From 2007 until 2020 Ansty Road was in a joint pastorate with St. Columba’s United Reformed Church situated in the Coventry Canal Basin. With the closure of St. Columba’s in 2020 Ansty Road received the Mission funds that St. Columba’s had received from various sources and committed to continue their work as part of Welcome2ARC.
St. Columba’s began in 1927 when an invitation was made for anyone who wanted to belong to a Presbyterian Church to come together. The growing Scots and Irish communities in Coventry saw it as an opportunity to belong to a church whose style was similar to those they had left and St. Columba’s became a focal point for those communities in Coventry. The Church building was completed in 1931, at which point it stood on Radford Road as it climbed Barr’s Hill. However the road re-alignments of the mid-1960’s left the church on a cul-de-sac which was named St. Columba’s Close and many people will approach it by the “back” entrance on St. Nicholas Street.
It served the local community in a variety of ways. During the 1980’s it forged a relationship with Lifepath (formerly Coventry Homes) with a social and worship gathering for their residents and was home to a Guide Company. In the 1990’s it provided a Community Day Nursery. In 2010’s Life Path moved their Day Opportunities work there, it became a venue for Coventry Winter Night Shelter and developed projects with various partners to provide food and social space for many people in need.
At its heart it was always a place of worship. When the worshipping life of the church became unsustainable we were no longer able to sustain the social outreach and hence the church decided to close on 31 December 2020.
This is the order of service and sermon text for a final service at St. Columba’s. The congregation joined via zoom whilst our minister Craig Muir led it from the church.
Hymn See him lying on a bed of straw
RS 635 Put Peace into each others hands
RS 681 Ye Gates lift up your heads on high
RS 603 Lord for the Years
Master now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.
In Simeon, we see a faithful old man, holding a young baby in his hands. Knowing that whilst his life is coming to an end something new and exciting is emerging. He greets the child, blesses the parents and sets them a new challenge.
In Anna, we see a prophet, who has dedicated her life to fasting and praying, responding to this child by praising God and witnessing to all who would listen that redemption has arrived.
I am delivering this from St. Columba’s. I am alone, looking around at bare bricks, we have removed many of the accumulated chattels. Some have gone to be used elsewhere, some are waiting to be sold, some waiting to go to waste. The records and pictures and plaques will go to archives. The building is left waiting for a new use, perhaps like it did almost 90 years ago when it was newly built.
But for all our attachments to buildings and to objects, churches are really about a community. The people who have been through these doors, sat in these pews, spoken from the pulpit or lectern, shared at the Communion Table. We have known their faithfulness and we give thanks for it, we have benefitted from their care and love, we have laughed, cried, planned together, we have agreed and disagreed, we have celebrated marriage; baptised children and adults; marked funerals, sent people out into new lives in different places. People have come, stayed, moved on. Each has brought something of themselves and something of God to this community, we give thanks for each one. The church was formed to serve the Scots/Irish community but was encouraged to become a local church serving the local community. The Scots/Irish have been the backbone of the congregation and half of the current membership are Scots but there has always been an international flavour that includes the English along with American, Guyanian, German, Polish, Chinese, Japanese, Malawian, Ethiopian and so many others throughout the years.
Through in the vestry the pictures of ten previous Ministers have looked upon me whenever I’m in there. Kirsty and I don’t have our pictures there, I think we always knew we would be the last ministers here – although I was surprised to note I’ve had the second longest term here. Bringing things to an end has seemed to be the natural trajectory – yet I’m proud of all we have achieved here over the last few years, we have not wilted away. As I look at those ministers I know that each has brought different skills and gifts, there have been pastors, teachers, activists and it is interesting to hear the different ways they are remembered by different people. I sometimes wonder what they think of our efforts – I hope we have been able to continue some of the traditions. Working my way through the office deciding what can be archived and what needs to be thrown away I have seen many of the struggles of our predecessors as they sought to serve God in this place – there are familiar themes – how do we be a gathered church and a church to this local community? Perhaps we often fell between both. Which social issues should we be engaged in? Leprosy Mission, Christian Aid, Global Care, Coventry Homes becoming Lifepath Trust. In the end we became the place where vulnerable hungry people were housed, befriended and fed.
The hall has been a place of hospitality and service. The parties, the meals, the coffee mornings, the fetes & garden parties. Scouts, Guides, Nursery, Crucible, Day Opportunities, Night Shelter, a place to feed hungry vulnerable people. This is where faith has been put into so much good action – by ourselves and by others. We give thanks for all who have served this community from this place, and for those who have brought so much energy and joy by their very presence here. The people who came seeking help and stayed to serve others. We give thanks for each of them. Our penultimate activity was a Wednesday Welcome as lockdown came upon us – we fed people and sent them away, the gospel in action.
In so many ways this building has been a faithful witness to God’s goodness, to the grace that comes through Jesus, to the recreating power of the Holy Spirit. It has served it’s purpose and it is time to depart in peace. Like Simeon and Anna it stands at the end of this phase of life, unsure what the future holds but looking to God who blesses us on our way, to lead us into the next phase of life, whatever that will be. Some goods and some money will help support future work at Ansty Road, some contacts and some ideas will be useful for Kirsty’s ongoing work as Church Related Community Worker, people who have been nurtured and sustained by this St. Columba’s will become part of other churches and I know will benefit their life and witness. Like Anna we will tell of our time here, and how God worked through St. Columba’s to bring life to many people and we will continue to pray for this corner of Coventry, that whatever grows here will also bring life and goodness to future days.
If Wednesday Welcome was almost our last activity, then this this act of worship is where we bring things to a close. And so it should be. At its heart this has been a worshipping community from beginning to end. Everything else that has happened here has been underpinned by worship – without the prayers of this community nothing else could have happened and as the congregation become increasing vulnerable, so the time has come to bring our work to an end.
To paraphrase Simeon slightly, Master now you are dismissing your servants in peace, according to your word, for our eyes have seen your salvation.