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

    Friday, April 07, 2006
    To walk the M62
    This week I got the go-ahead to start planning my sabbatical for August - November 2007. Here's what's been approved.

    Project description: TO WALK THE M62

    A series of parish walks en-route from Hull to Liverpool, in the company of local clergy, sector ministers and other members of the community, with a view to reflecting together on AN URBAN THEOLOGY OF PLACE in Northern England today.

    I have spent the past two years (since arriving in my present parish) exploring themes embraced by a growing theological literature on the meanings of place, with my interest being especially in the urban context.

    Part of my exploration of this has involved my taking a number of parish walks in our area, sometimes alone and sometimes with others (including, on one occasion, Bishop David), recording my observations and reflections on my website, and engaging in online dialogue with various others - practitioners of urban walking, former or current residents of our parish, psychogeographers, street performers, urban theologians. I have presented papers on this experience to the Urban Theology Unit, Sheffield, the Liverpool Diocese UPA group and on an away day for our group of churches. In April 2005 I ran a week's retreat on Iona on the theme Healing Places. I continue these walks and also explore further afield (most recently in Dewsbury and Blackpool) with others in, or on the fringes of the church with whom I share this interest.

    I am keen to develop this work further and feel that a two-month journey across the industrial corridor of Northern England would be a valuable way of engaging more deeply with how people in today's society (and particularly in our region) relate to their places of work and leisure, and perceive their relationships with the place they call home.

    On my explorations I would be particularly concerned to visit peripheral/transitional places (ports and docks, industrial units, service stations) and to walk 'fault-lines' (places of racial tension, city edge estates, the boundaries between new-build redevelopments and old housing) in the company of those who could provide particular insights into the meaning of these places to the people who use or inhabit them, and the social forces which create and impact on them. I would be keen to explore with others 'where the church is' - or might be - in these places.

    I would work with contacts in parish and sector ministry throughout the region to set up a schedule of visits, work from a base (either rented accommodation or donated rooms) en-route week-by-week, and call on my contacts in theological, social science, geographical and other disciplines for critique and guidance along the way.

    A further month of collating the record of these walks and integrating them into a theological study may help provide some insights into the changes and challenges facing communities and individuals in our region and offer some pointers towards the shape of future ministries which might engage with these challenges. This would be residential, eg at St Deiniol's, or in rented accommodation in the region.

    I would hope that the resulting paper would offer some useful perspectives into the present discussions about emerging church and especially in the area of tension between 'network' and 'parish' approaches. On a personal level I would hope that the experience would help to inform and deepen my own ministry in the place I am at present, and perhaps offer some guidance as to future paths my ministry might take.

    I'm increasingly drawn to majoring on the commercial / industrial dimension as I go. Some random reasons for this include:

    - Sighting the awesome Ferrybridge Power Station on a trip east last week and wondering what went on inside;

    - Reading the article in yesterday's Guardian detailing the Port of Liverpool's involvement in the trade in soya, which provides the feed for what eventually become Chicken McNuggets and is ripping the rainforests to shreds;

    - Reflecting on my family's back story and pondering the factors which may have led to my great-grandparents' decision to move their (shoe repair) business from Shipley to Liverpool.

    Sixteen months to shape all this into something do-able. Your ideas welcome.