The story of our streets
Our Edinburgh church was inspired by Harry Potter to stretch its vision of mission, writes Laurence Wareing
Walk down George IV Bridge in Edinburgh at the present time and it’s a weirdly quiet place. If you have a mind to, you can call out to a friend and hear your voice echo off the buildings that line either side of the street. This is not normal. In a city for which tourism is a vital sign of life, we’re approaching that time of year when tourists usually fill the pavements, strolling slowly, pausing for selfies, and rubbing the nose of Greyfriars Bobby’s much-loved statue over the road. But not last year, and not this year, either.
In these Covid times, that’s neither surprising nor unique. Yet at Augustine United Church, we’ve been thinking a good deal about walking this street, and those surrounding it. This is because we’re on a journey ourselves: to understand both how we can connect more with the city’s visitors (when they return), and how we might present our city to people more clearly, through the lens of justice and inclusion that is integral to our congregation’s Christian vision. We believe that those two goals are connected – and that the single word connecting them is ‘pilgrimage’.
For three years, Augustine has been developing a visitor ministry. This ministry, supported in its initial stages by a United Reformed Church Vision 2020 mission grant, has grown out of the experience of exploring our heritage and presenting our story to visitors. We did this first in written and different visual formats. On this foundation, we built a large group of volunteer guides who have shared our story as part of Edinburgh’s popular Open Doors events each September, and the city’s nifty programme of Advent Doors, in which one building a day opens to visitors during the Advent season. This we understand as tourism joining hands with mission.
In a normal Edinburgh year, which for Augustine includes a thriving calendar of room rentals and the transformation of our 160-year-old building into a bustling Fringe venue, we can expect to offer ministry and mission to some 40,000 visitors. Often, however, our contacts are fleeting. This has made us ask: where is there the opportunity for longer conversations, or a more sustained sharing of our faith and values? How might we expand our heritage guides’ storytelling outwards – beyond these doors that open onto George IV Bridge and not just behind them?..
This is an extract from an article published in the May 2021 edition of Reform