Letter from Claire

 Claire leaving

 After a wonderful service of Sung Evensong

we had refreshments and Claire cut her 'St Peter's Cake'

As she embarks on the next part of her journey

our love and prayers go with her.

 

 

Letter from Claire

By the time you read this, I will have begun my two-year training for ordination at Cranmer Hall, Durham. I’ll have left the security of my house in Redcar, my teaching career and my church family here at St Peter’s and stepped out into a new phase of life. It is uncharacteristic of me and my life thus far to make such a dramatic move but as I have moved closer towards this, I have felt a sense of calm, of inner peace, trusting and believing that it is the right move to make at this point and that I am following God’s call on my life.

I will write again in future months and update you all on life as an ordinand but for now, a few reflections on my journey and the part St Peter’s has played.

It hasn’t been a dramatic story in the sense of one amazing moment of insight, rather, in the words of the Beatles, it’s been ‘a long and winding road’ but one which, through God’s amazing grace, has been life changing.

I came to a service at St Peter’s for the first time nearly 20 years ago. I remember I was nervous and uncomfortable. I didn’t know anyone and wasn’t sure why I was there but I kept going intermittently and slowly but surely, without me really knowing it, God drew me in, welcomed me home and I gradually opened the door wider and wider. I am thankful for the welcome, the kindness and the patience shown to me in the very early days.

 I can remember the moment I accepted that I wanted to follow Jesus. A new vicar, John Weetman, had arrived, and was getting to know people, so there was an invitation to talk. I remember I asked many questions and explored all the reasons I had against believing in Jesus.

Eventually he said, sometimes you just have to take a step of faith and decide, and when he asked did I want to invite Jesus into my life, I found myself saying that I did. He prayed with me and for me and from then I’ve been on a continuous journey of exploration, actively seeking to grow in my faith as I have come to know and feel more deeply the love of Jesus as a reality in my life.

 I started to get involved at church; those who’d been there longer welcomed me, talked to me and nurtured me and it is because of the influence and model of faithful Christians that I have been able to reach this point. The church has become another family to me, a family that has encouraged me to explore and express how God is working in my life.  In any family there are those we see more often and those we know less but whether I have been close friends with you or not, whether I have known you for years or not, I have valued and learnt from the witness and faithfulness of all the St. Peter’s family, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

I love St Peter’s. It’s a place where there is always something to do. I’ve loved being part of the social activities and mission opportunities.  I’ve done all sorts of things at church. I’ve done more making cups of tea, washing up and hoovering than I ever did at home!  (Although Sandra might disagree!)  I’ve tried to use my gifts and abilities well; sometimes feeling prompted, sometimes because others saw potential in me, and I’ve especially loved getting to know our community of children (and their parents) and seeing them grow.  St Peter’s helped me become part of the visible Christian community in our town and across the deanery and started me on the road of theological study, learning more about the faith that has so positively impacted on my life. 

Over time, my faith moved from being outside of me to being at the very core of who I am, what I do, what I think, everything about me and my life. That to me is the power of the Holy Spirit. Of God, active in the moments of my life.  Moments of insight, when I have known something about God that I hadn’t previously. Moments of awareness, of  feeling God’s presence in our beautiful created world, in our worship, in our prayer and in our human connections. 

Without doubt my most treasured memory of St Peter’s is the pilgrimage to the Holy Land. It really was a life-changing experience. In my journal I wrote that there would never been any turning away from following Jesus, having walked in the places he walked, and it was a point when I felt God speaking to me. We sang ‘Amazing Grace’ at a Holy Communion service in the Garden Tomb and I knew I was truly found in Christ; and when we sang ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’ on the Sea of Galilee, I just believed that I was committing my life to God in a way I hadn’t felt before that point.

But it hasn’t all been about ‘mountain top’ experiences. I believe I’ve heard the word of God in words from the Bible, prayers, hymns and sermons and in the many conversations with those I have walked alongside at St Peter’s.

I can remember the night we were at a Bible study here that our vicar, Rachel, was leading, reading St Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and particular words just seemed to be speaking into my heart. That’s when I knew I wanted to really live as a disciple of Christ. I have been truly blessed by the example, nurture, nudging and patience Rachel has shown as I moved forwards from this point and am very thankful for all she has done for me.

 My life has been shaped by people who have shown me the love of Jesus and helped me to open myself up to a relationship with him, through their words, their actions and their love. Some people have been long standing figures of influence in my faith story and others brief encounters.  Many are people of deep faith and prayerfulness who have powerfully influenced me here and probably don’t realise the example they have shown. Beyond St Peter’s, I have also had the support and encouragement of dear friends and colleagues from Wheatlands, who have supported me unwaveringly as I have followed this road.

 It’s allowed me to know who I really am.

To know that Jesus died for me and for us all, and that in that gift of perfect love offered once for all on the cross, we have been set free.

To know that I am truly loved as a child of God,

To know that however much I doubt or feel that I have failed, there is always a way back to the Father who loves us.

It’s given me a real sense of deep joy; that I am right with God, following the path that he has set for  me and I truly long to share this with those who have not yet heard the Good News of Jesus and his transforming love.

 It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Following Jesus hasn’t waved a magic wand over my life. It hasn’t brought those plans I had for my life to fruition.  There have been times of testing, times of disappointment, of loss and loneliness.  Times when I really don’t feel I understand anything about the world, about why things happen and certainly not about God’s plans. But in those times I am learning to trust that God knows the plans he has for us. And that even when it might feel as if we’re alone, we are not. God is with us.

It’s brought challenges to my lifestyle. I’ve had to rethink my choices: my finances, my career, my words, how I use my time. There are many occasions when I know I haven’t spoken out or been bold or have followed the crowd against my better judgement and certainly I’ve become much more aware of the way I fall short of the way God wants us to live.

Despite these challenges, I know totally, that opening my eyes, my heart and the door to become a follower of Jesus was the best step I have ever made.   

When our eyes are fixed on Jesus, when we put our trust in him,

It is the most wonderful love that it is possible to know.

So I move on from this, my sending church, with the assurance of your love and prayers; in the surety of a welcome whenever I call in and in with trust in Jesus Christ, the way, the truth and the life.

God bless St Peter’s.

With my love, thanks and prayers for all you do in Christ’s name.

Claire x