In 2012, Austin Tiffany spent four weeks on CTC’s Summer Internship (known then as the “Jellicoe internship”). With applications now open for our 2017 programme, he blogs on the impact of a month in east London…
Five years ago I stepped onto British soil for the first time, having come from Texas for an internship in east London. The project was titled Highway Neighbours, and a team of four of us were tasked to help churches and the local communities in Shadwell and Wapping adjust to the 2012 Olympics, at the time just a few weeks away. Our task was to listen to the needs of the community, using existing structures and leadership of the local churches to distribute information and provide assistance to all living along the Highway.
For four weeks, we attended community events and gatherings, ranging from a TFL meeting in the local school to coffee mornings with the elderly. Our first job was to listen to peoples’ concerns and needs. With the implementation of the Olympic Route Network, many feared daily services would be cut off, including public transport and health services, as well as access to medicine and food supplies. As we listened, our team of interns found ways the four churches could work together to address these needs and make positive action. By this time, the partnerships had grown to include the local mosque, Roman Catholic Church and a primary school. By the end of the month, we had created and distributed information booklets to 8,000 homes, drop in centres were created on both sides of the Highway and support was given to those who needed it.
This Jellicoe internship opened my eyes to new manifestations of faith – churches actively concerned with needs beyond their own community. It shed light on a life of faith outside of service times and people who recite the same creed. There were differences in beliefs and methods of worship, but that did not hamper a common prerogative to serve the surrounding community. Differences could be respected and understood, but that did not stop the communities from taking action together. That reality is not limited to Shadwell and Wapping but applicable to churches everywhere.
Along with the guided reflection provided by CTC staff, these experiences helped me understand that theology is not only meant for the textbook but something to be lived and acted upon today. The skills I gained from organizing – the acts of listening, identifying individuals with the ability to effectively help, and motivating very different communities to work together on shared action – are ones I continue to carry with me today.
I returned to London in 2013 to do the internship again, that time in Stoke Newington where I broadened and refined my community organizing skills an a more explicitly-interfaith context. Now, I returned (yet again) to England as I pursue a PhD at the University of Cambridge. Here, I study the motivations of different faith communities to engage with one another, whether through common action, dialogue or once in a lifetime events, like the Olympics.
It is hard to imagine what tangible work could be accomplished in just five weeks with CTC, but trust me, a lot can be accomplished in a short amount of time. More importantly, CTC made a long lasting, positive impact on my faith, the way I view the world around me and my sense of calling. The internship may have ended in August 2012, but I am continually shaped and motivated by those experiences in east London every day.