Neighbour Nights (Part 2 of 4): Detecting and Connecting Gifts: From ‘Problem Solvers’ to “Treasure Seekers’ [By: Sam]

As I mentioned in the first blog post in this series, one of the core principles of ABCD (Asset-Based Community Development) is to focus on the assets, or as I prefer to call them, the gifts, of a local community. It’s worth repeating that – from an ABCD perspective – focusing on gifts in the community does not mean repressing or ignoring present problems or issues. It is about focusing on what’s strong to deal with what’s wrong. In other words, it is about addressing the needs of the local community by first detecting and connecting the gifts at hand.

One of the most precious gifts that we have found in the last year has been getting to know Ewa Karpinska. In fact, meeting Ewa was one of those serendipitous encounters that I can only describe as a gift in itself.


Flashback to early August 2017: I am walking our then small puppy Rio by the Edgbaston Reservoir.  I let Rio off the lead in a field, and the next thing I know, Rio is deep into the brambles on a mission to discover some hidden treasure…  When I finally find Rio, he is ‘greeting’ Ewa, who by first impressions is clearly a dog-lover as well a keen forager. After just a few minutes of grazing on blackberries and chatting with Ewa, I find out that:

•     she is Polish;

•     she has lived locally for the last 12 years;

•     she is a trained chef; and

•     she is currently unemployed.

Intuitively I also know that she is so much more than an immigrant who happens to be unemployed; she is a ‘doer’ with gifts to share.  She simply needs a place to connect her passionate gift for cooking.

September 2017: I invite Ewa to Place of Welcome, a weekly neighbourhood drop-in coffee morning, in order to introduce Ewa to a few neighbours, including our neighbourhood super-connector Ann Gallagher. I happen to know that Ann is looking for cooks at The Real Junk Food Project Birmingham. Watching the sparks fly between Ewa and Ann, I know that I am looking at the next cook on the rota at TRJFP Birmingham!

October 2017: Ewa helps us kick off our 1st Neighbour Nights monthly gathering as the head chef, and she has not missed one yet! Six months in, not only is Ewa head chef, she has also “detected and connected” others from the local Polish community to join in Neighbour Nights, as well as other neighbourhood activities. By being connected to a community of neighbours and friends, Ewa has shown herself to be a skilled community-based chef who has a real gift for pulling people together around food.


Now: When I see Ewa bringing “her game" to the neighbourhood, I see her as more than a chef. In fact, she has become a key character in the story of our neighbourhood, someone who is the fabric of care and love one meal at a time.

Which makes me think: Could it be that neighbourhoods like Summerfield are filled with Ewas?  If this is so, then paradoxically, the most creative way to address issues such as community cohesion and social isolation is not by assuming the role of ‘problem solver,’ but rather by growing into the role of “treasure seeker.” Then the primary work of network weaving at the neighbourhood level is simply the work of “detecting and connecting the gifts of Ewas with the gifts of other Ewas.”


Neighbour Nights (Part 1 of 4): Reflections on an Experiment in “Cultivating Abundant Community from the Ground Up” [By: Sam]

[Coming to the end of our first ‘season’ of Neighbour Nights, this blog post launches a series reflecting on Neighbour Nights as an experiment in “cultivating abundant community from the ground up.”]


Our parish of Summerfield is known for its great diversity. Here, variety and difference run rampant – for good, but sometimes unfortunately for division and lack of conversation.

After relocating to Summerfield parish in 2016 (along with another family, the Ahos), we wanted to have genuine conversations with local people about the neighbourhood. So, with the support of Rabiyah Latif at Near Neighbours[1] and in partnership with the local parish church (Christ Church Summerfield) and Summerfield Residents Association, we hatched a plan called “Neighbour Nights.”

The concept of Neighbours Nights is simple and two-fold: connect people around 1) food and 2) how their passions connect with the local community.  On the first Wednesday of every month, we invite neighbours to share what they bring – both 1) food that they are willing to bring and share, and also 2) anything they can offer that will contribute to the well-being of the local community.

In this way, instead of taking on issue-based approach to community organizing which starts with a litany of problems, we take an asset-based approach.  By bringing together and actively involving the diversity of the neighbourhood, the primary function of Neighbour Nights is to ‘detect and connect’ what we have together.

Why? Because when you try to create common ground by focusing on common problems, it is easy to get stuck asking questions about what’s wrong with your neighbourhood ….

  • Why are the queues at the local GP surgery taking so long?
  • When is the council ever going to sort rubbish collection and the chronic litter problem?  

While we recognize that these questions do require solutions, our experience also tells us that at the grassroots / neighbourhood level, it is more transformational to begin by asking other questions, such as:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What would you like to see happen in this place?
  • What are you willing to contribute to the well-being of this local community?

In other words, we want to start with what is strong instead of what’s wrong. Or even better: we want to come together to respond to what’s wrong by starting with what’s strong – which is asset-based community development in a nutshell.[2]

We just had Neighbour Nights #6, and six months in, we are just beginning an ongoing journey of “cultivating abundant community from the ground up.” What is so encouraging is that already we are beginning to sense what John McKnight and Peter Block call the “invisible structure of an abundant community.”[3] To understand what they mean, consider their description of how jazz musicians come together to make music:

Think of an after-hours jazz club, where musicians gather because they want to play their music together…they start playing something. It sounds wonderful, and even though they may not have ever seen each other before and have spoken only a few words, wonderful music emerges. To an outsider it is magical.

What is operating is a clear structure, but if you are not part of the jazz culture, the rule and customs that make the music possible are invisible. Similarly, properties of gifts, associations, and hospitality are the hidden structure of [abundant] community life…

…The jazz way is the community way of playing. The invisible structure of gifts, associations, and hospitality creates the possibility and are the rule of a competent community. They are always available and essential.”[4]

Like the jazz jam session, Neighbour Nights is becoming a social space for neighbours to share their gifts, associate for a common purpose, and to extend hospitality.

In upcoming blogs in this series, we will develop how these three components gifts, association, and hospitality – have begun to come together to enable a sense of abundance.


It is our hope that Neighbour Nights will continue to be a space that is about sharing food and sharing more than food.  A space which:

  • unites neighbours across ethnic, religious and generational lines;
  • gives people a sense of rootedness in the area (in terms of friendship and also in terms of the physical space of the neighbourhood);
  • strengthens existing friendships, enables new one, and even inspires new ways to come together.

For now, we simply want to pause and celebrate the good news that we are already beginning to experience together:  that is, how things and people we most need to flourish as a local community are already and abundantly ‘at hand.’



[1] For more information about Near Neighbours, see

[2] For more on asset-based community development, or ABCD, I would recommend starting with two websites:  1) (UK/Europe); 2) (USA)

[3] John McKnight and Peter Block, The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2010), 81.

[4] McKnight and Block, The Abundant Community, 82.

A Place of Welcome [By: Tammy]

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

“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.


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Keep up with "Happenings" by clicking the link below: 

Happenings RSS

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

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

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.'


- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Keep up with "Happenings" by clicking the link below: 

Happenings RSS

Taizé Reflection [By: Rosalee]

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

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.



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

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Keep up with "Happenings" by clicking the link below: 

Happenings RSS