Community-minded: Hope in dandelions
Church-related community workers being scattered across the country, ours can be a very isolated ministry, so we all value the brief time of sharing offered by our annual residential. We come together to reflect on our ministry, hear how various endeavours are progressing, make sure we are all up-to-date with policy developments within local and national government and the church, and offer one another prayerful support.
We always spend some time reflecting on our work, but this year we devoted two sessions to some deeper and more guided analysis of what we do and why we do it, our motivation and our practice. Twelve years ago I did some research into the theology which underpins the ministry of church-related community work, and, despite a considerable change in personnel since then, the main themes which emerged from our groups this spring were very much the same as the answers I received then.
We were asked to reflect on why we do what we do, and I found the passion and commitment which emerged affirming, inspiring and deeply moving. Here is a small selection of the responses:
• “we have a sense of call and a vision of how the church could be”
• “we have hope and believe lives can be changed”
• “we do it because our hearts say we have to;
• “to shift the balance of power/tip the balance to a more just society for the vulnerable”
• “we believe we have something good to share”
• “Jesus came so we can have life in abundance – we are called to make that a reality”
• “we want to enable the church to live out the ministry to which it is called”
And there was much more in the same vein.
Those bald statements, powerful as they are, cannot convey the energy and excitement which fizzed round the room as we huddled in small groups, ignoring the inevitable sheets of flip-chart paper and felt pens and of course over-running the allotted time. Often we feel tired and jaded, questioning whether all our efforts make much difference in the long term. We can get despondent, in the current economic and political climate even despairing, seeing so much of what we have fought for, built up, invested our lives in, being undermined and torn down, yet given a little space in which to reflect, up surges all the hope and conviction again.
For many years, Salford Urban Mission and those who had trained there used the dandelion as a symbol of their community development projects. I always used to find that rather difficult, because my instinctive response to the sight of a dandelion is to reach for a trowel or the weed-killer. However, the point was that dandelions will find a way to grow in even the most hostile and unpromising environments, flowering bold and cheerful in an otherwise barren wasteland. As we talked and laughed, a group of weary activists suddenly animated and energised, the image of the dandelion came back to me, and made more sense than it ever had done before.
We went on to talk about the range of activities in which we are engaged, the partnerships and networks within which we operate, the impact on and response of the communities and congregations we work with, and finally what we as a group would want to say to the church as a whole.
Meanwhile, for those of you who share my former difficulty with the dandelion image, I leave you with the Bible passage which also came to mind as I felt the Spirit move amongst us that afternoon:
“We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair…; struck down, but not destroyed… For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body.”
( 2 Corinthians 4:8-11)
Alison Micklem is a church-related community worker across the inner city group of United Reformed churches in Liverpool
This article was published from the June 2013 issue of Reform.
Read more articles by Alison Micklem