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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Sunday, September 15, 2002
    The idea of local partners
     
    Hardly two miles separates them but there couldn't be a greater contrast between the two churches I spent today in. This morning I led worship at St Margaret's, Toxteth, once a jewel in the city's Anglo-Catholic crown, now a crumbling shell of a place, its frescoed walls literally rotting away. Eleven of us shared communion standing around the altar, a huddle in a vast emptiness. Conversation afterwards was about finding £800,000 for essential repairs. This in one of the city's poorest parishes where good people find themselves fiddling the gas meter just to try to make ends meet.

    And this afternoon back at our place, a strikingly different setting. We were open to the public for the Civic Trust's national Heritage weekend, our bright Georgian interior looking its best as the afternoon sun shone through the windows. Designed by Charles Reilly, first Professor of Architecture at the University of Liverpool, Holy Trinity's chancel was described by the celebrated architecture critic Nikolaus Pevsner as "truly remarkable". And it's well-kept. Over seventy folks came through its doors and marvelled at it today.

    The contrast I've described is only about bricks and mortar; it does not reflect on the faith or commitment of each of these congregations. It boils down to economics, which underlies all social exchange. Many of our parishioners would be scandalised by the thought of good folk fiddling the gas meter, but would unquestioningly use any means at their disposal to ensure they get their children into the 'best' schools. It's part of the same thing.

    The question in my mind is massive because it exists in the interface between faith and politics, economics and spirituality. It is, how on earth could there be such a gulf between two worshipping communities physically so close together, and structurally linked as part of the same deanery? And how to begin to rectify it.

    Suburban parishes often enjoy the benefit of links with 'mission partners' overseas. Having 'local partners' would be a far tougher proposition, would begin addressing the questions I've just raised. Questions which, of course, go to the heart of how our inequitable society functions. If it happened and was designed as a true and equal partnership, impacting on the people's everyday social and economic relationships, it would be revolutionary, real gospel.