Community stories: Marie Trubic
In the first of a series hearing from Church-Related Community Workers, Marie Trubic tells the story of a community hall in Glasgow
The local MSP came to see our community hall at Priesthill United Reformed Church, Glasgow, and asked me: ‘What services do you provide? What more services would you like to provide?’ I replied: ‘We don’t really provide services here. This community has been consulted and serviced to death. The last thing they need is another middle-class professional telling them how to live their lives. We want to create space where people can discover themselves, use their gifts to do something and have a better life.’ It doesn’t seem to be terribly exciting. It’s very low key.
I always tell people: I don’t actually do anything. We open the doors and people come in. They sit and chat and things develop from that. Local people don’t have many affordable places to meet, so they come, become part of the hall community, and their lives are transformed by the relationships they build with each other.
We’ve got a couple of community gardens, the People’s and the Woodland Gardens, which are open to the public and well used, particularly by young people, who have no alternative venue to hang out in. We have a little gardening group of volunteers that helps maintain them. People also come along and cook a weekly breakfast. There are film nights, a women’s group and community meals. Volunteers cook but people bring other food, so we end up with a lot more than we started with. Everyone decides how they want to use the space – there’s only been one time when I’ve had to say: ‘Sorry you can’t do that here!’ We try to make a space where the Holy Spirit can do things, and it’s amazing sometimes what can happen. We haven’t developed a great big community centre with all these projects running from it. It is more incarnational – a centre where community is formed – being with people and walking alongside them, listening to their stories and helping them do whatever they want to do. It’s local people building relationships with each other, and then starting to do something which benefits them and their community. It’s not rocket science or front-page stuff. But the local council officer has said: ‘This church is a blessing to this community. Because stuff happens in it and there’s a great spirit here.’
Sometimes the behaviour gets a bit naughty. Many folks here have difficult and challenging lives, and feel angry – for good reasons. Sometimes this anger is turned in upon themselves as they feel helpless to make changes. I find myself often quoting them the United Reformed Church Act of 2000. I came across a couple of people threatening each other and I said: ‘Hold on, this is Church property, and according to the United Reformed Church Act of 2000, the only person who has the authority to issue threats on these premises is the minister. So let’s stop this behaviour.’ They said: ‘Oh, OK.’ I think that was because they value and respect the space and what the Church is trying to do in the area. But I do marvel at what’s in this United Reformed Church Act!
Church-related community work is better suited to my gifts than ministry of Word and Sacraments. I find it much easier to talk about God to people who have nothing to do with Church than with people who come to church, probably because I’m not terribly ‘religious’ and prefer to use everyday language. I have always found it really odd that we in the Church think God wants us to sit in rows every week, sing songs and talk in a strange language that we wouldn’t use in our daily lives. I often hear church leaders say: ‘We come to church on a Sunday to gain the energy to carry out ministry the rest of the week.’ I find the opposite to be true for me. It’s the activities with the community during the week that gives me energy for life and my ministry! Although I have missed worship during the lockdown, because I miss physically meeting people and chatting with them.
I was commissioned as a Church-Related Community Worker in 1990, so I’m one of the longest serving ministers. We’ve lost many along the way. In the beginning, it was a very vulnerable ministry. People don’t have a clear understanding of what it is now, but people really didn’t understand it then.
My first post was in Liverpool, and within the first nine months, I wrote my letter of resignation several times. I felt that the ministry was undervalued, which reflected badly on how the Church valued and cared for the wider community. It has been a slow process but, 30 years on, things have changed, and the Church, particularly those congregations with which I have worked, see their mission very differently.
Before the lockdown, a couple of people from the hall community started attending worship, but that’s quite unusual. I suppose that’s a criticism of church-related community work, that it’s not really about bringing people into church membership. But I think the church should be going out to people, not expecting them to come to us. I would like people to come to some understanding of God. I am, after all, a minister in the URC and there’s something in me that feels that without a realisation of God, people are missing out.
The work in Priesthill has been transformative, not just for the community but for the congregation and for myself. But sometimes I feel that, given the opportunity and encouragement, folks have transformed their own lives. It’s not really me who’s done it. They’ve grown into themselves and found a different way of living, through new relationships – and maybe with a little help from the Holy Spirit!
Marie Trubic is a Church-Related Community Work minister at Priesthill and Shawlands United Reformed Churches, Glasgow. She was talking to Stephen Tomkins
This article was published in the November 2020 edition of Reform