Pause/Move on.

Breathe in.

Breathe Out.

“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”

Richard Rohr

The Cracks Where the Light Gets In

Earlier this year we hosted an International Women’s Day event here at St Peter’s House. Within that we invited diverse women to come and share their stories and perspectives – we asked them to avoid the ‘inspirational’, but bring the truth of themselves – the full lived experience of womanhood.

Within the line-up, one of our story-tellers ended up snowed-in and unable to make it (thankyou British March!) and I became the default we had planned ‘just in case’. I spoke of how a woman’s body carries her story, and shared how mine tells the story of loss and joys, birth and death. I spoke of how I use body-art to cover the scars of the past, but move forward with the knowledge that I carry that story with me and how this shapes and informs me. I shared how the moon phases and cycles of our earthly life have come to inhabit my understanding of life.

Sian, another one of our storytellers, with Hannah at our International Women's Day event.

As we continue to move through the closure of St Peter’s House, I’ve been returning again to some of these themes. The importance of story-telling, and the group rituals around this. The importance of not rushing to language that glosses over, but inhabiting the full experience and reflecting that alongside others. The joy and the cracks in the surface, that which unites us and the cycles of life.

This week I will share some of the practical outcomes of these themes as we share our journey of closure with you, capturing perhaps a little of the intentional ‘letting go’ we’re learning to practice. 

Whenever these is loss there are a cycle of responses, non-linear but occurring in waves and including denial, anger and bargaining. These land frequently in my inbox: “What can we do to reverse this decision?”, “There’s got to be a way to stop this!” These healthy expressions of grief need to be voiced, and collective sadness is part of the process. Of course, there are others who are feel far less personal impact, and that’s OK too.

The task to respond takes many approaches, and ours is trauma-informed.

  1. We have prioritised the needs of those most affected, including those who were supported by The Well at its closure. This included asking them what we could do to taper provision for a few, final weeks. We’ve been able to use our restricted funds (donated specifically for student support) to provide simple food, and cinema vouchers for the families we support. Giving choice within this process has been crucial. It has provided space for our Well community to be participants in how The Well has come to close, and let us know how to involve them best.
  1. We have modelled equality and empowerment as much as possible within the responses to our team, the tenants, all other building users. This is hard and deeply challenging news – but the shared experience has deepened bonds. No one has special status within this time of ‘what next?’ – we are all unmoored and charting unknown futures together, and within this we all need to feel heard, safe and held. We can’t overpromise, but we can offer deep listening to the distress of our community.
  1. We are not rushing to language of celebration, thanksgiving and ‘looking ahead’. Of course, these are all important and there is a place for them. In addition, our funders and stakeholders are currently planning for replacement services, and I’m doing all I can to ensure that our learning and resources are passed on well. There is a cycle in this, and it’s important to give time to allow new shoots to grow.

However, there is also a palpable sense of relief when I meet with members of our community and they kindly talk of ‘a new stage of the cycle for St Peter’s House’, whereupon I respond ‘yes, the stage called death!’ Our closure does mean an ending, and it is good to acknowledge that. Some of you may have attended our Death Café’s, and this conversation is recurring. ‘Slipped into another room’, ‘sleeping’, ‘not with us anymore….’ So often people just want to acknowledge death for what it is. There is a relief and healing, and it helps us let go.

  1. We will again be returning to stories and ritual, with an evening of story-telling, poetry, dancing and shared life. All of those who’ve travelled with us over the past 6-7 years will gather in October for a ‘Living Funeral’ – a bittersweet event to mark what has been, what is being lost, and how we have grown in our time together. If you feel you should be there, let us know.

Finally – we want to involve everyone who has been part of St Peter’s House Chaplaincy throughout its 50-year history! We are creating a website that will honour the past, and stand as a lasting legacy to those who have lived, worked, worshipped, and sought refuge here. If you have a story, a picture or slice of that history to share with us – do get in touch.

St Peter’s House, like all organisations, had cracks and scars prior to the closure process – and these only deepen with the pain of goodbye. However, I wonder if – just as tattoos can be used to make painful reminders into something beautiful – this community too can transform this experience into a shared memory of learning to heal. My hope, using trauma-informed practices, is that we can collectively face a dying process with kindness and find our scars transformed. The cracks where the lights get in[1] guiding our footsteps to whatever the future might hold.

[1] Leonard Cohen, of course.

St Peter's House, before this latest chapter of the building's life, and before Milk & Honey.

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