Monday, 15 February 2016

What's your Birmingham?

Twice on Friday I accompanied a group of students from St Chad's Sanctuary to Birmingham Museum where we visited the local history galleries. The trip was inspired by some questions about Birmingham's history which I couldn't answer, and I decided rather than resorting to Wikipedia and creating a comprehension sheet we'd head out to the museum instead ... it was the right decision.

Being a primary school teacher by training, no school trip I organise was ever going to happen without a quiz to fill in on the way round! But I don't think they were just humouring me when the students engaged with it and explored the history of this city they now tentatively call home. All in all it was an amazing day: plenty of opportunities for English practice and new vocabulary, a chance to discuss and explore together, a chance to share experiences and learn from one another.

From its earliest days as a country market gradually attracting crafts people and farmers from surrounding areas, through its growth into a manufacturing hub in the industrial revolution, to the world wars and onwards to modernity, the history of Birmingham is one of migration. It is a story of which me in my own way, and my students in theirs are all a part.

At the far end of the gallery, on the wall, is this: 
"What's your Birmingham? Tell us what the city means to you." 

For me, Birmingham is these people, (and a million or so others). Birmingham is stepping outside my door into a diversity of colour and culture and the riches of humanity. Birmingham is it's history of migration, with all of its beauty and all of its struggles. It is the welcome it has offered to me to be a part of that history, that present and that future.

And for my Students? Well for them, Birmingham is:

"Birmingham is nice for me, there is new life and I have freedom and security"

"Birmingham is beautiful and has many buildings. It is different races"

"I love Birmingham city for the beautiful and wonderful nature and all the wonderful people"

"Birmingham is very big and very beautiful and it's a place of church"

"Birmingham is beautiful because everyone is living and working here"  

"Birmingham is a city of lots of different people"

Monday, 1 February 2016


Last weekend, during the week of prayer for Christian Unity, Carrs Lane Church hosted the Birmingham Churches Together 24 hours of prayer. I am delighted that I was able to be involved in what was such a beautiful celebration of who we are and who we can be as church.

12 months ago, St Philip's Anglican cathedral held a similar event, marking Christian Unity and launching their 300th anniversary celebrations. An email exchange afterwards suggested it could happen again, perhaps becoming an annual celebration, and we agreed to take it on for this year. A small group of us, from different churches, have met periodically over the year and last weekend all the hard work paid off as we came together for an amazing 24 hours which celebrated our unity in all its diversity as we turned together towards God.

There were many wonderful things about being able to be involved in the organisation of #pray24brum, and in the day itself.

Since having my eyes opened to both its potential and its struggles as a student lucky enough to experience the wonderful Lancaster University Chaplaincy Centre, and later the Taize community, ecumenism has been very close to my heart. I know I am incredibly lucky, and perhaps relatively unusual, to have had my faith journey enriched by a wide variety of traditions: all of which have had value, none of which have been perfect.

With each hour of the day and night being led by a different church or group from a wide variety of different traditions, the event certainly felt like a space in which all of that diversity was being celebrated. There were churches with whom I am familiar and comfortable, and traditions which take me out of my normal experience. They all added something: but it was together that they were complete.

Birmingham is a very diverse city: therein lies its beauty, and what I have come to love about this city I now call home. But no-one would ever say such a reality is always plain sailing: and the complexity and struggle and at times anguish of this city also take root in that same diversity. The same could be said of the church with all its painful history and for me, last weekend was a beautiful witness to the possibility of reconciliation; the possibility that different as we are, there can be, there is, a point of commonality where we can draw close to one another.

Perhaps even more important than that, was that this whole event was about creating a space for prayer. Too often, in busy lives and, let's be honest, even in busy churches we can get so caught up in the detritus of life that sometimes prayer is the easiest part to sideline.

Prayer is easy to set aside because God is not going to insist. I believe in a God of love, and love does not force or impose. While other activities and expectations will shout at us, literally or metaphorically, God merely whispers. A whisper that is, perhaps intentionally, easy to ignore. A whisper that, if we dare to stop long enough to listen to it, is infinitely valuable.

Re-prioritising time for prayer has been a key impetus to the life we are trying to live here, and the day of prayer was a valuable boost to that vision. It came at the right time. I was just coming out of what had been a difficult couple of weeks where I had struggled with the reality that some of the things I hold most dear seemingly hold little of the same value for others. Precious indeed, then, to arrive at Sunday morning buoyed up by a reminder of why I have chosen the life I have, and perhaps particularly importantly, feeling supported by others in holding to that vision.

Having been involved in the organisation from the beginning, I had made the decision well before the day itself that I intended to stay for the whole event. I was a little bit tired by the end, but was also buzzing with enthusiasm and have zero regrets about staying throughout. I have, a week on, recovered from the sleep-deprivation, but on balance I would still rather be back last Sunday afternoon. Not just because a nap felt totally justified, which is always a good thing, but because I felt uplifted and inspired to be part of all that the church is, and should be, and can be and aspires to be: united, diverse and with prayer the very centre of its being and purpose.

I am very grateful to all who made it possible!

For some comments, clips and photos that might give something of a feel for what it was like: