our vicar, David, helped us to frame the challenge as ‘St Paul’s at the Crossroads’ – seeing the challenge as an invitation to imagine a different future, a future that meets the needs of the wider city community and that builds on our desire to be a welcoming home to all. Which way should we go?

  • Restore?  Raise funds to fix the building and continue as we have been?
  • Relinquish?  Leave the building and look for a new home joining with other churches?
  • Renew?  Identify a new project with partner organizations, open the space for greater community use and enjoyment and for new missional possibilities? Perhaps the amazing resource in our community life and building could find new vitality in unexpected directions?

We embarked on a journey of prayer and discernment, meeting via Zoom at 5.48pm on Sunday evenings to share our stories – what drew us to St Paul’s and what keeps us here, listening together for the gifts we’ve received together through story-telling, shared silent reflection and prayer. We heard from current and former members of our community, young and old, and it was amazing!

You can read the stories here.

(Incidentally, we’d still love it if you would share your story too – just email Ginny if you’re interested, using


Which road to take? – Early Spring 2021

Theologian Bosch defines mission as ‘noticing what God is doing and joining in.’
We are endeavouring to notice what God is doing in our midst and our city and join in

A theme became clear that resonated with our particular and long held values at St Paul’s: cherishing and working with what we have rather than seeing only the challenges, be they financial or demographic. We endeavoured to reject any sense of ‘deficit mindset’ as we shared our stories and explored how other church communities had faced similar challenges.

Many gifts of St Paul’s emerged from the story telling:

  • A place where you can be your true self, be part of the community without having to conform – there is freedom and acceptance. A rare gift.
  • A place of home and hospitality. Somewhere that provides a constant for people
  • A place of nurture and opportunity to grow and flourish – both in faith, in confidence and in use of gifts
  • A place to grow from – many have spent time with us and then journeyed on
  • A place that accepts fragility and is attempting to live faithfully with fragility – of the planet, of our faith and of our resources e.g the budget and the building
  • A place with incredible acoustic, and watertight with its new roof

Strands emerging recognized:

  1. Music is central at St Paul’s. The University Church Choir is based here, offering a tremendous range of choral music and concerts, run by our organ scholar. We have a beautiful Bechstein piano and amazing acoustics. As well as singing, students use the space for instrumental practice, other choirs have held recitals, we have held raucous student carol services, a 12hr music marathon and hosted choral recordings.
  2. Creativity in the arts is central too. We host poetry evenings, plays, creative services and our young people’s annual production. This summer two community theatre productions are planned under the banner of Bristol Shakespeare Festival.
  3. Desire to be open. You may know St Paul’s as the church with the rainbow flag, but perhaps you’ve never ventured inside. We are very aware that the building is closed to visitors and to our neighbours too much of the time, and we’d like to match our intentional openness with actually opening and sharing our building.
  4. Excitement about seeking out a partner organisation if we’re to Renew.
  5. Uncoupling the heating challenge from ‘Crossroads’. While prayerful discernment of the road ahead for St Paul’s could not be hurried, we realised that if we didn’t identify a heating solution before the summer, we’d have an unheated church for the winter ahead.


Decision Time – Late Spring 2021

Two distinct proposals emerged, Heating and One Equal Music, and David shared the challenge and opportunities of each with the wider congregation at our Annual Meeting in May 2021.

We decided to go for both, although the coffers were empty, and so the prayer continued, and the fundraising began… We launched a congregational appeal and started looking for external funding and in August, Esther, Morwenna, Patrick, Isaac, Joe and David set off on a sponsored cycle from Bristol to St David’s.

Both the Heating and One Equal Music proposals were supported generously, and our appeal succeeded in raising enough money to pay for new heating and to hire a talented individual for one year to help set up the One Equal Music project.

We celebrated this landmark with drinks and snacks after the Sunday service on 25 July – co‑incidentally the first time we’d been able to consider such a sociable event since the onset of the pandemic eighteen months earlier.

Here’s a quick summary of the two projects:

Our skilled and dedicated Buildings Committee had investigated low- and zero-carbon options and, working with our architect and the Diocese, developed a proposal that we hoped balanced simplicity, urgency and cost‑effectiveness with a commitment to drastically reduce, although sadly not eliminate, our use of fossil fuels.

A new, energy efficient system is being installed right now. The PCC sees this as an opportunity to (1) build on the wonderful gift of the new roof some years ago rather than waste it, and (2) approach the winter with a drastically reduced carbon footprint and a warm building from which to head into the future.

One Equal Music
The vision for One Equal Music emerged from threads of ‘understanding what we do well’ and ‘using what we have’. Our strong and vibrant musical life at St Paul’s continues to attract and encourage young musicians and we recognize and celebrate the power of music to bring people together, to increase confidence and wellbeing, to give creative expression to beliefs, emotions and life experiences, to foster talent, and to promote unity within diversity.

‘One Equal Music’ will seek to build on these benefits by attracting a wider range of musical events, opportunities, and participants, with a focus on disadvantaged and under-represented individuals and groups.

The first step was to appoint a Project Development Officer, a part time role on a 1yr fixed term contract. Isaac was appointed and started work on 1 September with the purpose of building partnerships, activities and future plans for One Equal Music. Click here to see how it’s going so far…

Route 4 Cycle Ride

The Way

Friend, I have lost the way.
The way leads on.
Is there another way?
The way is one.
I must retrace the track.
It’s lost and gone.
Back, I must travel back!
None goes there, none.
Then I’ll make here my place,
(The road leads on),
Stand still and set my face,
(The road leaps on),
Stay here, for ever stay.
None stays here, none.

I cannot find the way.
The way leads on.

Oh places I have passed!
That journey’s done.
And what will come at last?
The road leads on.

Edwin Muir (via Philip)