notes from a small curate
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK
An approach to listening and learning in the local community
As a new incumbent priest in a new parish, seeking to understand the shape and concerns of the community, following conversations with Canon Neville Black I make the following commitments to approaches and activities for the first six months of my time here.
1. Listening and learning on pastoral visits
I shall aim to develop active listening during my visits around funerals, baptisms and weddings. This should involve using open questions intended, in a non-threatening way, to throw light on people's perceptions of the area, the shape of their lives and the issues which concern them. For example:
On housing - "How long have you lived here?", "What do you think of the area?", etc;
On family / neighbourhood - "Where do the children go to school?", "Who picks them up?" "Who looks after the baby?" etc;
On the local economy - "Which shops do you use?", "Where do you get your car fixed?" etc;
On leisure - "Where do the children play?", "What do you do of an evening?" etc;
On perceptions / issues - "Do you like it here?", "Why did you move here?", "What's good / bad about here?" etc
After the first 2-3 weeks once the stories start to recur, I shall begin to 'repeat' the story of the neighbourhood(s), to offer substance to the questions being asked. Eg - "I've heard it said that there's a lot of Irish people around here - is that right? When did they start to appear?"; "Some people say that it made a big difference when they closed down the School; did you know anyone who went there?"
2. Listening and learning by observation
I shall take regular walks around the area, with the specific aim of making observations about what I see of the physical environment, people's movements, gathering places and neglected places and so on.
3. Listening and learning by conversations in places of contact
I shall seek conversations in places of contact: shops, post office, food outlets, and including places I might not go into by choice - for instance certain pubs, street corners and bus shelters...
4. Listening and learning by involvement in community groups
I shall seek involvement in community groups as appropriate - obviously those based at the Church Community Centre but also others including schools, health centres, forums. I shall be open to informal and/or formal involvement.
5. Listening and learning from agencies active in the area
I shall seek conversations with police, social services, health workers, providers of youth services, employers, employment and educational agencies, citizens advice etc.
I shall also develop ways of recording my observations, taking advice from practitioners in sociology / urban ministry etc to find useful methods.
As a personal discipline I shall journal weekly and use my website to publish my observations and invite comments (whilst being sensitive to issues of confidentiality etc in the public domain).
I shall meet with Canon Neville Black every 2/3 months to discuss progress and issues raised.
22 April 2004
Based on discussion with Canon Neville Black (Liverpool St Luke in the City)and integrating input from Revd Dr Sam Wells (Cambridge St Mark's, Newnham)