Claire Nicholls: Cake, Community and Christ
CLAIRE Nicholls has spent much of her last four years in both church and in college focussed on bringing people together. Key to that has been spending time with people – and baking cakes!
Claire spent her first two years on the BA programme, and her last two on the MA. She has recently accepted a call to remain at Christ Church, Ramsbottom, which is a Methodist-Baptist Local Ecumenical Partnership.
Most weeks, Claire will appear at NBC with a cake to share, which has built stronger ties between students who – with the nature of ministerial training – often have little time together.
And in a sign of how ministry is changing, her church life is spent mainly working on community projects providing a different sort of leadership to what some might expect.
FEEDING AND LEARNING
Claire has been a prominent member of NBC, serving for two years as Senior Student.
She says: “The student body is there for those who want to engage with it. It is really good as a safe space to share and to be together and I learnt a lot from the older students in my early days. I am not sure if we get enough time together but that can’t be helped.
“I have been a great provider of cake and I hope that that continues. It has brought people together and helped relief some of my stress!”
Claire only has a few months to go now until her ordination.
“I have been glad to have done four years. In my second year, I wasn’t ready to enter settlement but in my third year, I was. Spreading out the study means you can really be the minister of the church and things have been happening at church in last year or so.”
Claire’s church work has been focussed on working with young families.
“The church had laid a foundation in prayer and now we have a community café on Saturday, after the ‘Baby ballet’ asked if we would serve drinks for them. That’s developed with time to stay and play and do crafts; a lot of the congregation come down and it’s a real time of community building.
An Advent Calendar made by the community café
“We have started a toddler group and that is developing as well. I have been involved with both of these groups but mainly just hanging about. I see myself as more of a community builder than pastor, with a focus on becoming a community that is mission-focused. This has empowered the church and they have responded very well.”
Working with different generations and their expectations can be interesting, Claire finds.
“You can see it in the way we do Bible study. The older generation hate leading Bible study and want me to do it; the 50-somethings share leadership; but the young adults don’t have a leader, they have Google, which could be dangerous but works as long as there are trustworthy people in the group.”
Claire is the daughter of a Baptist minister and has been around Baptist churches all her life. How has she found life in an LEP, working with another denomination?
“It has been a challenge at time but we have worked through things. I never envisaged I would be in an LEP, I am so Baptist. I now realise how Baptist I am being in an LEP! The theological spectrum is wide and some people avoid LEPS because of that.
“But learning alongside other denominations at college means you learn how to deal with different views, and where they come from. It means you can deal better with them pastorally and deal with yourself better. Students at other colleges tell me that that happens with them too but I do think there is something unique about coming here.
“The ecumenicalness – is that even a word! - can be frustrating at times but it does help.”
She adds: “So much of what we do is focused on context and mission. The things I have written in reflective practice and mission modules has been very important for me to think through what I am doing in church.”