Does your city have a face? Does it have a character, an accent, an identity?
Of course it does, it is a living organism. But how often we describe cities as faceless buildings, hostile neighbourhoods and soul- less constructs.
I want to resist this. I deeply want to resist this. And the reason is that if the city is faceless and hostile, then there is no problem about smashing it, defacing it or violating it, because nobody real is going to suffer and nobody much is going to care.
So, I’ve been writing prayers. Prayers that talk about the city as a living place, a place of flourishing and creativity, joy and festivity, challenge and choice. I have been playing with ideas of space and place, of dance and carnival and asking forgiveness for talking about the city as a ‘thing’. I have written prayers in praise of the city, prayers of confession for my own carelessness, intercessions for people that are overlooked or struggling, and blessings of honest hope. I have used feminine language, inclusive language, gentle language as well as more traditional styles. I have tried to see God inherently involved in the urban, longing for the city’s life to be wholesome and just.
As I submitted my small collection of city prayers to Darton, Longman and Todd with a view to publication, Britain broke out in riots. We saw the destruction of buildings and neighbourhoods as latent anger caught fire. And over the subsequent weeks every news broadcast and newspaper headline had some sort of analysis, laid some kind of blame or pointed the finger at one group or another. I wonder, did anyone actually take the time to listen, to hear what it is like to grow up in a structure that makes a young person feel so powerless, faceless or overcome by structures that the only way to be heard is to destroy?
So, DLT set me a challenge! Could we publish a collection of prayers that talk about the city differently? Could I find people that could offer a gentler perspective, an honest engagement with the urban environment? I share this challenge with you too! I invite you to listen to your neighbourhood, look at it differently, find the places of flourishing and write a simple prayer. Some of these could be put into a collection, a gathering of different images, a positive response to living where you are …. I can’t promise to include all of them, but maybe the process of writing will transform how we see our cities and how we can live differently?
Pray as you write, and if you have something you would like to be considered in the DLT collection of prayers then send it to me by e-mail before teh end of November, saying which city you are praying for ...
In the meantime here’s a blessing for your place:
May the blessing of simplicity
Deliver this city from greed
May the blessing of peacefulness
Deliver this city from bloodshed
May the blessing of honesty
Deliver this city from corruption
May the blessing of thankfulness
Deliver this city from selfishness
May the blessing of God
Creator, Deliverer, Inspirer
Fill this city with life, laughter and hopefulness
(The pictures are: the window of Barkers, the city centre weapon shop; a poster of hope designed by local children; some students from the college giving lessons in preparing healthy food ...)
Despite two major construction sites in the middle of the city, Bradford decided to have a positive day of affirmation. There were stalls from local businesses and community groups, and a wide selection of entertainment from around the world. It was baking hot too - the hottest day of the hottest October on record!
Next year, we will be there, weaving in our yurt!
Talking of positive cities, I am collating a book of prayers with a city focus. If you would like to submit something for possible inclusion, then send it to me on an e-mail. Cities should be places of positive engagement but they do get a bad press .... let's change the trend!
A staff and volunteers awayday revealed just what a diverse bunch we are at Touchstone, a full range of personality types and more besides!
So we worked hard, some of us needed time to play too, but that was ok as God had made us this way!
The stole was made by a whole lot of different people on the Touchstone loom and then embroidered by Louise Carr. The wool is all locally sourced, and the applique material from old Bradford mills or local Asian shops. It touched a memory for Roger as both his mother and grandmother worked in the Bradford woollen mills, so whilst the stole is a bit hot and itchy, there are both memories and hopes woven (and sewn) into it.
It was a bit dark in the German church for taking photos, but this is one of the banner that had been made to take to the demonstration at the Arms Fair in London. Yes, we are still selling arms to countries around the world, an outrageous trade in weapons of mass destruction, but we pretend it is acceptable for the sake of our economy. How fitting that I was taking the service on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and the banner was being prepared to go to the London demonstration. We placed it on the communion table
As it lay under the bread and wine, we talked about forgiveness and what it means, we reflected on the word 'host' being both community and hospitality, but deriving from the Latin word for suffering.
Some Soul Spacers will demonstrate, others will pray, but none of them will do nothing. Impressive.
And here is Hans, a German student in Peace Studies who has been such a delight in the Soul Space community. He is holding the banner in the very Church where Bonhoeffer signed a treaty against the Nazis. Hans goes back to Germany this week and we will miss him, a young peace loving man who inspired us to take the symbol of Christ, superimposed on the CND logo, superimposed on our hearts, to our various communities around the world.... a big challenge.
Penny the Touchstone counsellor and I, led our first day retreat for people with DID. DID is a condition that some people experience when they have survived severe trauma. It is often expressed through 'alters', a gathering of inner people who speak out of the fragments of memory.
Working with finger paint, clay, the written and spoken word, we spent a day listening to the experiences of a remarkable group of people. We were interested to hear of positive connection between DID and Ignatian spirituality, it seems that imaginative prayer can help the various 'others' to find a place in God's story. And I was particularly intrigued by the experience many have of 'the wise one' or 'guardian' who is present with them and helps keep them safe
A great day at Synod in Silsden, when there was a District vote both to approve the Touchstone future plans and to give full support to the fund raising process! It may have seemed a long way from Bradford, in a small Yorkshire town but the people of Silsden literally built their new church stone by stone from the old one! The plans for Touchstone now need to go for Connexional approval, so we don't have the green light yet, but we are certainly feeling supported and encouraged by the District - the wonderful woman in the row behind immediately offered to run a quiz to raise money ifor us and we sold ALL of our prototype 'curry in a bag'!
I got caught in a traffic jam as I drove back into the city, and the reason soon became apparent! What a good reminder of our incarnational ministry among the people of Bradford, Britain's first majority Muslim city. We need lots of support to stay here, to be authentically Christian and to listen and learn alongside people of other cultures and faiths. And that is a good thought to begin with on September 11th, the tenth anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Centre. Like the people of Silsden and the people of New York, we need to build peace, stone by stone.
Ok, so this isn't the CHELC Conference, because I forgot to take any pictures, this is Chris Howson at Greenbelt sporting a pair of 'Liberation Pants'!
The CHELC Conference was for Higher Education Chaplains (hence the picture of Chris - Anglican chaplain at Bradford Uni - showing how mature and responsible chaplains have to be at all times!)
I travelled the full length of the M1 to get to High Leigh to give a talk on 'Sustaining Community'; in doing so I not only talked about Touchstone and Somewhere Else, but mused on the word 'host'. From the Latin root 'Hostere' meaning suffering, the English word 'host' can refer to both a 'gathering of people in a crowd' or 'hospitality'. I muse that these two meanings come together in 'the heavenly host' a gathering of the people of God in the hospitality of Christ.
Now that's not pants theology!
For a while now we have been investigating how we can have creative space that is flexible and mobile - then we discovered the pop up yurt man! By a natty piece of engineering he has designed a yurt that is both flexible and portable - and won't blow away in the wind! We are working with a fab artist to design how we can decorate and use this piece of kit to help Touchstone to offer listening venues and creative arts space in the community
Happy birthday to the man who has had at least 60 cakes made in his honour!