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The second principle of my work - slowness

This is a long (long!) delayed article laying out the principles of my work. As I wrote last time I've decided to write down the principles of the work that I do in Cardiff. These are not necessarily in order of importance but simply the order that they have occurred to me. The work, that I feel called by God to do in Cardiff, is a kind of pioneer ministry, community ministry, spirit-led activism. It works by a number of practices and principles that I have developed, borrowed from others, learnt from books, or made up as I've gone along! These principles might change as I am always learning and adapting, but these are my foundations right now. Almost a year ago I wrote that the first principle of my work is the hyper-local. And now, appropriately enough, I want to say that the second principle of my work is slowness.

"Slowness" may not totally capture the principle though. A better word might be "organic". This principle is based on the insight that human-work is basically more like something biological than something mechanical. Human communities are more like plants than they are like machines. And so we have to act and think like plants, or animals, or fungi, rather than like machines. 

That isn't the way that a lot of thinking goes in the modern world. Since the invention of modern machines and the growth of the capitalist world we've become more likely to see the world in terms of machines. You design it, test it, fix it, put energy in, and get a product out. You work to a time-scale that is decided beforehand and mechanically stuck to. You design your machine to produce 2000 spoons a day and that's what it does. As long as it's got energy and raw materials it will produce the products. And if it breaks you fix it.

But several thinkers, such as Christian Schwarz in the Christian world, and adrienne maree brown in the world of community organising, tell us this isn't how humans work. Human community, human work, human ministry is organic. It works like fungi slowly growing through the undergrowth, it works like seeds lying dormant for the winter (or for years), it works like an acorn only slowly becoming an oak tree. 

The scale of this work is not one month, or one year, or five years, the scale of this work is thirty years, the scale of this work is seven generations. It is slow. It is biological. It is organic.

This slow work starts with presence. It starts with listening. It starts with rooting down down in the soil. 

I feel like I have been in this process of rooting since I got to Cardiff. It takes a long time just to feel a sense of belonging and to slowly build relationships. There's no way to fast forward the work of relationships. I started in Cardiff sitting in pubs and cafes listening to the city, watching the city, feeling my way deeper into the city. It felt pretty fruitless to begin with, and it kind of was. But then I found my favourite pub, where I found people talked to strangers, and I kept going back. 

I talked to people, I made friends. I slowly got to know folks a bit better, even though I'm a very shy and quiet person in some ways and this stuff does not come easily to me. Conversations opened up.

I saw people I know from the pub in the street. I noticed they lived very close to me. We would pass each other and talk on the way to the shops. And then they might tell me some of their problems. I began to develop a friendship, a pastoral availability. 

All of this (especially as a pandemic effectively stopped this work for two years) takes a lot of time. There's been a lot of time before I've become more of a chaplain and a listening ear to a few of people. But I'm slowly more regularly offering pastoral care to people in my community. Slowly conversations and relationships grow. Slowly community builds. And not only community, but solidarity, dreaming, the possibilities of making things better. adrienne maree brown says, "Move at the speed of trust. Focus on critical connections more than critical mass - build the resilience by building the relationships."


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