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

    Friday, July 29, 2005
    City Centre Walk #1 - The Churches Trail

    I did a city centre walk today. In preparation for the day in October when we'll be offering three or four different walks, on different themes, to Iona Community folk(s) from across northern England, gathering in Liverpool to think and talk about culture, regeneration and what all of that stuff means. I thought of churches as a good hook on which to hang a stroll around the corner of town from Canning Place uphill towards Berry Street, part of it in the throes of being radically redesigned and newly-identified as Rope Walks, the other, well-established (though recently flourishing) Chinatown. The map shows ten churches, each one telling a deep, deep, story. Here are the headlines:

    1. (The Former) St Peter's Church, Seel Street - the oldest surviving church in the city centre, founded by Benedictines in 1788, adopted by the Liverpool Polish community in 1976. Today is is full of workmen playing loud music and surveyors hovering in doorways speaking into phones: it is being turned into desirable Creative Quarter apartments.

    2. The Missionaries of Charity, Seel Street - in a very inauspicious building untouched by redevelopment (save being layered with dust daily, from the rebuilding going on all around), Mother Teresa's sisters are still here, and the poor and needy know they are, and are grateful;

    3. The Methodist presence in the city centre - above News From Nowhere, Bold Street - I've written and linked elsewhere about Barbara Glasson and her admirable, radical experiment in Christian community. Here above our excellent feminist-left bookshop on one of the city's unmanufactured, absolutely real cultural corridors, Barbara makes bread and shares it with those who call;

    4. St Luke's, Berry Street - the bombed out church, we call it. Never been touched since the blitz took the roof off and burned the innards away. City Council inerta and the people's lack of vision mean it now houses large trees within its walls, and the gardens are a favourite site for alcoholics and other self-abusers. Except sometimes innocents wander in and enjoy the place - today, a group of Afro-Scouse girl singers were recording a video there;

    5. The Blackie - the former Great George Street Congregational Church, at the other end of Berry Street, which the new Pevsner calls 'an outstandingly good building' with its semicircular portico of Corinthian columns more massive and imposing than All Soul's, Langham Place. Even the tremendous Chinese arch at the entrance to Nelson Street looks humble alongside it. For a couple of decades now, this has been home to a well-respected community arts project, and everyone knows it as The Blackie;

    6. Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church, Great George Square - bordering a lovely little revived piece of parkland, in the heart of the Chinese quarter, the modern and apparently thriving Liverpool Chinese Gospel Church provides Sunday Services in English, Mandarin and Cantonese;

    7. St Vincent De Paul, St James Street - a Pugin creation, and pretty legendary Liverpool dockland church. From what I can tell the RC authorities have closed it down, in their recent radical downsizing;

    8. St Michael in the City, Upper Pitt Street - meanwhile, the Church of England struggles away, in this modest building tucked into the warren of social housing between the docks and the trendy centre. At a time when the centre is rapidly repopulating, just one-and-a half priests serve this and four other city-centre churches;

    I detour here, to investigate some fancy new buildings rising up behind the church. Signs everywhere tell me that they are The East Village, 'a development of 137 luxury apartments in the heart of the cosmopolitan ropewalks area of Liverpool City Centre. Dynamic, exciting ... This is undoubtedly a unique and inspirational move forward in the creation of mixed-use living,' a property dealer's website says. I'm fascinated walking an edge, Grenville Street South, where on one side of the road children huddle and scuttle and bike around the housing estate, and on the other signs placed by private developers at East Village entrances state: 'Children must be accompanied by an adult';

    9. Gustav Adolfs Kyrka, Park Lane - The Swedish Seamens' Church, wonderfully incongruous among the warehouses and industrial sites of the south dock area, this is a Scandinavian breeze. It's another legacy of the city's maritime history but it still serves a congregation today;

    10. Church House, Hanover Street - not strictly a church, but the city's Anglican HQ. It's on a corner which property speculators must covet, at the heart of the area the Duke of Westminster is transforming into Paradise. But unlike the Friends Meeting House, just around the corner, its occupants have escaped forced removal to another part of the city, for the time being at least. When it opened in 1885 it was an institute for the Mersey Mission to Seamen, and contained a temperance pub. Now the Mission is five miles downriver close to Seaforth Container Terminal, and temperance - of any kind - is a fading memory.