SALES of a sewing pattern for a women’s clerical top are helping to fund St Clare’s at the Cathedral: a pioneer church community launched in 2017 by the Revd Charlotte Gale and the Revd Naomi Nixon, and based in the old gift shop at Coventry Cathedral.
Ms Nixon, who is also the chief executive of the Student Christian Movement, designed the “St Lydia” top, described as “a comfy clerical tee, easy fitting, sitting close across the neckline and flaring out generously over the tummy and hips”.
Her ready-to-wear clerical tops, which she makes on Saturdays, are snapped up as soon as they are posted online. The pattern has sold so well since the launch three weeks ago that it has already been reprinted. It can either arrive in the post or be downloaded as a pdf.
She had been making the tops for a couple of years, and, when the first lockdown came, she saw the next step as empowering women who sewed to make their own. The pattern, named in honour of St Paul’s first convert,, a trader in cloth, is classified in the language of the sewing world as for “adventurous beginners”.
Both women were ordained in 2001, and recall the early days of clerical dress for women, limited at first to the adaptation of men’s shirts. Finding ready-to-wear products was largely impossible, or they took two or three months to be delivered; some of the early designs were both outdated and expensive, Ms Gale recalls. She is a full-time pioneer minster of St Clare’s and a General Synod member.
The response to the “St Lydia” had been amazing, as had the whole “rollercoaster” experience of setting up the community, she said on Tuesday. The vision for St Clare’s as “a home to the spiritually seeking, to those who have wandered away from God, to those who never knew him, and to those who have lost their faith in the Church” was being fulfilled in ways that they had not imagined. The gift shop had truly become a place of encounter and mission.
The shop is both a space for selling church supplies — it is the only Christian-resources shop in Coventry, also selling ethically sourced gifts — and a worshipping space for the small and diverse community of largely younger people who have been drawn to its ministry.
“When the shop space between the ruins and the new cathedral became available, we realised there was a potential for a really wonderful partnership. The diocese and cathedral’s vision and ours really fitted together,” Ms Gale said.
CHARLOTTE GALEA clerical top made using the “St Lydia” pattern
“For pioneer ministry to be long and sustainable, you can’t expect a small group of people to fund the cost of full-time ministry. We have to find other routes of income. So the shop was quite a pragmatic decision to start with, but has become an extraordinary ministry and a blessing.”
The women launched an online shop in November 2019, mainly to sell the clerical tops. “I was beginning to get to grips with running an online shop, and then we put energy into expanding it,” Ms Gale said. “Now, it is a much bigger enterprise than it was going to be.
“It has really sustained us. It’s going to be exciting going back to being both a real and an online shop. Before lockdown, we were mainly a physical shop with an online presence, and now we are an online shop with a physical presence.
“God has been so gracious. I never imagined that I would suddenly find myself a Pioneer minister doing something so different. It has just been so joyful, and we feel incredibly blessed.”