Here she blogs about her experiences…
Having spent much of my life moving country every two to three years, the sense of belonging and home that I found was always very transient. Any notion of community perhaps only became apparent to me when I came to faith in my second year of University, and quickly found home at church. I was interested to see what community organising looked like in a faith context, and I hungered to see how the Church could be at the centre of societal transformation and community building. I’m excited that I have come away from this month having a much clearer idea of what this looks like!
My month-long placement was hosted by St. Barnabas’ Church, Walthamstow. Historically known as “the place of welcome”, Walthamstow has perhaps not seemed so inviting in recent years. Immigration checks at Walthamstow Central at the end of July made the headlines, causing an outcry against the apparent racial profiling, provoking a strong response from the local community. From my first day – which happened to fall on a community picnic commemorating a 4,000 strong gathering against an EDL march the summer before – I could see that the community spirit was certainly something to be celebrated! It became clear that I was there to largely ‘watch and learn!’
My task was to establish relational links with African women outside of the St. Barnabas community, and to introduce them to other women who were already involved in community work…And so it began to make sense, one conversation over a cup of tea at a time! I was touched by so many stories, and was inspired by women who continually battle against communal apathy in order to transform their communities from the inside out.
We all came together at the end of the month, as I invited those I had spoken to, to come along to a coffee morning/community conversation. It was amazing to see everyone come together, and a buzz of chatter and energy ensued as I posed the question “Tell us something that your grandmother taught you” as part of an ‘extended rounds.’
As my challenging and exhilarating month in Walthamstow comes to an end, I face a number of new challenges. I wonder now what it means to ‘do’ church, how community organising might become a tool, embedded in the culture of a church, and what it means to identify and mobilise community leaders that might have been largely invisible before. As I continue to reflect on the past month, what’s sure for now is that I’ve certainly become a victim of the ‘Walthamstow fever.’ I’ve fallen head over heels in love with its bustling High Street seeing familiar faces, hours spent chatting at ‘The Mill’ on Coppermill Lane, and eating my way through the multi-cultural culinary experiences! I will never take for granted what it means to ‘listen’ again and, having well and truly departed from my comfort zone, I will forever be fighting the urge to ask the person next to me on the tube ‘what makes you tick?’