Voices

This is not your average church/ theology blog. It is an attempt to communicate the grittiness, complexity, uniqueness and beauty of the inner city life and what mission looks like in this context, through the stories and reflections of our teams. If you want an insight into what urban mission looks like in real life on a day to day level, take a look!

If you would like to contribute to Voices, please get in touch: rowena@urbanexpression.org.uk

A Parable about Darkness

I was sitting alone, in the dark. In front of me I could see nothing, save for my breath misting out before my eyes in the cold air. There was an emptiness about this place, a feeling I couldn’t shake. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want to be in the dark.

I sat for some minutes. Too afraid to stand, too afraid to move. And after a while, there was a voice. At first I wondered if it had been my imagination, for it was so low I could barely hear it. But as the seconds wore on, the voice steadily grew louder, or at least, I found myself more able to hear it. At first I was unable to make out the words, but could hear there was a sweetness to it, and it made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. It was velvety, luxurious, golden. As it got clearer I could make out the words. “Follow me” it said. “Follow me and I will switch the light on for you. Follow me and I will switch the light on and you will know all things. Follow me and I will show you the truth. All you need to do is follow”

As I was about to stand I heard another sound, a different voice becoming clear in the oppressive silence. This was different from the last; hard and coarse and strong like an un-plained piece of wood. It was saying something different. “I’m not asking you to follow me,” it said “and I can’t provide a light for you to see. But I can promise to always hold your hand and walk through the darkness with you.”

So there I was, faced with two choices. To follow in the light, or to be accompanied in the dark. Slowly, I held out my hand. Just as I was wondering if I should say something (for how would the voices know which I’d chosen?), a rough hand grasped mine. Its skin was hard, like that of a workman, and yet I found it strangely comforting. We walked together for some time, chattering often at first, but then after a while we walked in silence more and more. As I stumbled and felt my way through the darkness, hand in hand with this… stranger, I wondered if I’d made the right decision. I asked the voice regularly why it wouldn’t switch the light on. “The other voice offered me light… why did I choose this darkness?” I would ask.

More and more, as the days went on, I argued with the voice, resenting it for keeping me in the dark, asking what truth it was keeping from me that the other voice had offered.

Finally one day I snapped. Unable to take the overbearing darkness any more, I stopped, and demanded to know why it was necessary to walk in the dark, what truth it was that was being kept from me.

The voice was quiet for a moment. I held my breath, and realised how terrified I was that the voice would leave me. “You wish for me to tell you the truth?” the voice asked me. “I have walked with you hand in hand in the darkness all this time because the truth is, my friend, the light is already on.”

Posted by Rowena Wilding, Welsh House Farm

One Word

Recently, whilst taking my best friend’s funeral, we gave postie notes to the hundreds of people gathered and invited them to write down just one word about my friend. These were later turned into the above word diagram….

Today I wanted  to give just one word each to a number of people I presently engage with in my local community….

kind

caring

loving

honest

vulnerable

fiery

single-minded

determined

tenacious

generous

giving

passionate

focused

skilful

creative

quirky

solid

servant hearted

faithful

fun

gritty

beautiful

resilient

Now to learn how to use Wordle….

 

Richard Shorter, Harold Hill

Vigils for a Hero

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“… He was the ultimate example… showing love, and compassion….” I said. She nodded her head as both of our eyes became moist once again…

Following the beheading of our local Eccles taxi driver, I was in conversation with one of his fellow taxi drivers, also a neighbour and friend taking care of the family dog as the family are thrown into the public realm.

She talked of her last conversation with him, as he prepared to go on what was to be his last mission, both his and her eyes were moist. Now, thinking of him again, she nodded in recognition at my words – words I had read that morning in the paper ‘Good Society’, words written about Jesus.

Ricoeur, so I am told, observed that while life is simply lived, we attempt to make meaning of life’s events only after the fact. This I recognise in our grieving community. Telling and retelling, constructing and reconstructing  our individual and communal  stories. Like the four gospel stories, trying  to make sense of the life, suffering, and death of Jesus, we are trying to do similar!

The storytelling is happening in different forms. The yellow ribbons cladding streetlights from one end of the town to the other, excluded at the silent space of the local mosque and the streets where the Yemini community dwell. Likewise, the grassroots vigils held on Sunday nights on the local rec, have now become places to reflect and remember.  In the town centre at the Cross, opposite the taxi rank of subdued taxi drivers,  the communal story continues, and is a focus with its hundreds of flowers and cards, and the occasional box of pampers – symbolising our humanitarian aid worker, and a mobile phone on a wooden plaque telling the simple story of ‘Gadget’ our local hero.

Holding a Syrian child in his arms, he invites us to a human response and challenges  our religious and racist prejudices, and all the other unnamed and unrecognised prejudices and fears.

The Christians have got it right, some of the time, as the Churches Together gave a rapid response holding a service of reflection in the local parish church, and opening the church doors for the week offering a place for the lighting of candles, prayers and silence, as local people poured in to sign the book of condolences, creating space to tell the ongoing story. And I find space to  remember my own story of family brutality and understand that we weep for now,  but we are also expressing layers upon layers of unresolved  individual and communal grief  in the story of life.

I am touched by the bravery of Barbara, Alan’s wife, and Lucy and Adam, his children, in the public eye: at the grassroots vigils they seem at home in, alongside embracing new found Christian and Muslim friends, with dignity and vulnerability at a memorial service held, beyond the town, at the British Muslim Heritage Centre, a service organised by friends and humanitarian aid colleagues.

It’s Monday morning, at the gym, class is cancelled, this creates time, before too long I am embracing my Muslim friend, and we weep. She too is a neighbour to our hero, as are her children, she too cares about the children of Syria…. she too is full of love and compassion.

Angie Tunstall, Eccles, Manchester

Free Runners

What I love about free runners is the way that they interact with the environment around them.  A bench isn’t for sitting, curb’s aren’t for standing behind whilst watching for if it’s safe to cross and fences are definitely not for keeping people out.  I also love the way our young people interact with the urban environment.  They challenge the systems of order and control.  People’s driveways become goal posts, curbs become targets for bouncing balls off and benches are used for pretty much anything other than sitting on.

I want my expression of spirituality and faith in my estate to be like a free runner.  It’s time to break away from the rigid models and ideas, get away from buildings, 19.45 meetings, memberships etc.  It’s time to re understand how communities are connecting with God, particularly those communities who are most marginalised in our society.  tumblr_inline_n79ct7XSgV1sinbex