A Place of Welcome [By: Tammy]

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“If you’ve ever been homesick, or felt exiled from all the things and people that once defined you, you know how important welcoming words and friendly smiles can be.” –Stephen King

In early April Tim and I celebrated our 23rd anniversary of living in England. Having spent the first 21 of those years on the southeastern edge of the city of Birmingham, the move to this area found me struggling to define my new ‘patch’: the place to begin building connections and making a home.

What exactly IS my community? Simply labeling it Birmingham felt too fuzzy and impersonal; I craved a hook on which to hang my hat: a distinct sense of place where I could discover the heartbeat and begin making my own contributions. After a casual remark provided me with the Summerfield place name, I began searching for opportunities to make friends.

With so many years spent in the same location, I was a bit rusty with the whole developing friendships in the new community thing. When our children were young we depended heavily on school-gate conversations and Parent Association gatherings to form relationships. As empty nesters without those natural opportunities, I was at a bit of a loss. Chance encounters were frustratingly brief and lacked substance. Let’s face it: there is a limit to the depth of friendship you can create talking about the weather!

When I learned about the Summerfield Place of Welcome, I was eager to visit. Introverted by nature, my first step through the door was a bit daunting. I needn’t have worried; I was warmly greeted and soon found myself enjoying a cup of coffee and being welcomed into conversation like an old and treasured companion. Having entered as a stranger, I left with some newly forming friendships. This Tuesday morning place of unconditional welcome has now become a happily anticipated part of my week.

The Place of Welcome meets a variety of needs for those of us who gather: a weekly respite for otherwise lonely days; a kind word and warm hug during a challenging season of life; a renewed sense of purpose and belonging while working with others on the community garden; the opportunity to buy good food provided by The Real Junk Food Project Brum on a pay-as-you-feel basis. And others like myself have found this a place where friendships can develop and grow. And the times of meeting together are helping me to more clearly hear the heartbeat — and deeply appreciate the rich diversity — of my community. MY community. Those two simple words speak volumes to me.

Please come join us! All are welcome.

-Tammy

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Reimagining Mission from the 'Ground Up' [By: Sam]

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A while back a friend who directs a creation care NGO in the USA gave me a bumper sticker that I display shamelessly on my laptop. It reads:

'Treat the earth as if your life depends upon it' Genesis 2:15

There are at least three reasons that I decided to turn that bumper sticker into a laptop sticker. First, it expresses the theological impact of Genesis 2:15the inextricable connection between humanity and soil, expressed originally through a play on words between adam (literally, the 'earth creature') and adamah (the fertile soil from which God created Adam). Second, I display it because it so concisely paraphrases the first biblical 'job description' given to humansnamely, to serve and observe adamah (Gen. 2:15). Third, I want to have a daily reminder that caring directly for adamah is a way of connecting deeply with creation and aligning my actions with the promise, 'See, I am making all things new' (Rev. 21:5).

As I write this today, I am aware that connecting earth care and Christian ministry might come across as a supreme example of 'preaching to the converted.' Today, the Church of England embraces creation care as one of its 'Five Marks of Mission.' But in my case, it took awhile for the penny to drop, and I arrived as a latecomer to the party where earth care and people care were already being joined together and celebrated as authentic expressions of Christian mission. You see, I was neither shaped to be a Bible-bashing fundamentalist with a bumper sticker about the rapture (i.e., 'In case of rapture, this vehicle will remain unmanned!'), nor was I shaped to fit in easily with my tree-hugging, nature-loving university friends whose bumper sticker 'theologies' advocated saving the planet by 'practicing random acts of kindness.' To be precise, I was raised as moderate 'mainliner.' Intuitively, I knew there had to be more to following Jesus than either 'not getting left behind' or merely acting in a kind, random way. But as a moderate mainliner, I had a long way to go to connect with 'treat[ing] the earth as if your life depends upon it' as an expression of my decision to 'accept Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior.' In other words, I wasn't sure what following Jesus had to do with 'hugging trees' or 'getting my hands dirty.'

In fact, I had to undergo what Pope Francis has called an 'ecological conversion.' In my 20s and 30s, I studied academic theology and could analyze the anatomy of theological system. I could regurgitate key points about a Christian doctrine of creation and spot doctrinal inconsistencies from a mile away.

But did I actively 'treat the earth as if [my] life depends upon it?' Probably not. The turning point for my 'ecological conversion' did not happen in a classroom, nor through a book. It happened in the most unlikely of places: on the fifth floor of an apartment building.

Flashback to 2008: I was visiting my Brazilian friend Claudio Oliver. I noticed that Claudio kept making short trips to his balcony. When I asked him about what he was doing, he called me to his balcony and showed me his worm bin and his vertical garden: varieties of lettuces as well as root crops growing inside up-cycled two liter bottles. These were filled with the rich compost taken from his worm bin.

In response to my onslaught of questions, Claudio explained how it all worked: instead of treating his food discards as lixo (i.e., rubbish) he fed it to his worms, who then went to work turning what used to be 'rubbish' into rich soil. I was fascinated by his description of how this fifth-floor garden worked, but what impressed me most were the reasons why he was doing this. Claudio explained that his little balcony garden was an experiment in finding responses for treating creation as creation, and not as rubbish, for honoring the Creator as Creator, and for offering signs of hope in the midst of so much waste. In other words, Claudio was experimenting in finding ways of living out the truth of the laptop sticker: 'treat the earth as if your life depends upon it.'

I have spent these last seven years trying to live more deeply into the 'ecological conversion' that was triggered on Claudio's balcony. The basic insight to which I keep returning is this: by cultivating the soil and thereby doing life and ministry from the 'ground up,' we discover how our reconnection with the soil (adamah) allows God to enliven our soul and our service with and to one another. Through reconnection with the soil, we begin to reconnect with the food cycle, and as we do, we rediscover the joy of our first 'job description' (Gen. 2:15) and the truth of St. Irenaeus' classic saying: 'The glory of God is the human person fully alive.'

-Sam

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Taizé Reflection [By: Rosalee]

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Jesus said: 'The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it' (Matthew 13:44-46).

There is good news and good work in this text.

The good news is the promise that there is treasure in the field. It is the promise that this treasure is so good that it’s worth losing everything and selling everything to find it. The treasure is a gift from God and it is good.

The good work is that we need to learn to be treasure hunters. Sometimes Christians think we have the treasure already and that it’s simply up to us to share it with others. But the good work, the challenge that Jesus puts to us is that even while we have the treasure and we ourselves are treasured by God, we are also treasure seekers and if we look hard enough, we are bound to find this treasure in the most unexpected of places.

Ours is a God who loves all and is open to all. Ours is a God who created a good creation. The kingdom of God isn't just found in the Church, but we get to look for that treasure in surprising places and with surprising people.

As we know from Jesus' life and other teachings, God treasures those who the world has discarded. As treasure seekers, we need to look in unusual places because God’s Spirit calls us to look, to be open, to listen and to love. It is in this exchange with another, perhaps with someone very different from you, perhaps in a community that is very different from your own, in them you will hear the whisper of the Spirit and find the treasure there.

We discover the treasure of God’s kingdom within us, in the inner life of prayer, contemplation, and music; and we discover the treasure of God’s kingdom among us, in solidarity with one another and with those whom the world has discarded. Perhaps that treasure is the reconciliation between enemies; perhaps that treasure is hearing the Spirit speaking through another; perhaps that treasure is learning with others that you are a treasure of God, created good in God’s image.

What an amazing thoughtthat the Spirit of God is working in you. Have you ever thought of how powerful that is?! God working in you, as the apostle Paul says, for you to be stars that shine brightly in a dark world. You are that treasure and you are treasure seekers. As you go from this place, what do you do when you find the treasure? You don’t hoard it, you don’t keep it for yourself. You call your friends and your enemies and you share it, you throw a party, a feast! You are blessed and you are sent out as a blessing!

Today is the feast of St Catherine of Siena. She famously said, 'Be whom God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire.' So set the world on fire with God’s love and with God’s peace.

Go, and be treasures and treasure seekers in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

-Rosalee

 

P.S. Rosalee recently accepted the post of Principal at Redcliffe College! Read/watch a bit about it here.

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Bus Stop Café [By: Tim]

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Last year, we started experimenting with meeting neigbours and passersby in the form of our Bus Stop Café. We’ve been at a couple of locations down the road from the prison in Winson Green and at the Visitors' Centre across from the prison. On our first occasion, we were welcomed almost immediately by a mum of unknown African descent. Coming from a road opposite was a man with a big smile, who I learned is a Kurdish Iraqi who was waiting for a lift to his job in Solihull where we used to live. A few minutes later, I watched an inebriated Eastern European man speak with Sam and who, when offered a coffee, snatched Sam’s coffee out of his hands! This man came for another coffee after stopping for some tins of beer at the local off-licence shop. And then there was a Somali Muslim woman with five children under the age of six. All in all, on that first morning we talked to about 15 men and women who embraced their tea or coffee in the cold weather whose national and ethnic origins were incredibly diverse!

Over the summer, we combined the Bus Stop Café with work on a community garden at the prison Visitors' Centre. During the summer, we had some regulars whom we met when they were getting off work from the prison or from the local industrial site. Others we introduced to each other, like these two French-speaking men from the Congo (Republic of the Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congotwo different countries). And then there was the time we were treated to an impromptu concert from The Choir with No Name who were going into the prison to sing; all of them who are or have been homeless.

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This year, we launched work on the community garden in front of the Visitors' Centre with a team of students from Cincinnati Christian University (just like we did last year). Sam led the work on preparing the bedding and soil and planting flowers to make that space attractive and inviting. Though the flow coming and going between the prison and the Visitors' Centre is comprised of people who are all over the map emotionally and behaviourally, bringing a cup of coffee and a touch of care to this place is appreciated by locals. We’re glad we can do a bit to help.

We’re now thinking together as a Companions for Hope team about where we site our next Bus Stop Café. We have some ideas . . .  we'll be sure to share some stories about what we learn and who we meet!

-Tim

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I Love Birmingham in the Springtime! [By: Madz]

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Birmingham is bustling.

With spring having sprung over the course of the past couple months, the city’s energy levels simultaneously seem to have picked up—there is a certain buzz in the air as possibilities of being outside and enjoying the longer sunlit hours increase. Each day, new flowers bloom as buildings grow higher faster. Migrating birds fly about singing as people scurry through the streets chatting with one another. In all of this, there is an observable, interdependent relationship between people and place, living creatures and their natural as well as built environments.

Locally, it has been a joy to watch and participate in the unfolding of this interrelationship in Summerfield/Winson Green. Here are just a few things that I (as well as other members of Companions along the way!) have been able to be a part of recently!

 

Summerfield Sessions

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A community music night that Companions for Hope organised in conjunction with Christ Church Summerfield! Fairy lights and hoards of Real Junk Food decked the church hall as around 60 people gathered to appreciate and celebrate the musical and story-telling talents of locals during the first "session." The second (hopefully of many) of these events is happening this weekend. . . .

 

Interactive Map of Street Living/Homelessness Resources

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Currently, I’m attempting to compile a list of all organisations and groups working on some issue related to street living/homelessness in Birmingham. Hopefully, the project will result not only in a comprehensive database, but will also produce an interactive map (draft pictured above!) and relevant, accessible info cards for both those people who are living on the streets as well as those who would like to learn more about/help combat issues of homelessness in our city.

 

Permaculture Design Course

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As of January, Sam & I have been attending a permaculture design certificate course at Applewood Permaculture Centres/Waterloo Farm in Herefordshire. One weekend every month, our group meets to learn and apply permaculture principles regarding earth care, people care, and fair share. These weekends not only provide opportunities for fostering education and friendships, but also offer regular times and spaces to retreat to a beautifully quiet and lush part of the country. What a gift!

 

The Real Junk Food Project

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We at The Real Junk Food Project Brum are soldiering on in the face of astounding numbers of Freegan Boxes (getting close to 300 a week at their peak!). But the number of boxes is not the only number that is increasing—we’ve had a whole host of new people coming to the cafes and volunteering with the project, which has been fantastic! It’s been an absolute pleasure to meet and connect with new and old friends around food whilst joining together to challenge patterns of waste in our culture.

 

Litter Picking with Winson Greeners

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At the initiative of a lovely neighbour and friend, Meike, along with the help of another friend, Alicia, and her team Litter Watch, as well as some Council affiliates, we’ve begun a once-monthly litter picking group in the Winson Green area (affectionately dubbed “Winson Greeners”)! We've had two outings thus far and have received much positive feedback from people passing by on the streets—hopefully a sign that more and more people will join us in the future!

 

Companions Team

Our Companions Team continues to meet once a week for Communion, reflection, and sharing. We are looking forward to community meal tomorrow evening as well as more outdoor events in the near future as the summer weather approaches!

-Madz

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