Community-minded: Life-affirming celebrations
With such serious economic and social issues to be addressed at the moment, it seems almost heartless to talk about resurrection joy and newness of life. However, we are still in the Easter season, and that is the Gospel message we proclaim, so I want to tell you about two very happy and life-affirming celebrations which have taken place here in Liverpool over the past weeks.
The first took place in Picton, one of the poorest wards in the country. Over the past two years, members of two congregations there have been meeting to talk about ways of engaging with the local community. We have recognised that there are actually many different communities within a very small locality, including long-established Yemeni and Somali populations, alongside more recent arrivals from the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania.
Despite their close proximity to one another, the groups have very little contact with and knowledge of one another. We decided to organise a series of “meet your neighbour” events to try to bring people together in a neutral space and a relaxed, social setting.
This seemingly simple concept proved to be surprisingly hard to organise, and our time-scale was revised many times. However, we learnt from each setback, and got more and more people involved in our attempts to put on a worthwhile event. A local primary school agreed to host it, the youth service provided helpful contacts, the community police officers offered to help with publicity, and the Muslim community centre was enthusiastic from the first.
We agreed a simple format of a brief welcome and introduction, a presentation of not more than 15 minutes from each of three countries, followed by a meal and time to mingle. We thought at first we would be doing well if 50 people came; but when a young band from the Czech Republic agreed to play, we realised we might get quite a few teenagers along, so we revised our request to the caterers up to 70, with the understanding that they would have enough to stretch to 100 if necessary.
On the night, well over 150 people turned up. The presentations were great fun, and included a large number of people trying to learn the Gay Gordons in a very small space, as well as a Yemini sword dance and of course the Czech boy band. We also had brief but very informative talks about the basic geography, history and populations of the three countries. There were some technical glitches, but all in all it was a very cheerful event which achieved its aims. The caterers even managed to feed everybody with apparent ease! We had thought that our plans to run a community carnival in the summer might be over-ambitious, but now we are confident it will be a great success!
The second joyful event has been the 100th birthday of our amazing pianist at Stoneycroft, the irrepressible Dot Jones. More than 70 people attended a party hosted at the church, a tribute to Dot’s standing within the local community and her capacity to make friends across all ages. Dot maintains that playing the piano for us Sunday by Sunday is one of the things that keeps her going. The party was not a surprise, but tea with the Lord Mayor two days later was! That had been suggested and arranged by our local councillors, who felt it only right that the city should recognise one of its more remarkable daughters. That event was recorded by the local internet TV station, which is now showing footage of Dot playing the grand piano, admiring the paintings and the chandeliers in the ballroom, and descending the main staircase in style, all of which she thoroughly enjoyed.
The local church may not be able to right the world’s wrongs, but it can provide an alternative script, shedding the resurrection light of fellowship, mutual support and joyous celebration to dispel some of the gloom.
Alison Micklem is a church-related community worker across the inner city group of United Reformed churches in Liverpool
This article was published in the May 2013 edition of Reform.
Read more articles by Alison Micklem