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.