More or less Dense

Celebration - A thank you!Deep urban inner city estates and deep rural countryside make unlikely bedfellows. But beyond both having rather more barbed wire than I like to admit, they do have their similarities – something which struck me forcibly in my recent foray northwards. They face very similar roots of problems – breakdown of community, lack of facilities, poverty, dismal local economies.

Of course, one is far prettier than the other (it’s my blog, and if I want to be blatantly biased, I shall be). But in many of the communities I visited, there is no outside money coming in. There is no major local employer. And even if someone manages to start a business, the local people don’t necessarily have the cash to support it. The last voluntary organisation left in many of these places is the Church of England, there because it is the established church, there for its non-members (on this blog if someone says they are a member of the COfE then they are. My blog, my rules.) The Church of England parish system means that it can’t leave an area to sink or swim.

There are unseen similarities too. The most insidious, to my mind, is a poverty of aspiration. Of course, if you don’t know where the next meal is coming from, then you are unlikely to be in a position to dream of much beyond that. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs contains a great deal of truth. If the place where your family has lived for perhaps two or three generations is all you know, is your home where your roots are, than why should you have to move? But if all you can hope for is to eek out an existence, that is poverty indeed. Urban estates and remote rural villages share a sense of being the communities on the edges, the neglected places, the “here be dragons” regions on mental maps.

So the Church of England (being part of the body of Christ) tries to shine the light of Christ into these unloved regions. We saw a school which was providing hope to a generation of young people in a place where there was nothing. We were told of the need for much earlier contact with parents – because only 7% of the three year olds starting at their preschools had normal or better speech and language development.  We saw a church investing in community workshops and retail units so that they could be let at lower rents, to try to encourage local entrepreneurs.

The only difference really between deep urban estates and deep rural villages is the density of need. But behind each need, there is a person, struggling to do their best. Here is our calling. Here is where we can act.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”.

Church can maybe, just maybe, be part of the Kingdom on earth. We, as part of the body of Christ, can share a bit of hope, a bit of care, and a lot of God’s love. The density doesn’t matter.

2 responses to “More or less Dense

  1. You’re quite right. Even in the Kent countryside around Canterbury, there are area’s of rural deprivation. Surrounded by beautiful countryside, many who once worked on the land or in local industries are redundant and reliant upon benefits. Cutoff from larger communities by a lack of regular public transport and some even unable to afford shoes for their children, let alone the uniforms demanded of them for school.

    One of our parishes is in this position, unable to pay it’s quota, but filled with vibrant young families, somehow scratching a living on benefits and charity, which thankfully comes from the wider benefice. They’ve been a local mission area within the benefice for the past three years – and people have responded by helping where they can, but still, jobs are scare and money is tight. The percentage from that one village on free school meals is around 70%, which speaks for itself.

    I’ve been waiting for the Church to show some initiative in terms of local action, without a great deal of hope, because they rely on someone in the church coming forward with schemes that they can support, but there isn’t sufficient lay leadership or people with the ‘get up and go’ to make this happen. I’m not a lot of use as I live 54 miles away, so local involvement is diluted by my absence day to day.

    I’m sure that there are opportunities that could be worked on on a community basis, and some signs of that are coming slowly from several local families, but they need leadership and focus, which the church could provide, but without a Vicar and the wider benefice engaged in merger with another 4 church benefice, they are a low priority against holding the benefice together, getting a new Vicar in post and trying to bring the new one aboard. Just to complicate things, a merger between two deaneries is proposed and a further cuts in stipended ministers is anticipated – just how are people supposed to cope with all this unless diocese gets on board. Sadly, the signs of that are not hopeful.

    I’m leaving the benefice in the new year. I’ll be sad to go, I love the people there, but all of my efforts have really come to naught as diocese has refused to allow me to train for anything worthwhile and have just about abandoned me to my own devices. Why would I stay where I can offer little in reality and where diocese sees no worth in any vocation I might have??

    The parish I’m moving too is just up the road to where I live. It’s in an area of urban deprivation – but the key difference is one priest, one church and a very active ecumenical sharing between local churches together. I’m amazed at the work they’re doing and they’ve held out a hand to me, open ended to join them and see where i can serve. Training will be offered and there will be support from what for me, is a large ministry team of two retired priests and two readers and about seven authorised pastoral assistants, evangelists etc. They are proactive, not reactive and offer hope and love, with an increasing attendance. They have a local ministry to ethnic minorities and a specific one to the local Roma community. Why wouldn’t I take up such an offer?

    God is working differently among the Churches, some are just surviving but others are thriving and if I’m honest the differences seems to be down to either a vision held and shared and one where there is no vision whatsoever, or if there is one, it’s kept behind the locked doors of the PCC’s never to see the light of day.

  2. Thanks for these reflections, Claire.
    Similarities between deeply urban & deeply rural have been noted before, but you highlight them really well in current terms – especially your description of “a poverty of aspiration”.

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