Some find their way easily.
Some hug together and huddle.
Some share with others a careful route.
Some need to cluster and cling, others divert.
Some are of the same persuasion, colour and aim.
Some mingle, jostle and love.
Some show energy, enthusiasm, so their light shines.
Some are pale and gentle, often lukewarm.
Some are held, captured tight.
Some push, struggle and survive
Some avoid the empty spaces, twist and turn about.
Some are lonely, lost and wander.
All meander, journey, strive.
Then caught and gathered safely, they pray.
St Charles’ RC church in Swinton, Manchester, was 60 years old in 2014. Joan Burgess, a parishioner who faithfully attends the monthly unity services, wanted to mark that anniversary in a special way which would include the other churches in the area. This is how she told her story at the ecumenical celebration of the St Charles anniversary:
This evening we are here at St Charles with you – our friends from various local churches – and I think that is worth celebrating!
In our 60th anniversary year of the building of this church we are having many celebration occasions with special times of prayer. The opening of our community garden was a recent highlight and was such a joyful event.
Churches Together in this area is special – and so had to be included in a memorable way.
Last year I wondered how to help towards that celebration, and felt (being the person I am) that I had to contribute something visual. I admit to some hesitation at first and I felt rather nervous. I quickly abandoned my first project with fabric and paint because I thought it was rubbish and because it would not have said what I wanted to convey. My second attempt was this embroidered banner. When I was asked to say what motivated me to make it and how I did it, I felt that I needed to go back to my childhood, to my earliest Christian experiences . They help make sense of why I so enjoy Churches Together!
I was born and brought up at Roe Green and when I was a little girl I played with several little friends. I was very aware that we were all Christian children. I remember one little girl reprimanding other children by saying: ‘that isn’t Christian’! I still know her well.
Most of us went to church. Some used to attend the local chapel twice on Sundays – Sunday school and evening service. Some went to the local parish church. I especially remember ‘Sermons Sunday’ when some families (the girls wearing white) would hurry, not to be late, in the direction of St Marks’, Worsley.
And I remember the Methodist Chapel’s annual procession of witness around Roe Green – colourful, with a brass band, and I used to wish I could join in – I used to walk on the pavement alongside. My family experienced with immense gratitude the extreme kindness of the Methodist community at some particular times of great sadness for us.
I was, of course, very secure in the Catholic faith in which I was being nurtured – I was brought here to St Charles’ church to early Mass every Sunday morning by loving parents.
When I was with my friends, playing or skipping, I can recall quite clearly ‘talking about God’. We had our own opinions – looking back I’m really not sure what they were – but I am sure a fly on the wall would have been amused! I’m sure our conversations were very childlike, but one thing I do know, the always seemed to be very important! and very earnest. We shared how our prayers were a bit different, and being so young we did not yet know how to challenge those differences. Indeed, the thought probably never crossed our minds! Aged about twelve, I had one good friend who taught me to sing The Lord’s my Shepherd. This was my very first introduction to Crimond – and we sang it to the rhythm of playing two-ball against the wall of the community centre.
But – we never actually prayed together. The opportunities were never really there.
I also have a very dear friend, Anne who went to her Quaker meeting at the Society of Friends. Our families lived very close to each other and enjoyed much mutual respect. Anne, who is now 92, has been a tremendous inspiration to me throughout my life. And she has followed the working of this embroidery with great interest.
Having met other close and valued friends from other denominations, it is all these years later, with lots of confidence and hope, that we are able to come together in our various churches, to gather and pray. It is a particular joy for me – I feel such gratitude – and I believe that is worth celebrating!
So it was with this gratitude that I began this project, with a sense of purpose.
Unusually for me, I was not quite able to visualise how to embark on it or what the result would be… It was a prayerful process. Each day as I worked on it, bit by bit, my thoughts would take me in a particular, and sometimes different direction, which occasionally surprised me – and I observed carefully what was emerging.
I began by wanting to demonstrate the various journeys, paths and lifelines of prayer and worship that people follow during their lives, and how to depict and symbolise them.
These ideas formed the basic structure for my work – and I used cords of varying thickness, – some are stronger and more robust than others – some weave a steady path, some are pure gold – some twist and turn and even go round in circles before finding the right direction again.
Perhaps we can relate in some way to those sorts of movements in our own prayer life?
Between these paths and roads are empty spaces – lonely times when we need the support of others. But a safe way is never too far away!
The embroidered knots and stitches represent all of us – of different persuasions, colours and religious commitments – working closely together and often struggling to find the right ways to go – avoiding the empty spaces and coming together on our own different faith journeys – in spite of the twists and turns and occasional circles.
I hope that perhaps you may see other things in this work that are meaningful to you.
Finally, when considering the lettering, choosing and selecting the words for the banner – four important words emerged to stress and emphasise: called – gathered – together – prayer.
The message is clear: We are called. We gather together and we pray – the cross of Jesus Christ with us.
And I believe that is worth celebrating!
Joan’s wall hanging, adapted with permission, is the logo which CTE is now using for its Forums.