I am sitting in the beautiful little church of Stonegate in the heart of historic York. I don’t have a camera with me so you will just have to imagine. Ancient architecture darkened with time but enriched with a sense of history. Outside there is a busker sininging ave maria operatic style. It is a creative place where memories unfold into the present day multi dimensional culture.
My meeting at York University ended about thirty minutes ago. We have been talking about how we serve people at the most deprived end of the UK’s social scale, specifically the homeless.
The aim of the conversation was to determine what kind of change steps are needed to ensure those vulnerable to homelessness find a pathway offering hope. Financial security, food, shelter, safe spaces are the basics but what then?
We discussed the concept of “home” and whether this needs to be a much richer concept than simply having a place to go or a family to belong. We imagine home as a place where memories are made and celebrations are held. The walls of a home, like this church in Stonegate, tell the family story which is constantly being retold and enriched. When you find yourself at home your history and culture will change the fabric of the place and new layers of memory laid down.
Going from being homeless to being at home is a profound thing. We felt that deep listening was a good place to start – without the ability to listen. individually and as a society, we will all be poor. When we listen we are doing so in order to allow others to be heard. We are saying let’s appreciate who you are, we want you to be part of us – and more than that we want to be changed by you.
I love the mood of the late afternoon when there’s no-one around. Everyone has gone home and the light is fading. It becomes a private space for slowing down and taking notice of the smallest detail. The pool of light in the sky and the soft shadows in the snow, the gently muted colours.
There are two spaces for contemplation – the place and the memory. What I actually I saw and felt at the time and the later recollection. This image helps me re-connect with that experience; it is not perfect or transferable (you will see something different), but in time it will become more precious as the time and place become more distant.
There’s been a lot written about seeing. On the face of it the act of seeing seems quite straight forward, but the state of mind that allows us to actually notice what’s in front of us is the point of interest.
The discipline of Contemplative Photography draws on the idea that we can see both conceptually and perceptually. The conceptual mind sees categories of things and is preoccupied with ideas, while the perceptual way of seeing is to register what is actually in front of us.
To be perceptive is to suspend our preconceived ideas about what we might see, what we want to see, or any kind of thing that has a label or tricks us; We are not looking for someting.
How does this idea relate to the prejudices we have? Can we suspend our conditioned way of looking at things? Imagine if the filters can be removed and we begin to really see?
Everyone needs a place to think. For me it us usually walking on the moor or in the woods. At other times we need to interact with those around us, in which case the office in Leeds is a good place.
However, doing admin and getting it done there’s no better place that here. I don’t like doing admin so the fewer distractions the better. Having nearly finished it I am rewarding myself with a sandwich on the sofa looking at my desk in the office at home.
This is an image I like. In took it at St Augustine’s in Bradford as The Bread Church was setting up. This is a small congregation made up of local people some of whom don’t have any other connection with the church. There I met Ann Challenger who led the group and has since died. Ann was like a mother figure to the group and each week would oversee the making of bread and the shared meal.
The group was in the process of changing its name to One Table and although the group was not made up of regular worshippers necessarily, this was a group living in a way inspired by the faith of its leader. These everyday activities – making bread, setting the table, eating together – are rituals which can help connect people into the meaning and values of the Christian faith in a way that some church formats struggle.
It was deeply moved by Ann’s little church and the conversations that went on over bread and soup.
We live in an apparently divided and competitive world. Our leaders are vulnerable human beings within a prevailing culture which separates the winners from the losers, the strong from the weak.
We build our towers as high as we can. We build so that we can impress our neighbours not in order to serve them; upwards not outwards.
The world economy is one in which we compete to influence what people think, feel and believe. It is a tough and often brutal economy of ideas.
The important trading routes are no longer international shipping lanes but the optic fibres and satellites uploading and downloading ideas; each trying to corner the market.
God has given us a different reality. It is not a product that can be bought or sold, not a lifestyle choice or the next big idea. You can’t buy shares in the God’s reality. God’s reality is the world made as he/she intended. And it is here, if we look for it. Surprisingly nearby.
God’s world is one in which we are able to live together, share ideas and work towards communities without fear, free from poverty and injustice; where all people are valued for who they are and have a place at the table. It is not a divided world and doesn’t separate the winners from the losers.
This world is the real world because God came to make it real.
Jesus was and is a real person who engages with people at a personal and intimate level. He is the everyday messiah. He is divine and yet takes an interest in people as they go about their daily lives without favouritism. He brings hope to the worst of us. The early church with its examples of hospitality and community living has endured and is important to us now.
How can we choose God’s vision in the everydayness of our lives? What does it mean to model God’s reality in the way we live and work together? Is it enough to trade ideas and win arguments – or do we first need to quietly and modestly become the idea? Living differently.
Wellsprings Together Bradford and Welfare Reform Impact Bradford are local organisation (or which I’m a part) help inspire and coordinate poverty responses among the faith groups. Twice a year they put on an event called Hope on the Edge at Bradford Cathedral which aims to bring together those working to alleviate poverty and transform communities.
On Sunday May the 7th our gathering this time will focus on HOPE for our Bradford Episcopal Area. Representatives of churches, groups and organisations from across the district are invited for a time of creative reflection and prayer.
You will be able to engage with a range of varied prayer styles – explore stillness; reflect through art and music; pray corporately, urgently and creatively. Listen to Stories of Hope emerging in Bradford – seeds that indicate the new potential in times of adversity and disappointment.
Join us for an evening of creative prayer in Bradford Cathedral on Sunday May 7th from 7.00 pm to 8.30 pm.
Just turn up or let us know you’re coming on this link
More info firstname.lastname@example.org
Went to an inspiring evening at Bradford Cathedral last night bringing together a wide representation of people representing the City. Flourishing City asked what it takes for a city to flourish. There were some very influential people there including senior management from the council, church leaders, faith groups and activists. Here are my notes.
Jerry Lepine the dean was great. I have to applaud his enthusiasm for the subject of ‘city’ and the welcome he gave. He introduced the evening by saying the cathedral belongs to the City – “it is your cathedral” he said.
We are not about just delivering big shiny boxes, we must step back and allow the next generation to come through endlessly curious, telling stories and connecting people. [Kersten England]
Here’s a little piece about welcome from Charles E. Rice. In it he talks about everyone’s search for welcome as a search for ‘home’.
Even better, he says, is giving welcome. When we offer our fellow pilgrims welcome we find “the welcome we ran home to on cold or lonely nights”, it is “portable, elusive and holy”.
Charles seems to be pointing to the kind of welcome that brings the eternal concept of home into the ordinary experiences we share.