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

    Monday, August 16, 2004
    Called to make bread in the city
     
    Barbara's church bosses shocked her one day by inviting her to leave her suburban Liverpool ministry behind and go into the city centre - where there was no church building and no congregation. That was five years ago. And so she took the train into Liverpool city centre, "convinced of only two things. Firstly that God had better be there ahead of me otherwise we were all sunk and secondly that we were called to make bread. You can make up your own mind which of those two seems the most ludicrous."

    I've been re-reading the paper Barbara presented to the Urban Theology Unit gathering I was at last month. I was moved by her story, partly because it's the story of someone who shares my experience of walking this city's streets, in observing their life hoping to discover where the eyes of God may be looking. Mainly because it's the story of someone placing herself in a position of deep vulnerability from which eventually, understanding, justice, celebration and community have emerged.

    A year of walking around, taking the experiences of the city and the people she encountered as the beginning of her thinking about how to do church, the very surprising gift of rooms above a radical bookshop and the growth of a most unlikely (and ever-changing) group of people who make and take bread together - that's, in a nutshell, Barbara's story so far. But there's so much more to it than that, and her reflections bear close reading....

    "One of the losses I experienced in my first year of being in the city centre was any liturgical shape to the year or even the week. When Christmas starts in August there is little space for any notion of advent and when the cream egg appears the week after new year it feels as if all is lost! Similarly when the weeks blur into an all round shopping experience there is little sense of Sunday being a sabbatical. But is there a liturgy to the city?

    "People gathered around the bread making table soon engaged with remembering and sharing stories. I noticed that these sometimes took the form of confession with others around the table listening people into absolution. I began to question whether liturgical patterns were present elsewhere in the city environment. I noticed a similar process going on in cafes and staff canteens where the story telling process was met with attention and respect. In call centres and counselling rooms confession is heard. So what of adoration? In our context the bread is admired and delighted in. Around the city the same process happens in concert halls and art galleries. There is great joy in human creativity and wonder at its ability.

    "And intercession? Well, I noticed the Christmas tree in Lewis' where people attach tags with peoples names on them for whom they are particularly concerned. It strikes me that if God is at large in the city then there is a liturgy, all be it largely hidden or unrecognised that goes with this reality. The bread making community simply holds a mirror to this process in the city. We somehow make visible what is largely invisible but not by imposing some alien liturgical practice but by recognising that God is involved with the things that are around us."

    I'm away for a few days and likely not to be blogging here; you might spend time with Barbara's paper instead...