The seminar tackled the challenge of ‘gangs and street violence’ and also saw the launch of our latest report Taking Back the Streets: Citizens’ responses to the 2011 riots.
On Tuesday 12th November, the Centre welcomed a diverse group of local church leaders and practitioners from across London to take part in the first of our new programme of seminars on ‘Theology for the Local Church’. These seminars – which are hosted at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine in east London – aim to equip local churches with the latest theology and practice on a key issue and then to provide the space for discussion and reflection.
The issue for our first seminar was ‘Gangs and Street Violence’. Two presenters talked about their own experiences.
Peta Boucher, the Director of Community Turf, Leytonstone, shared some of her insights into the challenges facing young people and how mentoring can help them deal with those challenges. Peta explained that “bereavement, grief and loss” were common and profound issues that many young people are trying to come to terms with. It might be the loss or absence of a parent, experience of domestic violence or abuse, dislocation (for recent migrants) or a sense of hopelessness about their family’s economic situation.
In Peta’s work in training mentors for young people, she has also learnt that mentors bring their own issues with them, and that any mentoring not only needs to be well prepared for, but is also a mutual experience – both sides have something to learn.
The second presenter was Peter Nembhard, the Senior Pastor of ARC Pentecostal church, Forest Gate. Peter talked movingly about his own past in a street gang and how he became a church pastor. He explored both the horror of street gangs – the killings and the waste of young lives – as well as recognising the strong and legitimate need that young people have to ‘belong’ somewhere and have friendships.
Peter’s own church in Forest Gate lost one its young people to knife crime – Charlotte, in 2008, at the age of 15. The church responded by opening up to young people and trying to give them a place where they can belong and be respected. The church now also mentors young people and actively supports the CitySafe project, to provide safe havens for young people.
Following the main presentations, Angus Ritchie, Centre Director, drew some connections between the testimony of Peta and Pastor Peter and the theological principles outlined in Just Church: Local congregations transforming their neighbourhoods. In particular, he highlighted Just Church’s call for “mutuality, not condescension” in the church’s engagement with its neighbours – linking this with Peta’s powerful testimony about young people being her teachers. Angus then officially launched the Centre’s latest report on how communities have been responding in the aftermath of the 2011 riots – Taking Back the Streets.
The final part of the seminar involved group discussions, which brought together a diverse range of experiences and viewpoints. Two of the many themes which emerged from these reflections included the following:
– Policing in the UK is by consent, but in London the working relationship between the Police and some communities is in poor repair. One participant observed that whilst the streets should not belong to gangs, neither should they belong to the Police – they should belong to our wider ‘civil society’. Churches have a role to play, with the Police, in making this happen.
– Population turnover in parts of London can be high, and as new households move in to an area, social ties need to be actively re-made if people are to take responsibility for their neighbourhoods. Churches have a unique role to play in building communities.
The Centre will be hosting a ‘Theology for the Local Church’ seminar at St Katharine’s every two months. Our next seminar is on 21st January, with Paul Hackwood of the Church Urban Fund, when we will launching and exploring the Church Urban Fund’s new Lent Book on ‘Just Love’. Seminars are free, but we do ask people to register in advance. If you would like to be kept up to date with our forthcoming events, please join our monthly mailing list.