Rev Simon Howell, Stroud Parish Churches, Pioneer Minister since 2014.
“I am so glad I found my way to Stroud. Much as my family and I have enjoyed my Anglican Church postings in Hong Kong, Cambridge, London and Bristol.
“Stroud is certainly the most beautiful place I have lived and worked in but it is not just the geographical beauty, it is the spiritual beauty. This town has a vibrant spirituality which feels quite unique and special, not least because of its kinship with local and global ecology. The frequent expression of this spirituality through the arts gives it, I think, a deep imprint on the town – which, for many of us, is really compelling.
“I felt that my job when I came to Stroud was to enable the church to be at the epicentre of that vibrant spirituality – a sacred space where everyone could gather and find warm hospitality, freedom of expression through the arts, an opportunity to learn from one another and the discovery of our interconnectedness. Hence the various festivals and events our brilliant team have developed, the longest standing of which is the Stroud Sacred Music Festival (sacredmusicfestival.org.uk) – all centred at St Laurence Church: The Stroud Centre for Peace and The Arts in centre of town (stlaurencefuture.org.uk).
“I have sometimes been criticised for taking this too far – so that the original idea of what a church should be is getting lost. Actually, I believe at the heart of Christianity is the coming of God into every place and every culture. So, I have no doubt that, through this process, the human face of God in Jesus Christ will be recognised afresh here. This has been borne out in the experience of our expanding community.
“A favourite object of mine is my djembe – my Ghanaian drum which I use a lot in my work – especially in the 9 to 14 piece, inter-faith, world music band I play in in Stroud: The Raga Babas (ragababas.co.uk). My first degree was a performance-based music BA specialising in classical, jazz and world percussion. Off duty I enjoy walking our dog in The Heavens and watching live theatre and music with family and friends.
“A favourite photograph is this one from the church I worked at in Hong Kong (we lived in the top flat in the similarly red-brick building to the left of the church). Situated Kowloon-side down by the harbour, it felt like we were at the centre of the world – and for me at that time, it felt like the spiritual centre of the world. It gave me a taste of what it might mean to, as Jesus put it, be ‘yeast in the dough’ of such a place. My hope is that I have bought and realised something of this vision to our beautiful town.”