Claire Holmes has experienced a variety of ecclesiastical styles in her life.
The 58-year-old Lurgan-born woman grew up a member of the Free Presbyterian Church before turning to the Baptist Church. Claire and her husband are now based at their current church - St Macartin’s Cathedral in Enniskillen.
“When we moved to Enniskillen in 1987 we worshipped at the Elim church - first in Enniskillen and then in Brookeborough,” says Claire, who is an active member of both the choir and the praise group at St Macartin’s.
“We started worshiping at St Macartin’s about 11 or 12 years ago - we just felt it was time for change. Quite a change, as I’m sure you can imagine, but one that I certainly feel was God directed and it was this move to the cathedral that got me singing again - and gave me the opportunity to be part of the choir that sang to the Queen at her visit to Enniskillen last June!
“At St Macartin’s I have been able to indulge my love of sacred choral music, wonderful ‘old’ hymns and meaningful worship songs.”
Claire, who is mother to three children, attended the First Presbyterian Church in Lurgan when she was growing up. When she moved to university, she attended a Baptist church.
“When I came back to work in Belfast I went to an evangelical church,” she says. “We have just gone to somewhere local which we felt was the right place for us to worship.”
Claire believes that there are many positive points about getting a taste of the variety of points of view and practises of churches.
“Different churches have different ways of helping believers approaching ways to live out their faith, and they all have their good points and they all have their flaws, because fundamentally, they are human organisations in a way.
“I would make a big distinction between churches and denominations, and the church. To me there is something unchanging in the body of Christ, and it is totally different altogether.”
And she adds: “Looking back, I think I have been at different churches at different times of my life because they offered things that I needed at that particular time.”
Claire reveals that she was 16 when she became a Christian, at a Scripture Union weekend.
“I was brought up to go to church and Sunday School, and my mother read Bible stories to me and we heard a lot about the stories at home. But I didn’t really understand until I went to this SU weekend that to be a Christian was about more than the ‘going to things’ or taking part - that it was quite personal.
“There was part of the evening where we were expected to have quiet time, which was alien to me. When I saw other people on their own praying intimately by themselves, with the Lord, it sort of struck me that this was about more than going to church. That’s when I really made a commitment to God.”
In terms of her current church life, Claire had been going to St Macartin’s for “a while” before she decided she “really wanted to sing in the choir” - despite the fact that the “non-conformist” in her was slightly wary about having to don robes like the other members!
She got used to it, and now finds it “wonderful.”
“I just love being in the choir, I find it incredibly uplifting,” she says.
“I love going to choir practice because if I’ve had a bad day or been feeling tired, and I go out and I come back feeling really inspired.
“Singing is a really inspiring thing to do but it isn’t just that - it’s the praising God. I find the choice of hymns that we’re doing at the moment just wonderful, a beautiful choice of words, thought-provoking language, and just a terribly uplifting experience.
“I also am quite heavily involved in the praise group which was set up some years ago by one of the curates. It would tend to sing more modern pieces. We don’t sing every week, but we sing at special services and at the end of the month.
“We have an awful lot of people from the choir also in the praise group just because they like singing so much and it’s a sort of natural progression. There are a range of ages of people so it is very diverse.”
For Claire, fellowship with other attendees of St Macartin’s is vitally important.
“I think the reason we have changed denomination so much is because we have always wanted to go somewhere that is local and where we felt comfortable and at home,” she says.
“I just don’t think there’s any one place you should be going to or there is any one denomination you should belong to - the beauty of having variety is you find what is right for you at the time.
“However, I wouldn’t like to be the kind of person who doesn’t have any established church and goes to a different place each week, because that’s somebody who has no commitment. But I think it does no harm to look around.
“What you need is a body of believers who have the same sort of outlook and faith as you have; there are some churches I know I would feel uncomfortable with simply because their views would grate a little and be different from the way I choose to live out my life, but it doesn’t make either of us right or wrong, it’s just the difference in human beings.”
And she adds: “I don’t think I could be the kind of person who went to church and sat in the pews - I have to contribute something, and I think you get more from your fellowship if you give something to it. Praise is meant to be a practical thing.”