We love hearing stories of how people encounter God as they spend time in His presence here at Ffald y Brenin. Ruth Rice first came to Ffald y Brenin several years ago, and what she experienced has had the most wonderful domino effect across the UK. Ruth is the founder of the charity Renew Wellbeing, and Clive sat down with her during her stay to hear the story!
You can listen to the audio interview below, or follow the transcribed words (slightly altered for a good reading experience).
Can you tell us what Renew Wellbeing is?
It’s a national charity. It started with one little space up in Nottingham, where “it’s okay not to be okay.” It sort of came out of my own mental and emotional breakdown, when I needed a place where I could attend to rhythms of prayer. I’d learned it in places like Ffald y Brenin and other retreat centres. I wanted somewhere on the High Street where I could just attend to my own wellbeing, but let other people join in.
When I’ve not been well, I’d forget I was a human being and I needed to do hobbies and stuff. Everything was just work! I needed a community with whom to slow down really. And so the idea was of a space that felt like a shared front room – looks like a cafe – where you can come and bring a hobby, share a hobby, any faith and none. Anyone can teach one another something that’s good for wellbeing.
It’s also a prayer space where you can just pause and pray at any point, but then there are some led times of prayer during the session. I talk about ‘3 P’s’:
- Be present
- Be prayerful
- Be in partnership with the mental health services
The third P is because when I had not been well, I just took far too long to go and find help – I was embarrassed because I was a Christian leader. I didn’t think people were supposed to fall apart like that. Took me too long, and the clinical setting was hard, you know? So I thought, what about if you could get a bit of advice off the record? What about if we knew how to signpost people for the help that they needed?
So, the first space opened six years ago in Nottingham, run by New Life Baptist Church, which I was leading at the time. It was just delightful. We’d just rock up, bring a hobby, share a hobby… people would just turn up, be together, and then we’d go, “We’re going to do prayer now, does anyone want to join in?” It’s amazing how many people wanted to pray. Really simple prayer rhythms that anyone could join in with. And the mental health services loved it!
The year after we’d set it up, it became obvious other churches wanted in on it because they were like, “What is this?” This seemed to be quite good for leaders as well because I could just sit down and be human as well in the middle of it! We set up the second one and then it became obvious I needed to step back from leading a church to be able to give my time to this. God made that very clear – here [at Ffald y Brenin] in fact.
So really Renew Wellbeing was born about five years ago as a charity that helps churches set up those sort of spaces. Each one looks a bit different. Some are a couple of hours a week some are a couple of days a week. Some are in church buildings, some are on allotments, some are in disused betting shops! We’ve got all sorts: some are ecumenical, some are just one church running them, but they’ve all got prayerfulness, presence, and partnership.
And then we keep a really strong network link between the centres. We pray together online. There are 150 spaces nationally now and it’s growing every day. So we’re excited to seen churches slowing down and showing up and praying freely. We have the seven of us as team that work coordinating across the different places. So yeah, it’s lovely.
So Ffald y Brenin played a part in this story. Tell us about that.
I’d sort of come back to some degree of health with my mental and emotional health, but I’d had a weird accident on a bouncy castle which is a story for another day! It meant that I was looking at some long term chronic ill health.
I had read about Ffald y Brenin and… to be honest, I’m brought up brethren so I was a bit sceptical when I read about miracles and stuff happening. I came down here for a day from Nottingham, a little bit sceptical, and God encountered me here. Of course he did. And he could have done that at home I think! But I came here with an expectation of disproving his miraculous power, and he met with me quite powerfully here, and I was healed.
But also I saw these rhythms of prayer in action in a way that I hadn’t really seen before. When I’ve not been well, I knew I needed something deeper and more contemplative, but it was here that I saw shared rhythms of prayer and thought, oh, now that’s good, because it’s quite hard to attend to stuff on your own.
I can remember driving back from Ffald y Brenin, and the more I drove on the 500 mile round trip to Nottingham, the more irritated I got that I’d had to drive 500 miles to find the presence of God when I’m leading a church, for goodness sake, what am I doing being busy, if we are not hosting the presence of God in a way that anyone can come and join in? I think I say in my book nobody got a Ffald y Brenin moment for along time because I was so irritated!
I do believe there are places that are thin places. This is one of those for me, but actually why could every place not be a thin place? The presence of God, that is, is everywhere and in where the people of God prioritise His presence.
So yeah, this was important for that. I then brought the team that I was leading within the church back here. And we all stood at the High Cross. And I remember one of them was a little bit sceptical saying, ‘we we need to have a place of prayer on the High Street.’ And that was where Renew 37 was born – not as a drop in centre for mental health but as a prayer movement.
Now, if you can have two spaces next to each other [ie: a café and a prayer space] it enables people to come across prayer in a way they might never stumble across this place. I think that’s where my irritation is. There were people who really needed to encounter God. I say it’s like the volume’s turned down on everything else when you get here, so you can hear God really clearly.
People need that so much and some of the folks I was talking with and dealing with who were really poorly with their mental health, they’re never going to come to church. I can’t bring them here, and just thought, wouldn’t it be great if when you went to get a loaf of bread you happened upon a prayer space that was for you and attached to it a, you know, a normal sort of looking space? A cafe type space, means people can wander in, join in and they might be coming for a year or two before they ever come through to the prayer room. But we’re there, and we’re praying in full view. We’re retreating in daily life. So Ffald y Brenin has been key for me to see that it wasn’t really the miracles and the miraculous healing, even though that was why I thought what I came for.
For what I learned here was this: This is it’s not a magic place. This is where God’s presence has been prioritised for many years. And I think it’s what he’s calling his church into just to prioritise prayer to slow down and to invite people to pray with us not to pray for people necessarily. Even just pray with us. This is how we pray. I don’t think there’s a greater priority on the church at the moment. And mostly I don’t think the church is okay either. We know with the pandemic we’ve been through that we haven’t got loads of wellbeing to hand out in bags behind the counter. We need to dwell in his presence ourselves and invite people to dwell with us.
And they want to. People need a bigger story. Want a bigger story right now. So I’m so grateful for this place. It’s been five years since I’ve been here and I realised, coming back, how much my heart has changed with the daily rhythms of prayer, with the places of prayer. And so I love coming here still, but it is like you can pull off a chunk and take it home with you.
What’s the second book about?
The first book is called Slow Down Show Up, Pray. That’s the story of Renew Wellbeing, and my story, and the manual of how to set up a centre. The second book, [A-Z of Wellbeing] is a bit like a prequel. Because I realised I hadn’t explained clearly enough what I think wellbeing is and so this is like 26 ways to think about wellbeing. It’s encouraging people to think about it…
Wellbeing is one of those buzzwords at the moment, and my husband works for the City Council in IT and every Wednesday it pops up on his screen. “Wellbeing Wednesday.” And I said well, what’s that mean? Absolutely nothing, he said. It’s just a thing that they put on the screen. And I think sometimes the church can fall into that. We don’t really know what wellbeing looks like.
It’s not in our diaries. It’s not in our habits. We’re prioritising other values. This is quite personal for me. This is what I believe wellbeing looks like for me. It’s 26 letters, 26 words and I use the five ways to wellbeing. That’s coming out of a new economics foundation with government funding and did some big research about 12 years ago, and the things that people said help with their well being were:
- getting active
- taking notice
So I use those five ways with each letter, to say look, this is how you can connect with God. This is something you can learn. This is what it looks like in practise. This is how you can reflect on it, and then in the giving section I give a prayer and some resources and some questions for discussion with the hope that this book will enable churches and people who are not church to explore their own landscape of well being and to be able to share it.
You can purchase Slow Down, Shop Up, Pray and A-Z of Wellbeing in our shop. If you would like to learn more about Renew Wellbeing, you can do so here.