“Little Clay Folk”

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Today I sent out the “little clay folk” (the people of God) into Parson Cross around Care Homes, Churches and other community spaces to be a blessing in these times …..

In these strange times, as the nation (and the world) experiences the Covid19 coronavirus pandemic, and we face isolsation, lockdown and restrictions around our day to day lives, it is sometimes been hard to think about how we might “minister” into this situation. Our church buildings have been largely closed, except where they are being used for frontline activities such as foodbanks, our worship has been taken online and into our homes, we continue to offer support to those grieving and mourning to the best of our ability – but it is all hard. The conversations through telephone or on social media  offering pastoral support have been crucial, but they miss out still on so much that is really important in our regular human interactions – the touch of a hand, a silent nod of sympathy, the embrace and hug of friendship, and so much more – all these things are largely absent at this time, and it hurts for so many of us.

In such a time I wanted to think of visible signs of embracing the community I serve in, the communities of Parson Cross, Southey, Foxhill and Longley in North Sheffield; then I remembered some work that I’d connected with some years ago towards the start of my time in the area. Back in 2011 Ric Stott* had produced a series of 40 clay men as part of an exploration of Lent, one of these clay men found its’ way to Parson Cross. We borrowed the idea again with a series of Advent Angels made by adults and children at Mount Tabor that we placed across the estate.

Over Easter I’ve been looking online at a few “Godly Play” resources, and came across the “people of God” figures, for those not familiar they are small wooden figures in various poses, with no recogniseable features and they are used in story telling to be the exactly what it says the “people of God”.  Now, I’m not one who thinks play (Godly or otherwise) should be the pastime only of children, and so I thought that combining these two elements – our “clay men” and the “people of God” might offer one way that I could offer a blessing to the area.

The first group of five (pictured above) were made at home, and each given a tiny placard to hold with a special, but familar, messages; this morning I took time to place them in various community spaces, with prayers and blessings in each space they were left. One was at Mount Tabor, my base in more usual times, I pray for a return to life that this place usually contains, a return of the people who value it as a place of love, hope grace and inclusion. A second was placed in the public space at Chaucer, it’s a space that normally would see people wandering through on their way to Asda, Farmfoods or one of the other local shops, they’d be waiting at the bus stop for a trip into town or down the road to Hillsborough, there’s the library and housing offices, and at the start and end of each school day the space would be filled with students from Chaucer School – but right now it’s empty, apart from the “little clay folk” I left; I pray that one day it will be safe again to enjoy the hustle and bustle of lively public spaces. A third figure was placed at St Pauls, on Wordsworth Avenue which has become the temporary home to the emergency foodbank in Parson Cross run by S6 foodbank and supported by PXI Projects; still around 40 households each week are coming to that place for food, which feels shocking to me that there is still such a reliance even in these most desperate of times. I pray that as we emerge from the pandemic that the country will re-assess why there is such a need in what is still such a rich nation, I fear however we may not and that demand will simply grow even higher. The final two “people of God” we placed outside care homes in the area (Deerlands and North Hill Road) – it is more and more evident that our care homes have been devastated throughout this crisis, their workers often left without inadequate protections and their reseidents left vulnerable to infection and early death. I pray for better protection, I give thanks for the love, care and dedication of the workers in these homes, I pray that families may soon again be able to visit, hold hands and hug those they love.

Love your neighbour, keep one another safe and I pray you keep well.

 

* Ric Stott – Clay Men (2011)

Universal Realities

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It’s been another crazily busy week at our foodbank session – in one afternoon we’ve fed 72 households, that is 112 adults and 55 children …. since January 2019 we’ve seen almost a week on week increase and levels are now at over 70% higher than before the Universal Credit roll out in Sheffield.

One household we spoke with today had made three (YES THREE) Universal Credit claims since December:

  • First claim after he lost his job in December – He waited the five weeks standard delay for first payment, but didnt recieve any money. He contacted DWP to be told he’d failed to reply to, an email (he hadn’t seen it) and so his claim was cancelled by DWP. So he submitted a new claim – another five week wait for his first payment.
  • Fortunately in this period he found a job. The wages weren’t great, but with the hours he put in and his partners part time wages, they earned enough in that month to take them over the threshold for Universal Credit, so his claim was cancelled by DWP.
  • Sadly a couple of weeks later he was laid off. He has now had to submit a new claim for Universal Credit and is subject to a five week wait for his first payment.

Stories like these are sadly too familiar, as people are left with little or no monies whilst waiting for claims to to be processed. Add this to the frequent amount of debt that people are carrying, rents and mortgages owed and the negative impact on peoples mental health can hardly be overstated. I wonder sometimes how people who find themselves in these kinds of situation cope, but of course most of the time they do, the bonds of family and community remain stronger than some might imagine, especially perhaps in places like Parson Cross and similar neighbourhoods elsewhere.

Into this situation we throw our volunteers and helpers, without which there would be no service, no food bank ….. week on week they too have to cope, not just with the pressure of giving out food parcels to around 70 households in four hours (thats roughly one every three and half minutes) but they also find time to listen to the stories (the lives) of those who attend. Stories of relationship breakdowns, of ill health, and addictions; of jobs lost, and dashed hopes, of choices made between fuel or food, of Mums not eating a meal so their child can do….. and all this shared and received with compassion, and often a smile.

Today our voluntary team stayed on an extra hour in order to make sure everyone who came had been given a food parcel – it’s never enough, but it’s all we can do, and we’re glad that we can even though we are sad that we have to. We don’t ask for gratitude and thanks ….. but every now and again we are blown away by the grace we are shown by people who come to us, today we were given a donation of £1 from a young woman who has come to food bank a number of times over the last few months, with it this letter (see photo above):

“TO EVERYONE,

Thank you so very much for all you do. Your kindness is like looking up into the sky and seeing stars, which I do feeling I am not alone.”

To be honest – I have nothing more to say

 

 

 

Seven Spaces

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When I first began in Parson Cross, back in 2010, I read a pamphlet by George Lings called Seven Sacred Spaces (part of the Church Army – Encounters on the Edge series), in it he describe some common spaces that could be found within monastic type communities. The model has stuck with me, and I’ve kept returning to it – and once again this year I’ve gone back to the allotments (on which PXI Projects has a plot) to explore the “seven spaces” there.

The spaces that Lings refers to are:

Cloister: A place for surprising and unplanned encounters.

Chapel: Where we experience faith and worship as a corporate “body”.

Cell: A personal spiritual space.

Chapter: A space where community meets and makes choices and decisions together,

Garden: Physical labour and engagement with creation takes place here.

Scriptorium: Where we can explore creativity and share in the passing on of knowledge.

Refectory: Here the community eats together, offers and provides hospitality to others.

So it was with these in mind that I returned to the allotments on Norwood Road, in the wonderful early summer sun of last week, to reflect on how these spaces are being brought to life already, and how I might join in with that and know God there.

Abba Moses, one of the Desert Fathers once said: “Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” And so, at first I sat for a while in my own cell our plot (76) in prayerful reflection and preparation, the sunshine and shade dancing and moving across the place, trying to clear my head of my own plans and assumptions, and allowing myself to simply encounter the spaces and the people on the site.

After some time I journeyed out, along the pathways between the plots (the Cloisters if you will), peering over hedges and fences into the individual plots (Cells) taking in the birdsong around me, and the variety of cultivation happening on the allotments. At first I met Carol, it had been sometime since I last saw her, but we greeted each other and briefly passed the time of day, before I carried on my walk. I passed by Garys Lane, Plot 76 had been Garys previously but we took it on after he moved to this new plot, there was no sign of Gary but it was good to be reminded again of the continuity that lasts even when we ourselves are absent. I turned another corner, when a voice shouted “…give us a hand will you?” I walked onto the plot where the voice had come from to see Les tying a new scarecrow to a pole – I helped him until the task was complete, and we carried on chatting. Les’ plot is one of the neatest and best kept on the site, he’s put years of care and love into it, making it personal and a reflection of something that is him. On one shed wall was a painting done by Carol, it was of a field of poppies, she’d painted for Les in remembrance of all the Allotment holders that had died as a result of war.

On returning to the LEAF community plots (LEAF being one of our partner organisations) I found Diane hard at work in the sun with some children from one of the local primary schools, learning about and getting to work on planting out peas in trays ready for the coming growing season. One of the children had overheated in the hot sun, and in the end I had to drive him back to school with his class teacher (it was his birthday too – so the drive back became an extra treat after he cooled down a  bit).  He was glad he was back at school, and in the shade once more; and I too was glad to be back on the allotments, and to once again get the feel for the sacred and special spaces that we can find when we thoughtfully and intentionally seek them out.