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notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
Friday, November 20, 2009Jim Hart - Rest in Passion
I've spent most of today drafting a Research Essay in which I reflect back on forty years of urban walking, realising that since childhood I have enjoyed walking in the city, whether exploring the streets with others whilst at play, or in 1971 taking a memorable quarter-mile walk in the company of teachers and classmates, which symbolised our move out from our ‘old’ school building into our ‘new’ one. This walk has stayed in my mind as at the age of nine it awoke in me an awareness of how a simple journey on foot can reveal the power and complexity of people’s relationships with particular places, a phenomenon which I have continued to explore ever since.
I was thinking of Jim as I wrote, wondering how he was, thinking I must get to see him soon to record a conversation about his approach to urban exploration. Jim hosted a walk during the 1995 Jesus in the City conference - a guided walk of Toxteth, taking us through the faded Georgian terraces and back alleyways and shoddy social housing of L8, talking about their social and economic history in terms which made connections which fizzed with insight and provocation. It was an afternoon which matured me theologically, awoke me to ways of viewing the city which I'd never thought of before, strengthened my resolve to engage with this particular city and its people.
After that walk I kept in touch with Jim, grew a friendship with a man who was often difficult to deal with, out of order on many things, but ultimately a man whose passions for God and justice I shared. Always energising, a visit to Jim's. Always challenging: coming away laden with papers which he'd written on all manner of subjects which he demanded be immediately read and responded to thoroughly. Always exhausing, a walk with Jim - he would soak up a place at speed and spin out endless insights while I (and often his good friend Dave), many years his younger, would struggle to keep physical and mental pace.
In a pub near a cemetery in North Manchester on our visit to Irish Republican graves last year the woman serving us lunch asked me, 'What would your dad like to eat?' Now my actual dad is alive and we get on well, but it was nice to be associated with Jim in this way, albeit mistakenly. Jim mentored me, tormented me. And his example - a working class lad with a desire to know more, fully explore and write about life as he saw it - was a direct influence on me and my own ongoing mental fight.
Suffolk-born Jim was soon out exploring the whole of Britain, as his unpublished gem Boy on Bicycle describes. Liverpool has been his home for much of his adult life, where he has been variously a self-elected youth worker (operating from his flat on an outer housing estate, taking groups of youngsters on long bicycle journeys in conditions which would seem nightmarish to today's risk assessment addicts), a researcher and advisor to churches on the social settings in which they served, an educator among the poor, an agitator of bishops and diocesan secretaries, a thinker, a depressive, an inadvisedly heavy drinker, a tireless reader, writer and sharer of knowledge. A frustration. A disciple of Christ. A friend to many, some who have fallen out with him and fallen away but retain a fondness for the man.
I have blogged about Jim and his influence on me many times. It's a modest body of words and a small contribution to a legacy which I hope will grow as others too go to print with their reflections on the hard but faithful man's good influence.
Pic: from my blog of June 24, 2006, the day he took me on his 'Alternative M6' journey, Jim picnicing on the farm road which runs between carriageways above Shap