Creating new community in the challenging times ahead

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In the second of our June reflections, we hear from Church Related Community Worker; Jo Patterson, who is the CRCW at CoplestonUmbrella crop Church & Centre in Peckham. Jo reflects on time during lockdown, the challenges it has presented but also the little things that have made life better, whether it be reconnecting with old friends, baking, more time with family or making new friends within her local community. Thinking about connecting with others, Jo fondly shares a touching moment that recently moved her. 

The past few weeks have been a refreshing time of warm weather and lush new life in our parks and gardens. These first signs of new life, echo in us a continuing opportunity to be spiritually renewed. But in these times of selfisolation and social change, it is hard to see how we can put this human renewal into practice.

This has been a challenging time for the church and the community centre. We have had to reinvent ourselves, using remote technology for our community groups and our worship. We have managed the parish mutual aid group – it is now self managing with 150 volunteers – and the community has seen many come forward who have not previously volunteered.

People communicate with each other street by street, housing estates look after one another like they always have done. Whilst there are wider health considerations for those who are deemed ‘vulnerable’ – actually we are all vulnerable to illness, grief, financial worries, isolation and loneliness in this situation. Mutual Aid should be exactly that – mutual.

We have worked closely with other groups, offering meal delivery services, online exercise classes, virtual Tai Chi, music groups and live streaming of Sunday worship and morning and evening prayer have become all too familiar.

But this has also been a time of revisiting some things we have let slide – we are cooking together as a family more often and I have returned to baking after a couple of years off. These times have also made me think about the running around I usually do and if it is all actually that necessary!

But sometimes it is the most basic things that renew and refresh us. The things I have enjoyed most have been talking to people on the ‘phone, preparing worship in a very different way, having time to practice morning prayer and reconnecting with God. I have also reconnected with friends I haven’t spoken to often enough in the last few years. I hope that these will
also be more solid friendships when this is over and we will be able to meet up again.

Edward, our vicar, and I have been doing regular parish walks and deliveries and have met many people for socially distanced chats. Some are friends of the community centre or the church, whilst others are new acquaintances who will hopefully become better known to us. This is a traditional way of keeping in touch whilst the building is closed and a fruitful one. It is not only rewarding for me personally but also a way of reconnecting a community which is essentially staying indoors.

Some of our parishioners come to their doorstep knowing we will be delivering on Wednesday afternoon for a socially distanced chat. In one very memorable few moments a church member came to the balcony walkway outside her flat and sang to us down in the car park. A hymn her mother sang to her, a favourite which she wanted to share with us, a very moving moment in a time of frenetic reinvention and technological advancement. It is sometimes these simple things that make us reflect on what is important – and actually it has been the people. They have looked after each other in practical and tactile ways rather than relying on Zoom meetings and WhatsApp.

Techonology has its place in a purely logistical way, but it is compassion, love and hope which have been the greatest renewals. God is in all of this, whatever we are doing, however far away and not present God can sometimes feel to us.

This is a time of concern where the future is uncertain for many whose income, health or well-being is compromised. We can all help each other with this and we will all have to find ways to create new community in the challenging times ahead. But can we also use this time to revisit favourite pastimes and old friends, perhaps renew our faith? We can find new ways of communicating with each other, make new friends and reconnect with God. There is hope of a new way of life, perhaps more relaxed, less frantic with more time for human flourishing and care for one another.

 Get in contact with us

Would you like to know more about Church Related Community Work and how you can be an agent of social change? You may be a church member involved in community work already and want to find out how you can do more or set up a community project? Let the CRCW office give you advice and guidance by calling the URC switchboard on: 020 7916 2020 or emailing us.

Please note that the office is currently closed due to the pandemic so if possible, please send any enquiries by email: crcw.admin@urc.org.uk

Photo: Andre Ouellet/Unsplash.

 

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