Gina Byrne (LSE) and Andrew Hood (New College, Oxford) describe their first fortnight on a Jellicoe Internship at St Peter’s, Bethnal Green
In the two weeks since we arrived in Bethnal Green, we’ve experienced the full vibrancy and diversity of East London. As Jellicoe interns at St Peter’s Church Bethnal Green, our primary task has been to conduct a listening campaign, particularly focusing on the estates surrounding the church. The core organising technique we have employed is the one-to-one relational meeting. The counterintuitive idea behind such meetings is that they have no agenda beyond a better understanding of the passions and motivations of the other individual. Together we have assembled a map of the relationships, concerns and interests of the local community.
Prominent among those concerns is drug dealing in nearby estates and parks. This trade brings with it anti-social behaviour and a feeling that the community’s ownership of public spaces has been lost. A further worry often expressed is the lack of integration between the different sub-communities of the East End. Whilst the traditional East End dynamic of neighbourliness is far from extinct, there is a desire for both the Asian community and the “Shoreditch Set” to become part of the circle of trust and mutual concern.
Broad-based community organising has proved itself to be a powerful tool in the context in which churches such as St Peter’s work. On the very local level, organising’s focus on the realisation of the common good allows a church in an ethnically and religiously diverse area such as Bethnal Green to speak to all individuals and institutions in the community. The idea of holding power to account through the relational strength of communities and securing concrete improvements really does grab people’s attention in a way that a mere expression of goodwill cannot.
Getting to know the community of Bethnal Green has been an eye-opening experience for both of us. The most valuable aspect of our time here has been a deeper understanding of the complexity of plural society, and how the church in that context can ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city’ (Jeremiah 29:7) through building relationships and alliances in the pursuit of justice and the common good.