Suzanne Bunniss has led FireCloud, a lay Catholic organisation in Clydebank, for 15 years and believes the Church could do more to nurture those with new ideas.
It is sunset in St Monan’s harbour and time to commit to writing something of what I’ve learned from 15 years of FireCloud. If I don’t get it down now, I will miss this publication deadline and fur-
ther frustrate the compassionate editor. I’m finding it hard to summarise. First,
I’ve learned so much from the loving wisdom and experience of everyone who participates in the FireCloud community; it is impossible to convey my gratefulness to all those who are on this journey with me. Second, some of what we’ve learned about working together in real community is unrepeatable in such a worthy publication… I joke, of course! With those disclaimers, I’ll do my best to share a little of our story as FireCloud turns 15.
In February 2007, I founded FireCloud with some hopeful friends. Unlikely as it sounds, the name came to me in a dream and is inspired by the passage of Exodus (13:21). Today, we are a community of lay Catholics and friends based in Clyde- bank, with people drawn largely from in and around Glasgow. Our mission is to use every imaginative means to help others know they are gifted by God and called to unique and wonderful voca- tional stories of their own with Him. Most fundamentally, we want people to know their lives matter. For me, FireCloud was and is a calling. In my twenties, I read the Church’s vision for lay people and was inspired. I have always loved the teaching of the Church that it is the job of lay people to transform the temporal world; that lay people can carry the light of Christ to the places the Church can’t reach and to the people with which it has no relationship. We, ‘every- day’ Catholics, can be there in those dark- est spaces and conversations, carrying God within us through the power of the Holy Spirit. We can go where the Church has no presence and literally embody the love of God for the people who need it most. I heard this call of the Church for lay people to take ownership of their baptismal promises and was gripped by the idea of living a life of vocational fullness. My doctoral research gave me the chance to put these ideas under the spotlight and the vision for FireCloud emerged.
Perhaps the first thing I learned with FireCloud is that the Church in Scotland doesn’t always know what to do with people whose vocational desire is passion- ate, big and doesn’t sound like religious life or family life. I knew I had the free- dom to discern my vocational prompting and the right to build it, but it can take a long time to be taken seriously when the thing God is calling out of you doesn’t
look or feel like what’s already happening. Quickly on the heels of this I learned that I didn’t really know how to navigate the complexities of the Church. I thank God for the wonderful priests, religious and experienced lay friends who still teach me so much about how the institution of the Catholic Church sees herself and how FireCloud belongs in that picture.
Next, I learned that many people want a better world and a chance to contribute. I am overwhelmed, often, when I see the generosity of time, resources, talent and effort people commit to help FireCloud grow; our volunteers and friends have given so much over the years without seeming to count the cost.
At FireCloud, the events, projects, ideas and ministry we offer are the unique prod- uct of those committed souls who show up together and build. We are what we are because of the community of people who work, talk, eat, grieve, pray, laugh, learn and sing together at FireCloud. I’ve also learned a warm welcome goes a long way; there is much more power in loving en- counter than elaborate schemes.
Somewhat inevitably, I learned that any act of vocational pursuit doesn’t come without its struggles. It is an intensely vulnerable thing to create something new that has sprung from the voice of the Spirit in your heart and offer it to the world to be scrutinised, embraced or rejected. Leader- ship can have lonely moments and when things don’t go well, which they won’t sometimes, genuine dialogue takes courage from everyone involved. Finally, of course, is the biggest lesson. The playful, steady constant goodness of Jesus is the power behind everything good. It sounds grand, but I honestly feel He has worked a miracle with FireCloud. Where there was nothing, there is now something, and if it is His will, we’ll keep building for many years to come.
Dr Suzanne Bunniss is the Director of FireCloud.