Pilgrimage 2009: Monday 16 March

Today was spent in Braunstone.  10 years ago this estate had a reputation as one of the most troubled and uncomfortable places in Leicester.  Since the New Deal for Communities Programme, the estate has gradually been transformed under the leadership of local residents.  The Braunstone Community Association (Chaired for several years by the Archdeacon of Leicester) has brought many new initiatives to the estate and the process of transformation continues.  Wherever I went people spoke of new hope, new expectations and a new sense of civic pride.  In the morning I joined a community group making their way through the Highway Spinney collecting litter.  Gradually this small woodland area has been cleared of the debris of washing machines and sofas and is now largely free of litter as well.  It has become a safe place to walk through and the wildlife is coming back.  As we picked up litter we fell into conversation with residents walking through the Spinney who were delighted to see the way their neighbourhood was changing.  At lunchtime I judged a competition from primary school children of posters campaigning for keeping the estate clean.  The children had clearly got the message and had produced some colourful lively artwork.  Finally, in the afternoon, I visited “Braunstone Working” – a neighbourhood advice centre on employment.  We talked with several local residents who were out of work and who had found the advice centre a place of support, training, advice and confidence building.  Many of the staff came from the Braunstone Estate, knew the community well, and were passionately committed to helping people through the challenge of unemployment.  It was a first-class example of local people taking responsibility for transforming their own community.  A happy and encouraging day.

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March 17, 2009 at 9:25 am Leave a comment

Pilgrimage 2009: Thursday 12 March

Today back to Earl Shilton to meet people at the Age Concern Centre and the Community College.  Age Concern runs a significant centre for the elderly in South West Leicestershire, with some of the users coming from as far away as Leicester itself.  There was generally a sense of cheerfulness as they gathered for lunch and I had the opportunity with the Vicar, Graham Gittings, to serve the lunch and clear it away for them!  There was much laughter and comment at this sight and it was good to see how some 60 or 70 elderly people were coming each day to the Centre for a meal, a chat and some recreation.  After lunch I went into the Day Centre where some elderly folk with mental health issues, including dementia were gathered.  It is distressing to see how these diseases of old age affect more and more people, but encouraging to see how much effort is put into sustaining people in their own homes.  The William Bradford Community College was an encouraging visit in the afternoon.  Over 500 14-18 year olds from Earl Shilton attend.  There are people from very different backgrounds, some with very challenging behaviours.  But the school was providing excellent support in its inclusion centre for some of the children who need the most intensive help with their education.  This college is changing under its new Principal and the mood of the staff and students everywhere was positive.

March 13, 2009 at 12:45 pm 1 comment

Pilgrimage 2009: Monday 9 March

Today took me out of the City to Earl Shilton.  This is a sizeable community with some significantly challenging housing estates on the edge of Hinckley.  The community has a past full of memories of working in the boot and shoe trade and the hosiery trade.  Many of the older folk I met worked in the factories and have many stories of making shoes and stockings.   Time spent in the Neighbourhood Centre at the heart of Earl Shilton included sitting down exercises with a group of ladies and then having lunch with the Ladies Group.  They came from Hinckley and Earl Shilton and further afield, delighted that the Neighbourhood Centre in the town has acquired new premises and is opening up to new users.  But it is clear that some of those who use the Neighbourhood Centre are suffering from significant life challenges, including drug abuse and other forms of addiction.  After that, on to Weavers Close School to meet the children and to see the Children’s Centre.  We also had an opportunity to talk to the Head.  The familiar issues arose: low educational aspirations, difficult situations at home, some children finding it difficult to cope.  Yet the school is rising to the challenge magnificently and the standard of commitment from the staff and of understanding from the Head was very encouraging.  Later in the day I met representatives of the Town Council who spoke of the significant plans for increasing the population of Earl Shilton by some 2,000 more people.  They also described some of the issues about the deep resentments in the town of the Travellers’ community and of some continuing racism with the significant influence of the BNP in Hinckley.  The Church leaders were represented ecumenically at this conversation and they spoke of their pastoral work amongst people who may be facing unemployment and low self-esteem.  But the Churches were beginning to see that by working together they could have a significant impact on the well-being of the town.  Finally, I attended the bus which travels around the communities of Leicester and Leicestershire providing advice and support for young people on drugs and alcohol addiction.  This is an impressive project entitled “Next Generation” and which reaches out very effectively to young people.  The dramatic and damaging effects of addiction which touch so many lives left a lasting impression on my memory as I drove away from my first day in Earl Shilton.

March 13, 2009 at 12:36 pm Leave a comment

Pilgrimage 2009: Wednesday 4 March

Today was spent in the Belgrave part of the city.  Another bus from The Haymarket, another challenge to puzzle out bus routes and work out where the stops are!  At St Gabriel’s in the Parish of the Resurrection we were joined by parishioners and the Franciscan Sisters who work in the Parish.  After morning prayer a trip to Northfields School and a chance to sit down with the children and hear their stories and their experience of life in one of the most diverse and multi-racial neighbourhoods anywhere in the country.  On from there to Taylor Road School on the St Matthew’s Estate.  This school has the highest free schools meal count of any school in Leicester and one of the highest in the country.  46 different languages are spoken.  Yet the school is clearly a place of real loving concern for all the children.  Again, the Christian Church is at the heart of these communities, the clergy much valued by the schools and the presence of people who are living out their faith is seen as vital to the health of the whole community.  The Parish of the Resurrection is undergoing huge changes at the moment, facing the closure of two churches and the creation of a new focus for parish life in the third church.  And there is much prayer, reflection and discussion about how to be Church in an overwhelmingly Hindu and Muslim area.  I have spent the day amongst people whose vocation is to reimagine the Church for a new millennium, facing some of the toughest challenges in the country.  They deserve our prayers and our support.

March 5, 2009 at 11:02 am Leave a comment

Pilgrimage 2009: Monday 2 March 2009

Beginning The Pilgrimage

Today I set out on the first leg of my journey to some of the poorest communities in Leicester and Leicestershire during Lent.  Waiting for the bus at The Haymarket in the centre of the city, I noticed that just round the corner was Humberstone Gate – the site of the Christ in the Centre drama each Good Friday.  Here was the scene of the acted crucifixion, just in the place where I was setting out on my Lent pilgrimage.  Five weeks later I shall be back for the climax of the Lent story.  The bus took me to Stocking Farm where I said morning prayer in the church and then spent a morning with an Old People’s group happily visiting a garden centre!  At lunchtime a conversation with health professionals from the housing estates in the North of the city.  They spoke of some of the pressures mounting on people’s health as recession bites, some of the anxieties and challenges that face the most vulnerable communities.  Then on to visit parishioners in their homes suffering with depression or other forms of disability.  It was a reminder of how precious the Church’s ministry, and especially that of the clergy can be to people whose lives are isolated, fragile and lonely.  The day culminated with a confirmation at a community centre on the Mowmacre Estate where local people gathered and four new Christians committed themselves to Christ.  I left with a sense of the courage and resilience of many people whose lives are difficult and disadvantaged.  And with a strong sense of the priceless value of Christian ministry.

March 5, 2009 at 10:34 am Leave a comment

Time to go home

This is the last day of the Lambeth Conference. The bishops have been on the university campus for 18 days and this evening the farewells will be said at a closing service in Canterbury Cathedral before the great procession of coaches starts to head for Heathrow and Gatwick.

What can we make of the experience? It is still too early to know what the effect of all this time and effort will be. All of us go away enriched by the conversations, the stories, the friendships that we have found here. All of us will take with us memories of special people and special moments. All of us will have a renewed and enriched sense of the great value of the Anglican Communion.

But it is frankly not clear what we have achieved. The last few days have involved a drafting group in spending many hours trying to write a reflection paper on the conference for all the bishops to take home with them. It describes our discussions and concerns in some detail. But on the big issues around how we hold things together in the future there isn’t yet clarity. This conference has passed no resolutions and issued no generally agreed statements. It is therefore uncertain as to what is the mind of the conference on some of the most difficult issues. Today we shall see the final version of the document which reports the conference, but there has been no process by which the members of the conference can agree the text!

So where do we go from here? I shall think about that in the next few days. I shall want to give an account of the conference to the diocese and to think through the implications of it for our overseas links. I shall also want to think about my own work as a bishop and how that has been enriched by all this. And I shall want to reflect of the design of this conference, because although it has been a rich experience it has not empowered the members to get their voice heard and to feel that the future direction of the Cmmunion has been clarified.

One last point. The Archbishop of Canterbury certainly emerges from this with enhanced stature and authority. His standing in the Communion is beyond question. I hope he uses that to full effect in the months ahead.

August 3, 2008 at 6:22 am 3 comments

In the eye of the media

The press and TV have been here in force for the last 24 hours as the conference has turned its attention to the most difficult issues we face. Casual strolls round the campus have meant surprise encounters with journalists and others trying to get their heads round the extraordinary experience of a gathering of mostly men from around the world discussing something as apparently irrelevant to their usual newsgathering as homosexuality.

It is clear that the conference won’t be able to make some new statement which resolves the disputes on this subject which have preoccupied the communion for so long. I can well remember the last Lambeth Conference and the way in which this subject dominated the news reporting then. Have things moved on since then? Well, in some ways yes. The ordination of Gene Robinson hugely raised the temperature. But I also sense from private conversations that many people are beginning to feel that the real issues for us lie elsewhere and that we shall find that this particular dispute becomes less high profile in the years ahead.

Meanwhile we only have 48 hours to go now, and there will be much manoeuvering from some members of the conference to ensure that certain statements emerge from the conference seeking to establish the formal position of the communion on this subject. But my sense is that most of us would rather leave that attempt alone now. For many here the big issues remain about justice for the poor, climate change and the relationship between global anglicanism and other churches and other faiths. It now matters a great deal that we find the words to communicate the mind of the conference on those matters before we leave.

August 2, 2008 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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