“The God Plot”

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Growing spaces have been a characteristic of both Parson Cross Initiative and the pioneer ministry (Share Ministries) that have run through and alongside each other in one form or another since 2010, and it remains a core element of both to this day.

Currently the charity* operates three separate growing spaces:

  • A community “quiet garden” in partnership with Cross at Yew Lane**
  • A community orchard and growing space at Mount Tabor Methodist Church
  • And a community allotment (Plot76) at Norwood Allotments

Each space is different, and each has its own character, even though a number of those involved are common to at least more than one space. Of the three, it is Plot76 that is the major focus for Share Ministries, a fact that has earned it the unsolicited nickname amongst other allotmenteers as “The God Plot”. So what you might ask marks out this plot to earn it such a title?

I guess one easy answer is that I’m there – people know who and what I am, that is a Pioneer Minister in the Methodist Church. Sure they don’t always understand the “pioneer” bit, and I get quite often the “wrong” denominational title; “Father”, “Pastor”, “Vicar” and the like, but essentially, and intentionally people recognise what I am. However, I think (and I suppose hope) there’s a bit more to it than that.

From the charitys perspective Plot76 is all about social inclusion, this offers one big advantage to me in how I operate in the space in that it isn’t at any level simply about growing food. The plot is a place of community, of belonging – a space where people can come as just “be”, obviously we do grow things, we dig, we plant and sow and come the time we harvest and enjoy the fruits of the season, but primarily it’s about involvement. From the perspective of my ministry on the site, I aim to help create a sense of a Special and Sacred space.

The shelter that has been built is known as (and has a sign to prove it) Sanctuary; a place of refuge. It offers both personal space, but also a “chapel” space particularly when we hold our seasonal gatherings; when we mix music and poetry and reflection, with food and drink (non alcoholic of course being a good Methodist***). It is without doubt (because people have told me) also used during the week at times I’m not there as a place for quiet chats, personal time outs and contemplation.To use quasi monastic terms, the space provides a number of sacred spaces at different times:

  • Cell – as a place of personal, solitarity space
  • Chapel – for community celebration and “confession”
  • Cloister – as a gathering and meeting place
  • Refectory – where hospitality is offered and shared
  • Infirmary – as a place of healing and well being

My regular slot there is on a Thursday morning, when my role becomes that of host – I light the storm kettle and ensure a steady flow of tea and coffee, as well as being a listening ear, and ocassional gardener. Over the years the space has been used for conversations covering a wide range including; addictions and mental health issues, dealing with the loss of  loved ones, the difficulties with coping with deteriorating health, family breakdown, and the nature of Jesus.

Why and how do these conversations happen here? Well I suppose one reason is that I allow them to, encourage them to happen. Allow them to by offering space that is not judgemental and that allows a genuine flow between the secular and sacred, the spectacular and mundane and does not mark the difference, a space that doesn’t seek to provide answers, but allows chance to challenge and encounter. Encouraging them to by being responsive to the relationship that are there, acknowledging the difficulties (where they are present, and they are as in most places) and by sharing myself, my time, my life, my own vulnerabilities – I am not there as expert (gardening or otherwise), I’m not there to be “in control”****,  I’m there simply as companion, as friend, as partner in a shared journey.

 

Is it Church? Not in its entireity, although for some of us there it performs much of the role of church, what it is  is just what it is …. and I’m only too happy to know that to others and to me it’s simply “The God Plot”.

 


* The “charity” being Parson Cross Initiative (Projects) it was given charitable status in 2017 with the registered charity number 1172288
** The Cross at Yew Lane is also home to Creswick Greave Methodist Church
*** The alcohol ban also serves an important purpose as some of those attending activities on the plot have had issues with alcohol and addiction in the past
**** The issue of how we choose to hold power and authority and how we choose to exercise it is an important issue, and especially important I think in pioneer ecclesiology

 

 

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Changing Seasons

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This weekend saw the Autumn Equinox and at Share Ministries we marked it with an evening of folk music from local friends and an open mic session for others to share songs and poems.

Autumn Equinox (also known within Pagan community as Mabon) is celebrated when day and night are of equal duration before the descent into increasing darkness and is the final festival of the season of harvest. It is also a time to recoginse that the balance of the year has changed, the wheel has turned and summer is now over.

Recognising and marking seasonal change is important, it’s important to do so within the context of creation (the natural world around us) but its also important to do so in our own lives (we are of course also part of that same creation). Seasonal change in our lives can take many forms; we move from childhood to teens  and early adulthood through our middle years and into our old age. But of course other changes of season may also take place; our health may change, relationships come and go, hopefully we learn to love and also inevitably to cope with the loss of people we love. In all these changes in our life seasons God travels with us, offering light even in the dark times, providing us a sense of balance in our lives that holds us firm in good times and bad.

My ministry seems to be in something of a season of change – decisions about new priorities and partnerships are underway, as well as new challenges faced by those I work alongside and those we seek to serve as friends in community. Universal Credit casts a dark shadow over the coming season as the roll out hits Sheffield around November / December this year, its total effects are still of course unknown but the experience of many in places it is already in operation show it has caused more problems than solutions, deepened peoples experiences of poverty rather than lifting them from it. In the past six months alone our food bank service has seen a further 26% growth in those seeking help – if Universal Credit increases these figures we will find it increasing hard to cope with demand in the same way, thankfully our supporters are still generous and we will continue to look for the best ways to exhibit our key values of Love, Hope, Grace and Advocacy despite the increasing challenges.

Our Equinox Blessing

Blessings for the bounty of your Summer harvest.

Blessings for balance in our life as we attune with the power of equal night and day.

Blessings for that which falls away, that which needs to be released with faith and trust into the mystery.

Blessings for gathering and storing the light & warmth of the Summer sun as we head through this transition season towards the dark of Winter when the earth goes to her womb-place and takes that which has fallen away and uses it to create new life that comes in the rebirth of Spring.

May we all harvest well so the light within can carry us through the time of least “outer” light.

 

(Photo by Katie York – Sunshine & Poppies)

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.