Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Deciding where to live

The first ministry decision I had to make when I was appointed to Cardiff was deciding where to live. And this really was a ministry decision, a theological decision, a spiritual decision. My work is, in its simplest form, to love my neighbours. To be true to that calling I really do need to be a neighbour.

My calling is to be a citizen: to live, work, shop, vote, walk in the city I'm called to serve. I could not do it any other way. My calling is to be as committed as I can be to a particular place; to be a neighbour.

I decided to live in Canton. Though it could have just easily have been neighbouring Riverside, it just depended what place was available when I was house-hunting. I wanted somewhere close to the city centre with stuff going on. A place that felt more like a neighbourhood and not just a place where people live.

Canton, I guess, is much like a lot of inner city areas. It is neither the "worst" area nor the "best" area in Cardiff. It is fairly diverse socio-economically with both larger suburban homes as well as smaller flats and houses. Compared to Bolton (where I have come from) the rent is much more expensive, I guess largely because it close to the city centre. It has a lot of restaurants and a certain artistic community around the Chapter Arts Centre. (That is a very quick summary of Canton, based on only a few months living here, no doubt I will have a different impression in a few years when I've got to know the place better).

I may not always be in Canton, but it is a good start. What I am committed to, though, is the city and the inner city. Paul Keeble, in his book Mission With talks about his experience living in inner city Manchester, and deciding to stay there as a spiritual decision, as a matter of Christian discipleship. He points out that in Britain Christianity is largely middle-class and perpetuates a middle-class culture. Christians, he argues, conform to a middle class culture by assuming that as you get more successful in life, you aspire to live in better houses in better neighbourhoods. He asks whether this is truly consistent with following Jesus. His local church, he said, really encouraged people to commit to the area and to live there long-term. That's what he and his family did.

Paul Keeble's book, however, really talks about the experience of inner city Manchester in the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s. And I wonder how this dynamic is changing as more and more people in Britain now live in city centres. Young, professional, often single people now fill our city centres, and probably will start now to spill out into the areas just outside city centres. It may be that such pressures push older, poorer communities out of "the inner city" in a process of gentrification.

I've been thinking of the danger of contributing to gentrification myself. I have moved to inner Cardiff as an outsider, a 30-something professional with (for the most part) the tastes of a 30-something professional. What does it mean to live in a such a way as to be a neighbour to other people in the city who are in some ways unlike me? What does it mean to resist gentrification and the forced removal of working class people from certain areas?

The answer is I really don't know. But what Paul Keeble's book has made me think about more deeply is the very act of deciding to live somewhere has theological significance. It may say more about us than our creeds or statements of belief. The Christian church should not abandon the working class inner city, for the middle class surburbs, though it has in some ways.

I was once part of a church in the inner city where every Sunday people drove in from 5- 10 miles away, largely from the suburbs. The church's relationship with the neighbourhood seemed to be one of mutual suspicion. It wasn't a healthy dynamic.

That's not the kind of community we need. Churches may attract people from further afield but they are still situated in a physical space, and they need to relate to the neighbourhood as an act of service and love and mutual benefit. This requires an intentional commitment to resist some aspects of middle class culture and to really work out what it means to love your neighbour.


Anonymous Kate Dickinson said...

Thank you so much for this. I often feel an outsider in my church just because of my economic situation. I am financially poor, in my 30s, queer and disabled. While I find love within the congregation, I am an outsider in many ways. I would love for there to be more diversity within our church but am struggling to find a way to expand. I think I'm waffling a bit. I was just pleased to see you talking about class and faith.

9:56 am  

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