Cake and Conversation: A month of listening in east London

The Centre for Theology & Community l and tagged , , l

FSCN0392Jess Scott was one of our Jellicoe Interns during July. Here she reflects on the joy of building relationships with people who have called east London home for all their lives…

Running away from approaching buzz bombs… strict priests disciplining unruly teenagers… children being born, partners dying… pubs closing… immigrants coming, a new Overground train station opening. These were just some of the stories I had the privilege of hearing over the last month – something I found unexpectedly hopeful. Memories have about them a kind of chaos – they tell of things going wrong, but things going right too. Ros told me of her husband’s financial difficulty, and in the next breath of the astonishing generosity of her neighbours. We live in a world, it appears, that is unfairly unjust, but unexpectedly kind too – a cause for hope.

In the memories recalled comes across the loves (or ‘self-interest’, as community organising’s language might translate it) of the person opposite me. The things that have moved and stirred them and the deep desires which push them on, the things about which they could not care more. Hope, again, comes forth: people have loves that give them energy and animation, which push them forward into action. When I met Lil and discovered what she remembers of Shadwell, I found myself hopeful of a Shadwell to come. The inner experience shared over tea and cake has reason for us to hope about the future of the world out there.


Meanwhile, I find myself moving from the outward to the inward. My time in Shadwell, volunteering here and there, meeting with people from local organisations, listening to those journeys told, led me to want to pray more than I have in a long while. I can’t really say why this is. Perhaps it is because recognising our relation to others, that deep connection of ours with sister and brother, neighbour and stranger, is what best allows us to see our dependence and need – and so to pray with desire. Perhaps it is because, as someone reminded me in the course of the internship, in each person, however strangely and unexpectedly, I have encountered Christ himself.

In others I have seen an offer of hope for a community and an impetus for change in the world. And in myself I have seen my work ‘out there’ draw me towards inner words of prayer. Moving inwards finds expression outwards, whilst moving outwards has drawn me in.

For the church, whose being seems to express this movement – our inner life shapes the social life, and that social life leads us back to the inner life – this means God with us, in the ordinariness of our days – to be discovered in the dull roar of the E1 Highway as well as in the silence of prayer. Here lies our hope, but, for me at least, a great challenge too. To borrow Francis Thompson’s words, “tis my estrangèd face that too often fails to see Jacob’s ladder, upon which angels climb, Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross, and to see Christ walking on the water/Not of Genesareth, but Thames!” 

The memories shared are incomplete, with consequences still unsettled, struggles that are yet to end. That they are spoken aloud, told and narrated, seems to speak of their non-finality. There are things we can yet do, the story is not over, with hope let us create a new thing…

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