A faith journey: Barry Clarke’s story

Barry Celti

Barry pic‘Our life up here has been wonderful,’ Barry tells me. ‘An absolute delight in every way.’

‘So that’s my story,’ he concludes, smiling.

I’m talking to Barry Clarke. Barry lives in Moray, having moved from England with his wife some years ago. He’s a friend of Iain Todd, and follows the Hilton Church blog, and he got in touch after we published Peter Naulls’ story at the end of last year.

Barry really appreciated Peter’s story.  He sees the need for Christian men to do things together, get to know one another and ‘create natural, manly friendships.’ It’s particularly important, he thinks, for men to share the story of their journeys and of how those journeys have changed them. They ‘need to encourage one another in an everyday way.’

Sensing that Barry himself has a story of journeying to share, I invite him to meet me at Dobbies, and we chat over coffee.

‘I nearly destroyed my life, my health, my family’

Barry attended an Anglican Church as a child. Family life on Sundays revolved round the church – his father was a lay reader; he was an altar boy and sang in the choir. ‘Did I do Sundays in a big way!’ But he admits that at that point religion was more about external ritual than deep inner significance. As a young man, he drifted away from church and faith.

Barry found a job in sales with a motor caravan manufacturer, and this involved him in travelling, sales meetings, and entertaining customers. By the time he was in his 30s, he was married with two young children. ‘They were good times, they were happy times, they were successful times, but they were also troubling times.’

His lifestyle was taking its toll. Because he was forever entertaining, alcohol became ‘a way of life.’

‘I nearly destroyed my life, my health my family,’ he admits. And yet it was this crisis which brought him back to his Christian roots.

He met a couple who, having worked with the London City Mission had settled in Shropshire where the Clarkes were living.  They introduced Barry to the writings of Selwyn Hughes, in particular to the daily Bible guide Every Day with Jesus. He spent time with them reading and discussing the Bible, and for the first time faith became really meaningful to him.

The Journey Begins

And so the journey began for Barry.  Years ago, he says, we were told that there was only one way of being a Christian, and you didn’t journey. Now we realise that each of us is indeed on a spiritual journey towards understanding – we each are led forward in ways appropriate to who we uniquely are.

Barry’s journey saw him encountering many different Christian traditions.  He was involved with the House Church Movement, and the charismatic Telford Full Gospel Businessmen’s Fellowship, before finding a home in a Baptist Church.  He attended evangelical festivals of teaching and worship such as Spring Harvest and the Keswick Convention. ‘I was growing all the time, and exploring and learning.’

Barry was impressed with the Baptist Church he attended. He appreciated finding fellowship with people of like minds. He particularly appreciated the emphasis on prayer and the studying of Scripture – these things came before anything else, and the life of the church was almost secondary to them.

About 15 years ago he was baptised. ‘I did it because I felt I needed to make that commitment to the God of my understanding, to the Lord Jesus. It just felt so right, that the time had come to make a commitment, a public commitment, but between me and my Lord.’

Work as ‘a means to an end’

The caravan company whom he’d served loyally and effectively for 25 years refocussed its marketing strategy, and dispensed with his post and that of a colleague. ‘I thought loyalty was everything: but it wasn’t,’ Barry says sadly but without bitterness. He was devastated to be made redundant, but says that through this experience he learned that ‘work is a means to an end rather than the be-all-and-end-all.’

Thereafter, Barry was self-employed, involved in a number of projects – including building wooden doocots.

Christian priorities

About seven years ago, he and his wife moved north to be near their daughter who is an Occupational Therapist in Elgin and wife of a Gordonstoun housemaster.  Their son is Team Lead for Agriculture at the Duchy College in Cornwall. They have five grandchildren.

Barry is clear on the priority of the family in our lives as Christians. ‘Jesus comes first, family comes second, and church comes third.’ To put church after Jesus, but before your family is ‘wrong, totally wrong,’ he says.

Finding fellowship

Barry IonaAfter the move, Barry began attending a local Church, but he was disappointed that the small group of leaders seemed to see it as ‘their’ church, and didn’t, he felt, truly serve either the church or the community. He was also disappointed by what he saw as the insularity of churches in Moray. Contrary to what he’d been used to in the south, churches of different denominations didn’t pray together, network, or support one another in any way. ‘They were retaining territory, and I found that really, really hard.’ As a result of this, he currently chooses not to belong to any particular church, though he enjoys partaking of the Eucharist (communion) at a local Scottish Episcopal Church each week, followed by a Bible study.

Barry NorthumbriaBarry says ‘Having been set free from the constraint of the traditions, I’m finding myself being enlightened and encouraged out-with them.’ He is involved in both the Northumbrian Community, and the Iona Community.

Three lessons

In recent years has learned three key lessons:

His explorations of early Celtic Christianity, the example of Christian traditions such as the Anabaptists and Mennonites, and reading Donald Kraybell’s book The Upside Down Kingdom showed him that authentic Christianity was ‘every-day meaningful.’  ’The Lord didn’t so much say (as churches often do) ‘this is what you should believe’) ; instead he taught revolutionary ideas which showed a new, liberating way of being and living, pointing the way to a transformed society.’

Barry KraybellAnd then Barry realised that it’s possible to be ‘in community in the world’, supported by the Iona and Northumbria Communities, but free ‘to play a part in the local community and have a say in what is going on in our world, based on what the Lord would do it he was here.’  It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when we look at the needs around us, let alone the need in the world as a whole. Barry was encouraged when someone reminded him that ‘it’s the little things that count, and if we all do the little things, the big things will happen.’

Thirdly, Barry has learned to be open to people from other Christian traditions and other faiths, listening respectfully to their stories of the faith journey.  Years ago, he thought that some of the beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church were ‘so wrong.’  But then was impressed by the fact that his Catholic friends were actually thinking differently. ‘They were activists. They were out down at Faslane. They were out with the Ban the Bomb.  They were strong.   Their faith had inspired me.’ This in turn made him open to the teaching of the American Franciscan priest Richard Rohr of The Centre for Action and Contemplation whom, he believes, shows us ‘the Christian way as many of us feel it should be.’

 

 

Unchanging comvictions

What I want to know is whether, in the course of his own journeying and his embracing of lessons from the journeys of others his theological understanding has changed. ‘No,’ he tells me. His journey has led him to question many things, and to think ‘outside the box’, but the result has been to confirm him in his existing beliefs. As an example, he talked about encountering a group at the Findhorn Community, a church who believed in God, but had no understanding of the Trinity.  ‘I thought “Could I belong to that church?”  And I couldn’t. The Trinity is so foundational. And once you start denying the Trinity, it all falls apart.’

Barry concludes ‘I think as long as we stay within the path, prayerful and with scriptural roots, we will continue to grow.’

‘Fidelity to a person’

Walls 4Finally, as the buzz of conversation around us in Dobbies grows ever-stronger, Barry quotes the following quotation from Richard Walls which he’d seen in that day’s reading from the Northumbrian Community’s Celtic Daily Prayer:

As soon as you move away from the person of Christ, as soon as you move away from that divine humanity, you’re sunk in every direction. This whole business is not really about the theological perception of the church; it’s about fidelity to a person. The big problem for the 21st century is going to be the divisive force of religion and nationalism…If the gospel can’t get itself out of religion, in the sense of this imperial, triumphal, divisive stuff, then it’s not going to be faithfully preached and proclaimed. If anybody asks me what is the purpose of my life as I see it now, I would say it’s to contribute, in however small a way, to getting the gospel seen as transcendent to human religion.

These words were so relevant to the theme of our conversation. Barry Clarke’s journey has lead him to see more clearly and to embrace more fully the transformational power of the life and message of Jesus Christ.

(See here for a report of a sermon from Philip Noble which, towards the end, refers to Roland Walls.)

 

 

 

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