Saturday, 6 March 2004

Touring the estates

I’m beginning a round of tours of sites of special interest. Not historic architecture, or places of pilgrimage, or the nature reserves of east London, but places where I can compare my own working environment with other people’s.

In November I took responsibility (no, surely some of the responsibility belongs elsewhere) for a church-and-community-centre, one of a number in the surrounding area, and a hybrid well-known elsewhere. And my tour is of other urban churches which use this combination as a way of adapting the sites and/or buildings bequeathed us by the Victorians, in order to finance our continuing presence in the city and offer service to our neighbours.

I want to learn from the way other people and places do it, but more than that I want to underpin what we do here with some theological thinking. I want, at least, to know what the questions are — which came first, the need for money or the understanding of service? How do we identify the nature of that service — by responding to whatever regeneration pot is best filled, or by identifying the greatest need? What are the ethical issues around competing with other worthy causes for what money there is? Do I/we declare the building a no-smoking zone in the interest of abundant life, or say ‘yes’ to the single mothers and the street people who find it a safe haven? And, biggest question of all, how do the people who worship on Sunday relate to the weekday users?

A lot of the questions circle round the ancient counterpoint of immanence and transcendence — how do we hold the two together, and make evident the holiness both of the day centre for adults with learning difficulties and of our gathering as the people of God?

Answers on a postcard, please!

Posted by Jane Freeman on Saturday, 6 March 2004 at 2:27pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking

Why not ask people with learning disabilities what works in their spiritual/emotional lives, what best speaks to them?

Posted by: calevarda on Sunday, 14 March 2004 at 3:21pm GMT

My inner-city parish of St Mary Magdalene's has a strong calling to care for those in our city who are homeless/marginalised/addicted/in trouble with the law.
We have a Saturday Night Drop in Centre which provides a free hot meal for patrons, an emergency assistance centre that hands out food parcels, an op-shop, an annual church service for those who have died homeless, a meeting place for narcotics anonymous, etc etc.
Why not drop by the "website": You might read something that connects with you, or see someone you'd like to exchange thoughts with via email.

Posted by: Stephanie Edwards on Saturday, 20 March 2004 at 12:15pm GMT

The little unseen acts of love, unspectacular, unproclaimed, are the flow of God, in giving, in receiving, in encountering... letting God live in us, finding God's goodness in the quiet flow of our lives.

God is not simply here or there : God is in the flow and exchange of loving kindness. In the drop-in centre, in the worship in church.

We instinctively try to pin down this flow, to hold it, control it. But the love of God is in constant flow (even in the stillness).

Few things are so free and real as the unseen acts of kindness, done to us or done by us, without agenda, without condition or underlying objective... then God joyfully and wholly lives in us, and the reality and grace are, simply, good.

Our worship in church or encounter with the transcendant - it is not something separate as far as I can see... the touch of reality is in the flow of the encounter, either in church, in action, or on a mountain top... and we may become aware of either through the opening heart of a quiet spirit.

While much of God remains hidden and reclusive and mysterious (and darkly lovely?), we also find a sort of familiarity with his intelligent, quiet kindness and presence...

The actions in the community (which are often far from sentimental and far from easy), and what we in turn receive in these encounters, remind us and help us to recognise the love and personality of God...

Not intellectually, not easily defined, but in the momentary flow, the simple ordinariness of being kind and quiet and gentle (with others and with ourselves).

It is easy to forget, because God is so extraordinary, how ordinary and familiar he is as well... and in the ordinary straightforward encounters with people around us, his love can flow, in a simplicity, in a wholeness of its own.

Sometimes knowledge comes to us whole, imparted, not worked out - just true... I think unseen love in action sometimes operates like that... we recognise, and know without understanding how we know.

All our lives are in flow and movement, passing like flickers of sunlight on the surface of water, and so soon gone. Instead of holding on, perhaps we should let go and seek the flow which carries your life and her life and my life...

And let God touch us.

In the flow we may know this touch and so may the people we encounter.

And community engagement, day-to-day service and kindness (and receiving from others ourselves), is very much the reality and flow of God.

God far off, and God nearby, God immanent and transcendant, inviting us to open our hearts and encounter (in all kinds of ways)...

These words - just intuitive feelings - offered as part of much more which others could say.

Richard Henderson

Posted by: Richard Henderson on Saturday, 17 April 2004 at 3:41pm BST