A new, year-long evening course – coordinated by Ana Ferreira – for lay leaders has begun as part of the Urban Leadership School. The first term had thirteen participants from St George-in-the-East, Shadwell, St Mary’s, Walthamstow and St Stephen’s, Manor Park. Dunstan Rodrigues describes and reflects on what happened.
‘Leave your country, your family and your father’s house, and come into the land I will show you…” (Genesis 12:1)
With intrigued, nervous and curious expressions, thirteen lay leaders from Shadwell, Walthamstow and Manor Park listened to these words uttered by the Chaplain of CTC, Sr. Josephine Canny OA, at the beginning of the first session of the new ULS evening course. A teacher, accountant, journalist, security guard, shop assistant – the people assembled were from all walks in life yet had in common a love of their respective communities and a zeal to serve them in new ways.
‘…Come into the land I will show you…’
Resounding throughout history, these words first spoken to Abraham perhaps produced similar uneasy questions in him as they did in that group on the first sunny Monday evening:
“Where, Lord, are you leading me!?’
‘Am I prepared for the journey?’
‘Are you really calling me!?’
After powerfully telling the story of Abraham, Sr. Josephine then proclaimed that God calls us similarly: in ways more suprising, daring and wonderful than we can imagine, into a land that the Lord will show us…
This opening reflection set the tone for what the new evening course is about: that is, providing a space for these lay leaders to reflect on how God is calling them. Each evening opened with reflections on the call of different figures from scripture – Abraham, Mary, Job and the first disciples – alongside the stories of people in East London currently working for peace and human flourishing. We dwelled on what we can learn from our ancestors: like Moses, it was suggested that we are called to be attentive to the cries of our community; like Mary, to act from a place of peace, trust and contemplation; and, like the first disciples, to become ‘fishers of people’ and use the gifts we have been given for the kingdom of God.
In addition, the course is an opportunity to learn, practise and reflect on the craft of community organising. Organising – it was suggested – is a great means to help us hear the ‘cries of our people’ and to act. While many of the lay leaders have completed and benefitted from training run by Citizens UK, the evening course builds on this and examines the craft of organising with the eyes of faith. For instance, in the last two sessions, the group learnt and practised the art of having one-to-one conversations. As well as a means of strengthening relationships, identifying leaders and developing capacity, we reflected on how one-to-ones are like sacramental encounters: we ‘walk on holy ground’ in approaching the other and can become aware of the presence of the risen Jesus with us in our encounters.
Finally, the course is itself a reflective, prayerful sanctuary – where Christians from different denominations share a meal, pray together, and learn from one another and their stories. In one powerful sharing experience, the group shared stories of people in their community whose struggles touch their hearts. We heard amazing and moving stories involving homelessness, gang violence, asylum, youth unemployment, and the group grew in trust and a resolve to act. Hosted by Rev. Richard Springer, the evening meals – after long, hot working days – were always most welcome and were full of lively conversation. At the end of the term, the group remarked about how wonderful it had been to learn from, walk alongside and become friends with one another.
In summary, then, this year long evening course combines contemplative practice, instruction in community organising with faith sharing, prayer and food. At a time of scary and often bewildering political and social uncertainty, our hope is that the course will bear fruit in the lives of the group and – through them – the communities of Manor Park, Shadwell and Walthamstow.