Tuesday 2 December 2008

Faith in the City today

Urban Theology Day with colleagues, practitioners and experts in Manchester, learning and sharing together about urban realities. The theological input from Andrew Davey really got me thinking. Among various soundbites noted for future contemplation, I begin with a phrase from the current World Cities debate, that pretty much encapsulates what I remember working out pragmatically as a first incumbent
The Whole Truth about the Parish System:
We need to think of placed identity not as a claim to a place, but as an acknowledgment of the responsibilities that inhere in being placed (Doreen Massey)
A soundbite for planners everywhere, from the Tower of Babel to the parish profile or deanery plan:
Every regeneration project begins with Poetry, and ends with Real Estate (L.K. Platzman)
Finally, a challenging marker to pin under those old fifties Eagle Comic pictures suggesting the Secular City of Towers was the only future:
If God died in the cities of the industrial revolution, he has risen again in the post-industrial cities of the developing world (Mike Davis)
All this, and the amazing news to me that the most cloned high street in Britain (= colonised by identikit national chains to the excusion of local traders) is Exeter. Do we thank the Luftwaffe for that?

Noted thematic points of engagement:
  1. Discerning the City: What is going on in fast moving environments, symbolically and thematically? Only dialogue can tell! But where is the soul of the city?
  2. Ethics and Ideals: What makes a “Good” City? by our context-sensitive moral experience, intuition and activity, we enact this — how consciously?
  3. Cultures: Churches have a long record as being part producers of culture. Where is our Creativity? Added Value, freely offered?
  4. Language: Largely Christian in origins, these days! “Regeneration” “Renewal” “Iconic” etc. etc. etc. What is the appeal of this language? What does it really mean, contextualized? How can the faith which spawned it use it creatively?
All this, and a couple of final impressions:
  1. None of us know exactly what we’re in for just now, as the fallout continues from financial woes. It’s only just beginning. Government is, as ever, a huge, diverse and complex conglomerate of ideas and energies, not the simple Big Player people often speak as though it were — bit like the Church! But a general shift in emphasis away from Social development and devolution, laudable as it is in theory, could get a bit weird in a global recession...
  2. Along with other faith organizations, but particularly as an established Church, the Church of England is strategically placed to help, because of its presence on the ground. There is paricularly strong contribution to be made to Local Area Agreements. There is an improving level of faith literacy in government at all levels compared to very recently. It’s important not to blow this availability and opportunity for service by suburbanizing the Church entirely, allowing the weak to go to the wall. It’s also important to sustain and build this capacity in spiritual and human terms; Some popular images of the city may have yuppified, but there is a vulnerability about all community groups and subgroups, especially faith ones. At every level from sub housegroups to the diocese, leadership is a key influence, for good and/or bad. One key priority has to be trying to ensure that strategically aware and pastorally gifted area deans have the time and resource to do their jobs.

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