Another day in the life …

There’s a rhythm to the city day depending on who you are and where you are.

I’m sitting in one of my favourite places in the city.  It’s quiet, and out of the cold spring wind.  The barista tells me about the times to avoid:  the busy times before work, then 10.00 to 10.30, then there’s a slow hour.  That’s where I come in.  But then it picks up about 11.30 till after lunch when it’s frantic.  The busy, then the quiet.  Time to talk.  But busy and quiet are opposites depending on which side of the counter you are standing!  In this place there’s always time to stop and talk to people like me.

The boss is expecting me for a meeting – offers 2 glasses of cold sparkling water, but today it’s only me.  One glass then.  Me with a book, looking for a place to be for a while.

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Time to listen to what’s going on around me without really paying close attention to what’s going on.  Over there a table is set up for a booking for 6.  They never showed. The name of the game.  Do we have to live in such a casual and disrespectful society?

A young couple walk in.  She discovers she knows one of the wait staff – greets him with a big hug.  How’s it going?  Good.  Her bloke stands close by looking on, suddenly feeling like a spare wheel.  There are no introductions, but lucky for him the waiter has work to do.  They get a coffee after all.

In the bottom of the cup is a message.  An offer perhaps, or an order or an invitation.  “Same again?”  I’ve never noticed that before.  Why not?

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There are barista red and white socks for sale over there, and all sorts of coffee paraphernalia.  This is a seriously good place.  T J the boss has become a good friend.  I later discover he has befriended the artists down the street in the old welder’s place.  Could have got some of his coffee for free there too.  I talk with them about Gordon the welder.  They have respected his craft by calling the gallery the Welder.  I like that.  Respect is restored.  I like that too.  Respect and dignity change lives.  And good company.  And good coffee.

The city. Another day in the life …  the web grows.

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Companions in Loneliness

How do you know someone is lonely?

We pass each other in the street.  We might even stop and say hello, or do the NZ blokes nod as we pass.  But if the city by definition is where the stranger lives, what notice can we take of each other as we move along past each other?  Unless we note particular behaviour we probably have little chance of knowing how lonely we are.  Sometimes it gets confused for its first cousin, depression.

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I was talking with someone involved in mental health recently.  We were talking about loneliness, depression, and mental unhealth in the city.  We hear every day on the radio or TV, that there is a “problem”.  By using that word we are already looking to “treat” loneliness (and all the other symptoms of modern isolated life).  If something is a “problem” we look for an alleviating solution.  Which is not always to be found.  Much of societal approach has been medical.  Offering chemicals might work, but I haven’t seen too much evidence of long term helpfulness in using this approach for almost everyone.  I once knew a doctor whose boast to me was that at least half of the town went to sleep using pills.  “I know,” he said.  I prescribed them.”  I’m not suggesting that’s rife now!

Loneliness is being alone when we don’t want to be alone.  Sometimes we do want to be alone, and enjoy the quiet away from what our current stress is.  But loneliness is a cage for many.  And it’s found, not just in physical isolation, but sometimes in the crowds of a mall or a street.  I found it the other day in a shop assistant in a place where few customers come.  She spends the greater portion of every day alone, surrounded by beautiful things for sale, but without company.  Day after day, it’s a lonely place for her.  Others hide it by going to where there is a crowd, sitting on the edge, watching people.  Others withdraw; stay at home.  From time to time we have all done all of those things perhaps.

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Loneliness gnaws at our spirit.  It sucks the energy out of us.  It’s a challenge for all of us.  In my mind I often come back to that word much used – “companion”.  It came to us from Middle English from Old French who got it from Latin.  It’s an oldie but a goodie.  It means to share bread with another.  The Latin term is sometimes translated as ‘bread mates.’  It’s a reminder that to be with someone else is to share more than words.  It’s sharing sustenance. The bread of life is not literally crumbs.  It’s what happens as we are with each other.  A good laugh.  A story.  A sharing of ourselves as we begin to trust another person with more than surface stuff.  Like the guy I have been getting to know slowly who sleeps rough.  I visit him a couple of times a week. We have learned to ask about each other’s welfare.  He asks how my weekend went, then begins to tell me how he wondered if he should commit suicide.  His story was full of tragi-comedy.  As he told me he started to laugh – at himself.  His ‘method’ would have been impossible!  Sometimes we have a coffee together too.  But it’s become a two-way with-ness, for a moment or two, and then we move off into the rest of our day.  Less lonely, he tells me.

There is no ‘solution’ on a shelf somewhere for loneliness.  It’s a feeling we all have from time to time.  When we get an inkling that someone is lonely, it’s good to stop, to speak and listen.  Who knows, being a companion for even a short time can change someone’s day, or week, or life.  It means though, that we have to get past our reticence to say hello.

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Dignity is the First step to Change

One of the cornerstone philosophies (theology perhaps) behind the Durham St Methodist ‘streets’ job description was an insistence on a “Community Development” approach.  This is our baseline understanding of the way we will work.  This also makes streets different in approach to many of the organisations working in Christchurch.  What is it that marks this approach out?

“The United Nations defines community development as “a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems.” It is a broad term given to the practices of civic leaders, activists, involved citizens and professionals to improve various aspects of communities, typically aiming to build stronger and more resilient local communities…. Community development seeks to empower individuals and groups of people with the skills they need to effect change within their communities. These skills are often created through the formation of social groups working for a common agenda. Community developers must understand both how to work with individuals and how to affect communities’ positions within the context of larger social institutions.”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Community_development

Put simply, we believe that when there are issues, the ways forward are found as we pool our strengths and wisdom.  I assume therefore, that everyone I meet and talk with and listen to has something important to offer.  There are organisations, (some of them church groups) who still act as if they have the answers for everyone else.  They tend to run programmes.  They do much that is good, but the danger is that they also become part of the problem in the long term by creating dependency.  They often do things “for” others.  Don’t get me wrong, if there are immediate things that can be done, they need to be done.  We need food, and warmth, and company to survive.  But these have sometimes become ends in themselves for some groups, and have not changed anything significant.  And that’s an issue for ‘streets’ way of working.  How to effect community change is an extremely vexed question.  There is no shelf with a bottled solution.  No matter how close I might get to the rough sleepers for example, I am not one of them, and therefore lack major insight into their life on many issues.

 

The baseline for how ‘streets’ works though is clear.  Dignity and honouring humanity in each other. It’s a listening approach.  When a guy sitting on the pavement tells me that he doesn’t trust ‘helpers’ because they say one thing and never deliver, I keep turning up.  Until we trust each other enough for the real stories to be told, not the ones the guy thinks I want to hear.  I don’t have answers always.  I have my shared humanity and the conviction that our shared dignity can begin to create change that is meaningful.

Yesterday I posted this on ‘streets’ Facebook page.  It illustrates our approach to life:

 “Sometimes I come across some truly amazing things. This morning I was talking with a guy who is sleeping rough and who is usually found in a particular place, near a cafe. I am slowly getting to know him and with his help find the best way of him moving into a new way of life. I like him. We have lots of laughs.
I got him his coffee this morning from the cafe nearby. As we walked into the cafe, it became apparent that he is well known there. (I already had an inkling of this). The cafe staff keep a close eye on him, and often give him food. In return he looks out for parking wardens and alerts the staff. The cafe owner takes a special interest in him. He has his own coffee card. Every time he gets a free coffee they stamp his card. He will get a “free” one in due course.
These little things offer a sense of dignity and ‘normality’. It’s a privilege that my job lets me enter a hemwidth of that world. The inner city has some wonderful caring and alert people. But you’d never know that unless you were spending time doing as little as possible except listening eh.
He shared with me this morning that he had told another streetie about me. “He works for the Methodist Mission,” he’d said. The other guy said, “I know him. He’s got a white beard eh. I think his name’s Jim.”

Another part of this little story is that as we sat at the cafe table waiting for our coffee, the cafe followed the usual practice of giving us a number.  It stood on the table as we waited, chatting.  Then he said, “you know this is the first time I’ve had a number.”  Usually he drinks on the pavement.  As I said, dignity is the first step to change.

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Plus ca change …

There’s an area of town that’s slowly transforming itself into places for people to live, apartments, a Quest Hotel;  with that transformation goes places to eat.  Lots of them.  It used to be a part of town that most people rarely went into.  The hills end of Manchester St, and a small street called Welles St, between Colombo and Manchester streets.  Today I went down the street again to see how it’s changing this part of the city.  Once Welles St was workshops, small warehouses.  Like Hop Yick’s Chinese Warehouse.  Now his old warehouse is a bustling coffee house, one of my hang outs.

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Welles St is changing into bars, cafes and burger joints, with an apartment block mid way.  Food – places to gather and socialise.  A vital necessity in a city.  A welder used to be there too.  I took a photo once of the model planes hanging from the rafters, and the acrid smell of burnt metal.  Gordon was the last man standing.  A specialist in his field, he could, and did, make anything from metal.  A craftsman expert with metal.  And the ability to stand and talk for ages as I found out once.  A great guy.  Today he’s gone.  All his paraphernalia has disappeared.  But the workshop isn’t empty.  Clint is in there with paint pots and a cheery welcoming grin.  Impossible for me to resisit.  I ask where Gordon went.  Clint has no idea what used to happen in this space.  All he knows is that he is helping it become an artist’s hangout and gallery.  He has a short deadline to get the painting done.  And like Gordon, he is willing to talk.  I’ve heard about you, he tells me.  Good I said.

Clint is a stencil artist.  We talk about the dreams for the space as a gallery with several artists having access, and the way Welles St is becoming a place to hang out.  A small and lively destination.  I tell him about Gordon and the planes.  He said yesterday someone turned up with a metal mesh that he needed Gordon to sort.  Gordon had no slick business card.  He wrote his name and number on a piece of paper for me.  I still have it.  The visitor was devastated that he had gone.  There’s no one now who can do this, he said.  Clint has no ideas about any of that, but he respects the craft as an artist.  We’ll leave the roof like it is, he says.  Industrial heritage.  There are still metal horseshoes nailed up there in the rafters crossed with spider webs.

So  it goes.  Nothing stays.  But the new always builds on the old.  As P D Smith writes in his book called City, “Cities bear the traces of countless past lives.  Cities are rich storehouses of human history.  Amidst constant change and flux, there is profound continuity.”

Thanks for not painting the rafters Clint.

A plaque on both your houses!

As I walk through the inner city I find names everywhere.  I don’t mean the names of shops.  People’s names.  On plaques – inscribed in concrete, attached to buildings, bridges, monuments, pavements.  Some of the names are deliberately inscrutable – graffiti for instance.  Someone’s signature but not so I can actually find them unless I know the code.

We all have names, but we don’t all end up with our name stuck in public for all time.  Inevitably these public names are for people who have become prominent (I almost said famous, but that’s not what I mean).  The interesting thing to me as I ponder this name sticking culture is that prominence is contextual.  It doesn’t last.  It’s a snapshot of public importance or notoriety at the time, and because so many of the names also have dates attached to them, it would be possible, although with a lot of work, to discover who these named people are.

I wrote a blog about Ettie Rout once. A name on a plaque.  But when I asked folk about her, no-one that day knew.  https://wordpress.com/post/streetsdurhamstmethodistparish.wordpress.com/194          Yet some know her story and tell it in schools.

Mayors have their names on almost every bridge across the Avon.  A different mayor for each bridge.  And the date the bridge was opened of course.  Some of them go way back, but few would be remembered these days.  Some of the rebuild has new plaques.  With Prime Ministerial, or Cabinet Minister’s names.  We know who they are of course because it’s within our current context. They too will end up passing into obscurity.  My grandchildren, if they read the plaques, might ask who is John Key (BNZ Building), or Jerry Brownlie? (Bus Transfer Station)

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Public importance is an ephemeral thing.  Politicians come and go.  Local body dignitaries do the same.  I remember being taught Shelley’s poem Ozymandius when I was in Form 2 many years ago.  I still remember it – a brilliant comment on the passing of time and the efforts of individuals to surpass time:

I met a traveller from an antique land, 

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, 

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read 

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; 

And on the pedestal, these words appear: 

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; 

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! 

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay 

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare 

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

I sat in the BNZ courtyard with these words running through my head.  I photographed the opening plaque.  Why do we have to put who opened these things, be they buildings, bridges, streets or … ?  Is it not enough to simply say for posterity that the building was opened for use on such and such a day?  History is made up of prominent people’s names, and the rest of the inhabitants disappear into either a gravestone of more likely these days, a remembrance stone in a cemetery.  Like grass, we disappear, says the Psalmist on a plaintive note.  Yet we are all significant people of history.  To our family and friends we are the generational link of memory.  The hinge between ancestor and descendant.  Because we do not lead public lives is not a statement of our insignificance.

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The aggrandisement of certain people is something to ponder.  Why do we do it?  Why do we look up to some and down on others.  In the inner city it’s very clear that we do it.  Maybe everyone needs to learn Shelley’s sonnet!

What’s a table for?

What’s a table for if not sharing food, space, and stories?  Yet often we hog all three.  I remember being surprised as a westerner in Hong Kong when the table we were shown to in a local restaurant already had several people eating there.  It was a shock for a while, until we began interacting with the incumbents who didn’t speak English, but showed with their gestures and smiles that we were welcome.  I cherish that space inclusion experience.  Culturally I am from a me place not a we space I think, and it takes a huge effort sometimes to move over.  But what a difference it makes when I do.

A few days ago I was in a Foodcourt having lunch, solitary at my table surrounded by other solitary people.   A small distance away at another table I noticed a man sitting with a glass of water in front of him.  Alongside was a small backpack and a bike helmet.  His head was down, and he sipped his water very slowly.  Every now and then his head would jerk up as he dropped in and out of sleep.  Well dressed, even wearing a neatly knotted tie.

I watched as I ate my meal.  The water was taking a long time!  When I had finished eating, I went across to his table and sat down.  (Space invasion alert!)   He looked up, surprised to see someone opposite him.  Do you have some food coming, I asked.  He hesitated, then as if knowing his game was up, he said quietly, no.   Would you like some food, I asked.  No, it’s fine, he replied.  I don’t want you to buy me any food.  I don’t want charity.  I’m not offering you charity, I said.  Only some food.  He shook his head.

Then he took a deep breath and let loose an angry volley aimed at the Welfare system that paid him a pittance when he had 3 degrees from Canterbury Uni but couldn’t get a job no matter what he did.  (He was at least in his 50’s).  I listened.  He wasn’t angry with me.  When he stopped his wee rant, I said, listen, I’m paid by the Methodist Church to be in the city as a minister at large.  Would you like some food.  That would be good, he said.  What? I asked.  You can have anything you want.

It seemed to matter to him that I wasn’t personally paying for the food.  OK, perhaps a sandwich, he said.  Come on then, I replied.  We went to the stall where he pointed out the sandwich he wanted.  I was aware he was trying to go small, and not appear too needy.

We shook hands.  My name’s “John”, he told me as he clutched his sandwich.  I hang out here regularly.  I’m Rob I said.  Thank you friend, he replied.  We parted company – for the time being.  I think we’ll meet again.  He has more story to tell, and next time maybe we’ll even share a table as we eat.

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bloody good

A day in August

The street is cold.  Nowhere near the 18 promised.  Wind takes the short-cut through me.  The café is warm.  I take up residence at a table by the window – remnants of tabasco, salt grinder, pepper shaker, brown sugar in a jar neatly placed to one side.

In here the low volume jazz plays a funky background for other table sitters around me.  Some work meetings, papers scattered while they look around for chairs to add to their circle round the table.  Hugs and greetings.

A baby chatters contentedly on the floor while Mum catches up with a friend.  A bloke in high viz does his paperwork in the corner; two shoppers plonk themselves down and check out their purchases.  There’s not a phone in sight.  No selfies, no selfishness, simply sharing in the spirit of the bright white neon text on the wall – “Bloody Good”.  And it is.

The coffee, the cool fizzy water, quiet intense chatter – words float between the tables – over there some deep sharing about the health struggles of an elderly mother.  The murmur of animated conversation, the gusts of laughter.  It’s bloody good alright.

Folks come and go, packing up their papers and their laughter, and wander off into the cold.  It’s all done without instructions, but there’s tradition, and a friendly waitress who speaks a language from far away.  Just here for a while, she tells me, passing through.  I’m guessing it would take little to persuade her to stay.

The city on a cold day in August.  It’s bloody good alright.

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A day in …

I walk to catch the bus.  Normally a pleasant 1k walk along the Heathcote River bank.  I pass a stand of native beech trees.  And come across a Water Pollution sign that wasn’t there last time I walked down here.  There’s a disconnect.  Flitting fantails follow me down the pavement, and a polluted river flows past magnificent beeches.  Is this disconnect a parable of the city? I ask myself as I sit in the bus heading to the inner city.  The bus driver is cheery, and wishes all the passengers a good day as he heads off to his morning tea, and the new driver greets us with good cheer too.  We mumble a collective reply, and all get back to our phone screens to see what the Labour Party is up to.

The streets are empty.  A new supermarket is gearing up for its grand opening in a couple of weeks – they’re already touting coffee in their new cafe in the foyer.  Across the street by Bally’s I find the usual streetie quietly pushing his cause, and a few metres further along the usual two Jehovah’s Witness women stand in the cold wind by their book stand.  There’s no interaction between the pavement folk, and each is touting their own cause in isolation.  Another disconnect.  In the Square two Falan-gong women struggle with their sign in the wind and sleety drizzle.  They have their anorak hoods up, so I can’t see their faces.  It will be a lonely vigil for them today.  I can see three people apart from them and me.  Even the giant chess pieces are snug in their box.

I walk to my small coffee shop, deciding to sit and read a little.  It’s quite full, but as soon as I get there it empties out!  The shop owner has a laugh – must be you, she says.  How’s it going in the streets, solved all the problems yet?  I am glad she is grinning.  I sit outside in the lane way, again almost empty.  The wind is a little cool, but not too bad and at least I can read.  When I take my cup inside and head off, the barista says, Go work your magic.  See you later.  It feels like a blessing.

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By the river I meet someone I used to know well, a Community Board member.  We stop and chat for ages.  Solve the problems of the Labour Party.  Is there any other news today?  He asks me what I’m doing these days.  This, I tell him.  Working for the Methodist Parish walking the streets.  I am stunned at his response.  He grabs my hand, shakes it hard, and says good on you.  Just what we need.  I am a little embarrassed.  He goes on then to talk of his Catholic upbringing, and how he would pray that he wouldn’t be called to be a priest.  Talks too of his 25 years on the Community Board, and how that feels like a calling to him.  His ministry.  He tells me too of a conversation he overheard in the City Council building this morning about suicide.  We exchange cards, and promise to meet again.  I hope we do.  As I turn to go, he calls God bless you.  Another blessing.  Two in one morning!

In the bus on the way home there’s a hassled young mum trying to fit her large pram into the narrow aisle.  We grin at each other as she finally gets seated.  We used to have small ones when I was having kids, I say.  I wish we still did, she says cheerily.  As she gets off, she gives me a wave, says thanks to the driver and bounces off down the street.  I walk back alongside the river, looking for the fantails.  But like me they’ve moved on.  I look at the polluted river, and sigh. I wish I could fix the disconnects.  But I can’t.  And that’s probably a blessing too.

 

Wondering while wandering

I’ve been pondering the way ‘wonder’ comes up in my mind and vocabulary all the time.  I have long known that in terms of a spirituality stream I swim most in mysticism and quietude.  Maybe it’s my introvert character at work? But “streets” has challenged me to stop retreating to the pleasant margins of solitude and swim in the noisy urban waters where in most cities it gets harder and harder to find a place away from people.  Particularly as in some cities we are either so packed in together, stranger upon the knee of stranger, or public spaces are eroding to make way for what one Christchurch seatback plaque calls “vanity projects”.  It gets harder to find a place where noise is absent too.  Even though urban dwellers are good at tuning background noise out, it begins to form a constant in our heads and minds, sometimes making it difficult to even be in the space, and impossible to escape.  It’s no wonder that mental un-health has become such an issue.

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As I walk around the inner city I have learned to be slow, and to notice small things that are often passed by as insignificant or worthless, and to see in them something else – the warp and weft of the city fabric.  The reality, not the insignificant backdrop to reality.  I have, in other words, learned to wonder better.  I am often asked now to talk to groups like Rotary.  I enjoy the challenge of helping them see the city as a wonder place, and not something to avoid.

“Wonder” is a verb and a noun.  We are used to the spiritual discipline of ‘wonder’ meaning awe.  A sunrise, a new insight, a close moment with a stranger or a lover, a sharp intake of breath when we come round a corner and see the mountains covered in sun-reflecting new snow.  Or whatever has been your last wonder moment. Cultivating the permission to stop and wonder is a great habit of mind.  These days it’s often called ‘being in the moment’ or ‘mindfulness’, or some such phrase.  It’s not new. The Christian mystics wrote about the necessity to be wonder folk centuries ago.  But there’s a buck in it now.  You could take a course if you wanted to!  (It makes me smile to see how these trendy things are dealt with, when maybe we have forgotten our own deep Christian traditions).  That’s the noun meaning of wonder.  Awe.  It’s vital to our health.

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But there’s another meaning equally vital, and less noticed – the verb.  “I wonder”. All around the city are little signs that make me wonder what went on here, what happened?  A woman’s shoe left in an empty lot where prostitutes work.  An upturned shopping trolley a long way from a supermarket.  Some despairing words written on a bridge balustrade.  A half finished and abandoned building project.  The wondering in my mind is a necessary process as I reflect on the city as a living organism.   It raises questions for me to ponder on, or to seek answers to.  Wondering drives me to ask others about things.  It drives the compassionate necessity.  When I talk to a lonely old man sitting on a low wall and he tells me things about his life, I am left with a wondering how come he became like this.  This wondering is what one writer called the “long leaver question”.  It’s a necessary part of spirituality too, but I’ve noticed it is less written or talked about than awe.

When we see a glimpse of something, it’s like a snapshot.  We don’t know what’s behind what we see.  So, like a stone in the pocket, it becomes a touchstone that stays in the mind.  It’s the essence of the parable – an open, energetic wondering.  I note that so often in the Gospels Jesus tells a parable and then there’s a passage saying that Jesus explained it.  I don’t think so.  There’s no point in one answer to a wondering.  As I wander the city streets, I am learning the importance of wondering while I wander.  A rich way to live.  (Even in the cold of winter!)

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Has it been a year?

logo.jpg“streets” is a year old.  I remember the first day I began to walk the streets of the inner city.  July is often a cold month in Christchurch.  The year anniversary day began with a morning temperature of 5C.  That first day is significant for my methodology.  There was no blueprint about how to do this.  I caught the bus into the city, emerged from the bus transfer station onto Colombo street, stood by the traffic light, and then randomly, and without a heap of thought began to walk towards the river and the Bridge of Remembrance.  I remember sitting by the river clutching a warm cup of coffee, and began to watch what was going on around me.  Many people in high viz jackets and hard hats, a few pedestrians, a few tourists.  Not many people really.  Lots of building noise, and machinery.  It was not a quiet place to be.  I remember looking at the river flowing faster than I remembered, and the ducks, swallows, and there, in the water, a trout.  Later I came to know the eels under the steps near here.

It began with looking, and slow walking in all directions.  The first month was about discovering the patch that is called the inner city.  The streets, the lanes, the buildings growing up around me, the builders, the few shopkeepers and barristas.  There was no hurry.  The first discovery of importance I made was that so much of life in ministry had been too hurried, too busy with programmes and meetings.  The joy of Durham St’s vision was to set someone free from that model to wander and wonder.  Wondering has become an important second discovery.

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Wonder is both a verb and a noun.  When I see something as I walk that stops me in my tracks it is usually for one of those moments of wonder.  Sometimes it’s the noun meaning.  A glimpse of unexpected beauty – say clouds reflected in a new building.  Wonder = awe.  A state of mind that’s vitally important as I walk because the “streets” vision is not social services, but to provoke a spirituality presence in the inner city.  Wonder is partnered with curiosity.  The “what might be round the corner?” approach to life is about discovering an openness that not everyone lives with.  I have always valued curiosity.  Now it’s my way of life.  Sometimes though I find something that leads me to wonder in a verbal sense.  A woman’s shoe on a bare lot along a street.  One shoe.  And I begin to wonder, “What went on here?”  Or someone leaves a note of despair on a bridge, “No life left.  Just emptiness”.  I wonder still who wrote that, and what happened next and before.  Wonder in verb and noun sense has been a vital spirituality discovery of the past year.

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The importance for really seeing the inner city in the light of spirituality rather than activity is enabled by walking slowly and looking.  Looking has been sharpened for me through photo-taking.  Finding something that captures my imagination (there’s another vital word for me) and photographing it so I can encourage others to begin to see there’s more to the city than emptiness and new buildings and boringness has become one of my passions, and major ways of reaching others.  This has led me to talking to Rotary and other community groups.  My hope is that Durham St’s brief is being fulfilled by spreading a way of being – another learning as I reflect.

So much church life is traditionally about trying to attract folk to your brand of being Christian.  Crudely and cynically, it’s often in the cause of trying to shore up the future of the congregation rather than demonstrating a way of walking the Way of Christ.  Activity is often based on what the church thinks others need.  Social services can be a way of demonstrating that we are “active” in the community in ways that make the church feel good, but often not in ways that lead to significant changes.  By having none of that in the “streets” brief, it has been interesting to see how open the people I meet are to meeting me, and talking to me about their lives.  If there is no expectation that I am out to get them, people have been keen to talk about deep and personal things – to me, a stranger.  I have learned about the importance of cathartic listening, of being with someone.  A random someone I meet.  And strike up a conversation with.  Like the parking attendant who tells me a story of the way his Indian colleagues get racially verbally attacked almost every day as they do their job.  The old woman who tells me she is so lonely she is off to the casino for company.  The man who tells me of his wife’s suicide some years ago.  And many more.  It’s like being a mobile confessional sometimes.  A quiet moving presence.

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Sometimes I have formed relationships that are ongoing.  Baristas, shop owners, policemen for example.  Sometimes I have sought out particular people whom I want to talk to and  learn about a particular thing.  Sometimes I am like a football, passed between other people.  A rich ever deepening way of life.

A year.  But for me a year of intense fun, and particularly learning about how to live a life of spirituality in a city getting back on its shaky feet.  “streets” has changed my way of seeing the world, and hopefully has contributed to a door for others to see another way to live in this ever-changing place.  Come and join me some day.                                         Send me a txt: 029 770 8759.  I’d be glad to walk with you through this incredible place.

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