this is what we did

There’s a blogger’s rule that posts are not meant to be more than 500 words long… alas, this is well over 1000, but i’ve always thought that anyone who reads this blog must be particularly tenacious, so i’m happy to break the rule with you in mind… In a similar way, I’m including the following photo for no other reason than it makes me happy…

cows

I’ve just landed in Bath after 5 idyllic days in Cornwall with a friend, where the weather was unbelievably lovely, the scenery gorgeous, and the people generous, friendly and fun. I don’t think I’ve ever actually holidayed in England before – it’s almost always been work that’s brought me here – but I’m sold. it’s been fantastic. And today it’s back to work, which I’m loving already. Of course, it helps that I’m doing it in Bath.

I wanted to post about the last few weeks before my memory gets musty. As we drove out of London last week I was writing posts in my head, but as soon as we hit the countryside they disappeared, so my reflections here will be very sketchy impressions or instincts, rather than facts and quotes.

Can I just say again how grateful I am to the people and groups who we visit – and who put up with us probing into their innermost beings and thoughts. Without their generosity and vulnerability it simply wouldn’t work… each year I’m increasingly aware of how lucky we are to be the recipients of that. It’s no small thing to have a group of unknown people come and question your existence and reason for being…

We changed the structure of the trip dramatically this year – both Ikon [Belfast] and Sanctus [Manchester], who we normally visit, are going through significant transition so we didn’t visit them. I missed them… but Safe Space in Telford were our carry over champions, and we visited again for their Thursday night community meal. I love that there is nothing pretentious or cool about Safe Space – it’s just ordinary people being in community and through that, managing to change their world. This year Mark was telling us about Sanktuary, the community’s weekly commitment to be a presence in the nightclub district – working with police, the council and local nightclubs to make telford safer for people who are out for the night. i feel somewhat convicted to do something like that in Melbourne, which has a terrible problem with alcohol-fuelled violence in the city on the weekends. I have an awful feeling that the only thing stopping me is my dislike of the messy… luckily, however, this post is not about me, so i need not ponder that publicly. Telford continue to be an amazing example of hospitality and community, and I love watching their story develop each year.

We went to Liverpool from Telford. I’ve never been there before, and for the first 24 hours I didn’t get it… but after meeting with people from Dream, visiting the Antony Gormley installation at Crosby beach, and then dinner at Keith’s in Lark Lane, I’m converted. Dream are a network of communities – another example of communities that have formed quite naturally and non-dramatically, and become something much larger than the sum of their parts. I posted my notes from the Dream conversation home, but i remember really liking how they have kept evolving and how they are searching for how they can keep becoming more, together; for what’s next around the corner. They’ve been experimenting with guerilla worship – marking the city as something sacred… In fact, that was probably the unifying theme across all the communities we visited: there’s a desire to be present and transformative within the community. They want to make culture, not be relevant to it. i really liked them.

bombed_out

After meeting with Dream a few of us went to the bombed out church in the centre of the city. St Luke’s was bombed in 1941, and has never been restored. It has a memorial garden that surrounds it, which seems to be a sanctuary for the lost and lonely [i loved that the bombed-out people of the city made their home around the bombed-out church], and inside the ruins of the church there are occasionally installations and art exhibitions. There was an amazing exhibition of photographs while we were there – a really moving and lovely collection of images depicting the essence and heart of Liverpool by the fab collective. I liked that we had to sign waivers when we went in to the church that we wouldn’t sue for damages…

And then we went to Crosby beach to see the Gormley ‘Another place’ installation… I loved that the sculptures that are covered with water were now covered with lichen. It’s like they are coming to life…

The first half of the trip was largely community focussed, as it turned out. The second half had quite a different flavour… We travelled from Liverpool down to Brighton. People kept telling us it would be way too far to go in a day, but we’re australian’s and we’re used to just driving til we get there… so we were on the beach in Brighton in time for a late lunch… and then met with Beyond for drinks on the Sunday night. Beyond are perhaps the most entrepeneurial group that we met with – amazing for their capacity to have ideas, draw people in, and make them work. Their beach hut Advent calendar has been widely written about, and it really does sound remarkable. It was great to hear their story of how the creative process interacts with community – about the human-ness of the project, and about how people from such different backgrounds and theological perspectives are drawn together, and find common expression through art and installation. It was an amazing story to hear.

And on the Monday night we met with the Garden. The first I’d heard of the Garden was at Greenbelt last year, where they curated a really lovely installation that had stuck in my mind. I’d really hoped we might be able to get together with some of these guys, and it took until the last minute for it to come together. I’m so, so glad it did. This felt like the selfish part of the trip for me, the bit I knew would be least accessible or relevant for most of the group, but the thing i was most hoping would come together for me! I felt like i was listening to the thoughts in my own head being played out through the conversation between Chris, Mark and Alistair… and you can have no idea how rare and lovely that is. i haven’t heard anyone else talking about finding new language for the space beyond christianity, which doesn’t use christianity as its reference point. It’s nice not to be searching for it on my own… I can’t wait to get back with them for more conversations. I’ll come back to all that in the next post, when i talk about where to from here…

Jonny Baker put the whole picture together for us on Tuesday, which was brilliant – beginning to make sense of it all for the group. As an outsider’s perspective, it feels like the emerging church scene is at a really interesting transition point here – on the cusp of something quite new. It’s going to be lovely to watch it unfold…

I’m in the UK for the rest of the week. I’m staying around to do some work on next year’s trip, which is taking a different focus. I can’t wait for that. Our reference point won’t be the church, or any new forms of it, but rather public installations and expressions of where the human becomes more than human – thinking through how to create public places where people can be human, and see what happens then.

At the risk of being misunderstood [and pre-empting a future blog post, as already indicated], i’ve realised how removed from the idea of god i am at the moment – but the human, the really human, at its most fragile and transcendent and transformative: I find that fascinating and moving and extraordinary… and so rarely explored and honoured.

6 Comments

  1. Lindsay Cullen

    How gloriously fascinating! I look forward to that next promised blog post. For me, the language of ‘God’ still has some resonance in thinking about the big picture, overarching stuff; but the day to day focus, the idea that shapes what I want to/ choose to do, how I want to impact the world and others, always revolves around the question of being ‘more’ human and what it means to be more human, more what we are called forward (by God?) into being. I do hope I can go on the trip next year!

  2. ben

    Cheryl, feel free to write more than 500 words anytime!!

    I downloaded half the talks from Greenbelt I think… and the thing that stands out is the way Padraig talked about being human.

    Its funny, i was listening to him at the gym… seeing all these humans watching themselves and each other in the mirror, trying to get better, healthier, whatever… and thought a similar thing – where are the places we go to value our humanity (yikes that sounds terrible). But yeah. Humans are quite odd and full of sacred potential to do great things and mundane things.

    Cant wait for the next post!

  3. Hey Cheryl-

    Sounds like a wonderful journey. It is always good to hear about your own world from an outsiders perspective- particularly one that brings hope.

    Keep safe on the long trip back down under. Hope to meet you on your next trip.

    Chris

  4. Just got a chance to read this. Wonderful to read about. I need to make some visits like this in the UK. Particularly the garden. I’ve chatted with Alistair a bit on FB, but it’s been awhile. I need to get that going again…

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