REV RICHARD COLES
Saturday Live presenter and former member of the Communards
Little Gidding, a village in former Huntingdonshire
Little Gidding is so tiny – blink and you’d miss it. It’s significant for two reasons: the poet TS Eliot entitled one of his Four Quartets after it, so he knew and visited this place. But the reason Little Gidding was on the map even before that, was that it was the site of an experiment in Anglican Christian living in the 17th century. Having worked for the failing family business, the Virginia Company, and then in politics, Nicholas Ferrar retreated with his family to Little Gidding to found a Christian community.
Ferrar made an attempt to reconnect the Church of England with its pre-Reformation identity in a time of extreme conflict, just before the Civil War. He wanted to live a life of prayer in this place. His family cared for the sick. They were spiritual but not pious.
It’s a place of extraordinary spiritual significance for me personally, as well as a place of beauty.
TS Eliot got it right about this village…the light, the wind on your skin and hair, the sound of rooks bursting out of the trees. There is something about this place that is both here and now, but also of eternity. It’s a thin place; a place where the membrane between this world and eternity is thin and permeable.
Executive director, anti-FGM charity 28 Too Many
New Wine summer gathering, Somerset
Last summer, I was struggling with a diagnosis of a slipped disc and trapped nerve. I went to see a consultant who told me it was serious and I needed to have surgery. I went to New Wine in a state of shock and anxiety, because as a single person I don’t have somone obvious to care for me. I run a mission organisation, 28 Too Many, which means I regularly travel all across Africa. It doesn’t really go together with being ill.
On the first night at New Wine, John Coles spoke about there being a spirit of expectancy in the place. I felt an improvement in my symptoms. I thought: ‘That’s interesting; I haven’t even asked for prayer.’ Then, midweek, the pastor speaking asked people to pair up – those who wanted healing with those willing to pray. A lady prayed for me who had never prayed for anyone before.
I shut my eyes, and as she prayed, the pain reduced… until it was barely there. When I walked out of the meeting tent we were in, the pain left me altogether. I returned the next day and shared my healing testimony in the meeting.
After New Wine, I cancelled my surgery…and now, apart from when I am on longhaul flights and I need a few Paracetamol, I feel no pain in my neck. I’ve been going to New Wine for ten years, but it will hold greater spiritual significance for me when I return again this summer.
Retired MP and novelist
Buckfast Abbey, Devon, an active Benedictine monastery
What I look for in a holy place is a place of deep quiet. Buckfast Abbey is a place where you can find that.
My favourite part of the abbey is the oldest part of the building; I cannot abide the modern art hung in a side chapel. I love the thought that this place is used all the time by monks – it will be used for Lauds before most of us have even woken up, and for Compline when most of us are winding down with some ghastly television in the evening.
Buckfast Abbey is wholly dedicated to the worship of God. When I come here for Sunday mass, which I do from time to time, I feel privileged to be in on something that happens here all the time.
When I leave Buckfast I take with me a greater measure of peace. I come here specifically to pause before I go back out into the world. Everybody needs a safe haven; everybody needs a harbour to come home to after storms at sea. Sometimes it’s your own home, and sometimes it’s a special place apart. That’s what Buckfast is to me.
Responsible for missional communities and apprenticeships, Central Church, Edinburgh
Firth of Forth beach, Edinburgh
I’m a working mum and have been for the past three years. In that time I’ve struggled to find a regular pattern of Sabbath, or devotional time. But last summer God did some big stuff in me and I began to want to carve out more time for him in my week.
Edinburgh is a city, but it also has a coastline along the River Forth. On a Friday I have my one morning a week without children or work, and so I head to the beach there.
AS SHE PRAYED, THE PAIN REDUCED…UNTIL IT WAS BARELY THERE
I came to faith in a seaside town near Edinburgh – the beach seems to be a place where God has made himself real to me before. I meet with God best in a place with the pound of the sea, the expanse of the sky and a lack of distraction away from the busyness of the city.
I take my Bible, journal and any Christian book I might be reading with me... I go there to worship, still myself, be thankful and listen. Those things do my heart a lot of good, and they honour God. There’s something about these times on a Friday morning that isn’t about the location; it’s about the obedience of carving out time and putting God first.
CARDINAL VINCENT NICHOLS
Archbishop of Westminster
The cell in the Tower of London where Thomas More was held for 15 months before his execution on Tower Hill in 1534
Thomas More’s letters suggest that there was a great agony within him over whether to recant his opposition to Henry VIII’s separation from the Catholic Church. But his agony was illuminated and changed by his faith. That kind of dilemma, that living in the tension between the power of this world, and integrity and truthfulness, is exactly what lies at the heart of holiness.
This cell is made holy by the witness of the people who were held here: Thomas More in particular. Not long ago, the Bishop of London and I came into this cell and prayed together. We prayed for the flourishing of the Christian faith in this land. We prayed for reconciliation and unity between our two communities, and we prayed for courage – that those who give witness to the faith would have something of the same gracious, human appreciation that More had for all that God gives.
More understood the importance of family life and the importance of humour. He understood that what God wants of us is a full humanity. He knew that came in the person of Christ, and the gateway to it was being faithful to Christ. That’s what More stood for in this place.
Community worker at Sandylands Methodist Church in Kendal, Cumbria and district youth officer
Lake Windermere, Cumbria
When I stand in places of natural beauty, I’m able to marvel at God’s wonderful creation. I like to preach in the first person and so I love to experience places similar to those in the Bible – as then you can share narrative detail about them when you preach. I recently moved to the Lake District, and so when I’m on or near Lake Windermere I recall New Testament stories, such as Jesus walking on water. I can just see Peter stepping out of the boat, and I reflect on Jesus calming the storm. Because Windermere is similar to the Sea of Galilee – although it’s probably smaller – I can just see myself as one of those disciples in the boat when the storm hits.
I go to Windermere about once a month and walk there. Sometimes the water is very rough, and sometimes still. God speaks to me through that – when it’s rough, it will become calm again. Windermere is certainly a spiritually significant place for me. I come from Manchester and so I don’t take for granted being able to be in such a tranquil place.
Songs of Praise presenter, cattery owner and novelist
St Albans Cathedral, where the first episode of Songs of Praise was filmed
I think holy ground is wherever you have a sense of God. For me, it’s on this great hill where St Alban was taken away and beheaded as the first Christian martyr in this country.
We are inclined to think of holiness as belonging to the saints – those wonderful men and women who were prepared to give up their lives and go through all sorts of hardship and cruelty for their faith. But actually our holy place and our holiness should be where we are. We can’t pretend to be what we’re not, but we should strive always to connect with God, to humbly pray and live each day as a journey with him.
I spend a lot of time in places like St Albans – I look back over the years presenting Songs of Praise and I’ve sat in a lot of churches, large and small, empty and full, up and down the country. There’s been that sense of sitting in a quiet church and feeling very close to God. But to me, God is very much an everyday God. I feel as if my life is a constant prayer. I don’t feel it has to be a set time or place for me to feel close to God because I am aware that he is always close to me.
You can listen to some of these interviews in full. Holy Places airs on Premier Christian Radio, Saturdays, 2pm from 21st June 2014