A view from Fir Vale
September 20, 2012
‘Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks’
Wisdom on the streets, wisdom in the squares, the city gates, the busy corners. Wisdom in the city, wisdom in Fir Vale, wisdom in Crosspool.
Where do we find this wisdom? How do we get it?
I want to reflect this morning on how we often find wisdom in paradox. Both our reading Proverbs and the Gospel according to Mark speak of finding life in paradox:
- When we ‘choose the fear of the Lord’ (Prov. 1:20), we ‘live at ease, without dread of disaster’ (v. 33).
- When I ‘lose my life for the sake of the gospel’ (Mark 8:35), I will save or find it.
As Christians, we often speak of finding life in paradox:
- ‘When I am weak, then am I strong’ (2 Cor.12:10)
- ‘When I am poor, then am I rich’ (2 Cor.6:10)
- ‘God choses what is foolish, to shame the wise’ (1 Cor.1:27)
- ‘It is more blessed to give, than it is to receive’ (Acts 20:35)
I want to reflect on four areas in which I see this creative paradox of God’s wisdom, in our life in Fir Vale and then review again Jesus call to all people to follow.
When our parish extended from around 12,500 to over 17,400 following the closure of St Hilda’s in 2005 and population increases, people said, ‘How are you going to manage with all those extra people in your Parish?’ This is perhaps a European question, whereas an African question might be ‘How can we thank God enough for giving us so many more people?’ For if we truly believe that people are the greatest single resource, humanly speaking, that God gives to us in the seeking of God’s Kingdom, how then can we be disappointed when more turn up on our doorstep? There is so much work to be done – the bereft to be comforted, the sick to be visited, the dying to hear good news, the poor to be fed, the young to be taught, the captive to be set free, the lonely to be set in relationship, the people to be discipled. St Cuthbert’s is growing and we have recently started Buddy Groups to help all of us – newcomers and old-timers alike – to know each other better. To care for and pray for each other and engage in kingdom challenge tasks.
People and relationships are one of our greatest treasures. We experience a tremendous richness in relationships – not least with Revd Sally who helps at our Tuesday youth nights, but also with Churches Together, partners in Fir Vale Food Bank, UNISON (NGH), the Children and Schools Partnership parents group with whom we organised a mini-football tournament in July, Revd Ali Dorey, Mission Coordinator of the Northern Estates, Cllr John Campbell, the Lord Mayor Sheffield and many more. We are very blessed that Revd Monica Sutton, who has been our SSM Curate for 3 years, will be licensed as associate Vicar next month after completing her curacy.
So we’re not joking at St Cuthbert’s when we say, ‘the more the merrier!’
By this I mean other faiths. There is a large Muslim community in Fir Vale Parish. Many have said to me, ‘It must be hard in an area where there are many Muslim people’. But when we converse with our Muslim friends, we find we often have more in common than with those of little or no faith background. We can talk together about values, spirituality, prayer, God and community issues. We walk together for peace and work together to feed our community. A couple of examples are the Peace Walk that takes place every year, during the week before the local elections, and next weekend’s Fir Vale Food Festival – which is timed to allow the community to come together to celebrate both Harvest Festival and Eid ul Fitr (marking the end of Ramadan). Far from Muslim presence being a problem, it is a blessing.
When we founded Fir Vale Food Bank last year, we had a choice – we could either try and go it alone as a Church or we could reach out and work in partnership with others – faith groups, UNISON, women’s group. We choose the latter – not just because it would give us a richer, broader base from which to work, but also because we believed that sharing with non-faith groups reduce the temptation to use food as a means of proselytizing, something we would wish to avoid. It is not St Cuthbert’s Food Bank, but Fir Vale Food Bank. We let go of control. So it is interesting that several volunteers and users at Fir Vale Food Bank have now come to worship at St Cuthbert’s. In similar manner, our various groups – Women’s Fellowship, Junior Church, The Crib, Parents and Toddlers – are not told what to do or how to organise themselves, but have freedom and authority to organise and to minister according to shared values. We let go control, but are richly blessed.
According to recent figures from the Church Urban Fund, on the overall deprivation scale, where 1 is the least deprived in the country, Fir Vale ranks 12,322 out of 12,706 parishes in England. This means that Fir Vale parish is among the most deprived in the country.
Child poverty, pensioner poverty, working-age poverty and lone parenthood in this parish are among the highest in the country. Male life expectancy, female life expectancy and qualification levels in this parish are among the lowest nationally.
40% children live in poverty: that is the proportion of children living in families receiving out of work benefits or tax credits with a reported income is less than 60% median, a commonly accepted measure of poverty. In Crosspool, child poverty is 3%
44% have no qualifications: the percentage of adults (aged 16-74) with no academic, vocational or professional qualifications. We have one lay reader Emeritus.
We are currently subject to a curfew and an anti-social behaviour order.
Our Parish share is low by comparison with many, but has just gone up by over 40% – this and just running the church present a constant challenge.
All this might lead us to think small – but in fact, St Cuthbert’s thinks big and has done so for some time. We are on the cusp of going to tender for a major re-ordering project that has been dreamed of long before I began ministry at St Cuthbert’s nine years ago. We plan a community meeting room, a community kitchen, proper toilets and a youth café. We hope to improve storage and lighting.
IN CONCLUSION, I have tried to give a flavour of the Parish and of St Cuthbert’s by showing how we find life in unexpected places:
- By embracing a large Parish
- By welcoming our Muslim neighbours
- By letting go of control
- By thinking big in reduced circumstances
One of the ways we keep perspective in our Parish, is to regularly remind ourselves that we are rich, blessed and wealthy beyond the dreams and imagination of so many in the world today. We do this through learning, prayer, worship and giving. For example, next week we celebrate Harvest and instead of our usual practice of an offering to USPG or UNICEF or similar, we are looking to take on the on-going commitment of sponsoring a child in India through Compassion.
God’s love is extravagant, God’s life abundant, God’s grace, amazing. We have seen that the wisdom God gives is often found in unexpected places:
- ‘When I am weak, then am I strong’
- ‘When I am poor, then am I rich’
- ‘God choses what is foolish to shame the wise’
- ‘It is more blessed to give than it is to receive’
We heard in our Proverbs reading, when we ‘choose the fear of the Lord’, we ‘live at ease, without dread of disaster’. We heard in the Gospel, when I ‘lose my life for the sake of the gospel’, I will find it.I encourage you, your family, your community and church to look and see where you find the life and wisdom of God in creative paradox. Maybe God is calling you to embrace a paradox that you have resisted – to embrace a new calling even though you are a busy person, to embrace a public calling even though you are a private person, to trust new ideas even though you have years of experience or to give of yourselves even when you feel you have little to offer.
Jesus calls not only the twelve, but also the crowd and thereby all of us, to discipleship, this walk of the cross, to be willing to lay aside our agenda, plans, even our hopes and dreams and to embrace God. To be open to God – as it says on your website! As you work out God’s calling here at St Columba’s and we at St Cuthbert’s, please be assured of our on-going love and prayers and if there is any way we can support you, please ask.
Heavenly Father, you are the way, the truth and the life. Help us to run the race with perseverance, to walk and not grow weary. And let us follow Jesus in the way of the cross that leads to life. Amen.
Revd L R Collins, Vicar of Fir Vale
September 16th 2012