Another three weeks …

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As readers of this blog will know, I normally tend to fill these pages with theological / political polemics rather than personal messages or reflections, but today it feels I just need to share my own short reflection and message as we enter into another three week period of lockdown in UK due to the covid19 pandemic. In those first three weeks we’ve all had to deal with a variety of concerns and challenges – for the very gravest as they have lost loved ones in the cruellest of circumstances often without even a real chance to say goodbye, for others this first three weeks of isolation “lockdown” have raised issues around childcare and “home schooling”, or food insecurity and shopping, or any other manner of issues. For me I’ve struggled most trying to explain to my 25 year old with learning disabilities and austism, that although his regular visits to see us aren’t now allowed – it doesn’t mean we don’t want to see him, and certainly isn’t that we don’t care. We’ve learned to replace physical contact with more use of Skype and Zoom, it’s all been very unfamiliar to so many of us.

Alongside those personal challenges at home, the “lockdown” has also had a significant effect on my work and ministry. For a month now the day to day activities, from community allotmenting to the social cafe organised through our PXI charity have been suspended. We’ve even had to combine our foodbank with another partner for the duration of the covid19 pandemic in order to try and ensure it can cope with the current circumstances. Those decisions have each been truly painful (especially after 10 years of building them up to what they have become), but especially painful as it has – alongside the social restrictions brought in by Government – greatly reduced the level of contact I have with the people my ministry serves. So tonight I felt the need to share this personal (perhaps you might say pastoral) message.

“Tonight we’ve had the announcement of another three weeks of lockdown ….. many of us out there are finding it hard; some have already lost friends and family members to the virus, others are worried for their own safety or that of others. A number of us are in self isolation because we feel ill, and others are isolated because they are being “shielded” from infection; each of us experiences this time from the perspective of our own context, needs and concerns.

There will, no doubt, be more upsets along the road – more people will become ill, sadly more people (perhaps even more of those we know) will die because of Covid19.

But it will all end one day – and we will once again be able to hold hands, hug one another and do those things we so desparately yearn for at this time.

Even now, we still celebrate, still mourn, still love …. but for now, for a time longer we must show our love from a distance, with no less passion or meaning than at any other time, but not in the way we might choose.

Stay safe, and may God bless us now and evermore.”

Nick

 

Special and Sacred

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Those of you who have been following this blog for any length of time will already know that part of my Pioneer Ministry* work with Methodist Church in Sheffield that some of that ministry takes me to Norwwod Allotments and “The God Plot”**

From this month we now have responsibility for four plots 73,74, 75 and 76 – it’s quite exciting but also quite an undertaking. The plan is that Parson Cross Initiative (Projects) will remain tenant on 75 & 76, and they will transfer 73 & 74 to a new community group called Growing Space that is “specifically designed to be healing and supportive of the well-being and growth of those using the space.” both groups and Share Ministries will  continue to work across all four sites and in partnership with one another.

Although the Sacred Spaces will not be fixed, or designated as such, we are already exploring the rythm and feel of the different spaces. For example, as the first plots people come to Plots 73 & 74 seem to lend themselves to the more “public” spaces such as:

  • Cloister – as a gathering and meeting place
  • Refectory – where hospitality is offered and shared
  • Scriptorium or Library – a space for learning

The presence of the hut on 74 also helps with such spaces (especially at this time of year). The nature of the work we have planned across all four sites make the role of  Infirmary (as a place of healing and well being) integral to all.

Meanwhile Plot 76 is the furtherest plot on the site and can only be accessed through the other plots, it feels a natural space for those places and activities that call for a greater depth and possibly a sense of journeying such as:

  • Cell – as a place of personal, solitarity space
  • Chapel – for community celebration and “confession”

The journey is still a relatively young one and we are deeliberately letting things unfold in their own time, as well as allowing them to be affected by those who use the space, we are in reality building the special and sacred together. Meanwhile the development of “worship” on the sites also continues; in December of coursewe will have Carols on the Allotments, this has in fact been a long standing annual feature of my time involved on the Norwood site and date back to 2010. This coming year however we’re hoping to embrace more celebrations on the various spaces, including:

  • Orchard blessing & wassailing (January)
  • Candlemas (February)
  • Spring Equinox (March)
  • May Day
  • Summer Solstice (June)
  • Lammas (August)
  • Autumn Equinox (September)
  • All Hallows / all souls (October)
  • Carols (December)

 

 

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*Share Ministries

**see The God Plot

 

 

 

“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

 

 

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)