by sarahb last modified 11:40 04/06/2018

Father Paul - ‘The Rebel Conformist’

by sarahb last modified 11:40 04/06/2018
Father Paul - ‘The Rebel Conformist’

Father Paul - The Rebel Conformist Priest

Father Paul moved to Bristol in his 20's and is well loved in St Pauls @Khali Ackford

As part of our Heart & Soul project we wanted to explore further the challenges and achievements of transforming and preserving historic buildings. In collaboration with Bristol's Architecture Centre and the University of West England (UWE) our series of Tuesday talks, invites both national and international speakers to share their knowledge and experience on the positives and pitfalls of re-imaging historic buildings.

We have asked our Project Intern, Tess Sieling, to share her notes on the Heart & Soul talks, you can read her previous notes on speakers Marcus Hammond and Fidel Meraz. Over to Tess.

On the evening of Tuesday 29th May, we were very grateful to Father Paul who stepped in to cover the planned speaker who was unfortunately unwell. He appeared an unconventional priest, wearing camouflage combat trousers and a shirt, very much living up to the talk title ‘Rebel Conformist’. Before Father Paul’s talk I did not know much about him and his life in Bristol, but afterwards it was clear that he is regarded as family by the community in which he serves. He has touched the lives of a lot of people in Bristol, particularly the St Paul’s area where he has lived and worked most of his life.

Father Paul talked about the need for the church to respond to contemporary issues @Khali Ackford

Heart & Soul project coordinator, Dr Edson Burton, gave a warm introduction to Father Paul. Several audience members as well as Dr Burton clearly hold him in great affection, indicative of the widespread impact Father Paul has had over the years. In a childhood anecdote, Father Paul remembers growing up in Pontypridd, Wales, wishing he had a brother to play with as he only had one sister. Not until his twenties when he had moved to Bristol and settled in St Paul’s did he realise he was lucky enough to be surrounded by many many brothers and sisters now.

Father Paul started by talking about gay marriage, and the fact that in Wales and Scotland you can have a gay marriage in church, supported by the Church. However in England although you can have a civil partnership or gay marriage, you still cannot conduct these ceremonies as a vicar in a church. It saddens him that there is nothing in the wedding hymn book dedicated to LGBTQ marriage. Father Paul wants to be able to conduct these ceremonies, he wants to celebrate love without judging them on whether they are gay, illegal immigrant, or involved in crime. He told many anecdotes about individuals from the community where he has worked, mostly to show that ‘where there is life there is hope’.

On many occasions people have gone to Father Paul for help and he has been a huge support throughout the community. I think it is these pillars of the community that have not faded despite the move towards communities being started or maintained by technological means. A lot of people fear that the sense of community relying on face to face contact is being lost due to societal changes- we all spend more time looking at screens. However Father Paul is an example that where there are people living together in an area, there will always be community leaders and supporters, no matter the advances in technology. It is our human nature.

Many local residents attended Father Paul's talk @Khali Ackford

After Father Paul’s talk, he invited a friendly discussion within the group. We moved on to explore what is the role of the Church now? Is it to serve the spirit or to serve the law? There seems to be an openness particularly in Bristol and other large UK cities that is calling for the Church to serve the spirit. In contemporary society, issues that need addressing and the nature of human struggles have been changing, so there is a need for the Church to serve them in an equally contemporary way. Perhaps a testament to Father Paul’s openness is the fact that at one stage, he was visiting a murderer in prison in Cardiff while also planning the victim’s funeral in Bristol. ‘Things fit together in ways I don’t always understand but don’t object to.’

I enjoyed Father Paul’s talk because it shed light on the positive influence one person can have in a community. I am looking forward to seeing Katie McClymont’s perspective on the nature of the divide between secular and sacred spaces, and between public and private places in today’s cities. Join us for her talk on 19th June, 7pm.

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