Cath Vickers (who is indeed a Vicar) recently shared a story about her time as a Curate (a sort of Vicar with L plates). She was working at a Church in Harrogate. Cath said that this Church was always full and the people who filled it were lucky. They had nice warm houses, plenty of food on their tables and wanted for nothing. No thing. And yet they were not happy.
Cath said it took her a while to work out what was wrong. But she did. She realised that their wanting for nothing was the problem. Whatever they wanted or needed they could have. But have…almost always…meant buy. If they wanted a new book they bought it. If they wanted a nicer garden they paid someone to make it nicer. If they wanted their child to learn to read better they paid someone to teach them to read better.
They hardly ever interacted with other people who lived on their street or in their neighbourhood. They hardly ever shared any thing or skill or talent with anyone else. Everything was a financial transaction. All very neat and tidy. But it all made for rather lonely and rather empty lives.
No wonder when Cath looked around her Harrogate congregation she saw a lot of rather glum faces.
Not far from that Church in Harrogate there was another neighbourhood where the people were poor.
The people in this neighbourhood not only lacked the financial resources of Cath’s congregation but over many years had come to believe that they could only face life’s challenges if they had help from experts who lived outside their community; experts paid for by the state or well meaning charities.
The people who lived in this neighbourhood were also rather glum.
More and more aspects of their lives had been taken over by services. The people had come to believe that the only way to solve a problem was for a paid professional to tell them what to do. Birth, breastfeeding, mental health, bringing up a family, making use of leisure time, grieving, playing sport, creating a safe community; all these things and more had an expert attached who would organise things for you and tell you where you were going wrong.
Since the onset of austerity there have been more and more cuts to these services. People who have been encouraged to believe they cannot function without these services must now stand quietly by and watch as they are cut, scaled back and closed down. All they are left with is a shrinking, smaller life where what happens to them is dependent on the decisions of others……far away.
Is there a different way? Neither a reliance on money and paying for things nor a passive waiting for ‘someone else’ to make things happen.
We are all different. We all have things that excite us and make our hearts sing. We all have things that we can do well. A particular skill or talent. Something we’ve learnt how to do or something we have discovered that we just seem to have a knack for. These are our gifts.
The other day I heard someone reflect that he had a set of hedge trimmers which cost £150 and which he only uses twice a year. He noticed that his new neighbour also had a set of hedge trimmers which he only used twice a year too. What if they shared one set? They’d save money; talk more; interact more; get to know each other better…..perhaps be less bothered about how their hedges looked and more interested in what was going on in each other’s lives or finding out they had a shared interest (besides cutting hedges).
It’s easy to think about sharing hedge trimmers. But what about sharing our non-physical talents……or gifts? Wouldn’t that help us build stronger links with those around us? Help strengthen our community? Help us make friends? Help us feel less isolated? Help us see people differently? Help us value what others have and can do?
At a recent family gathering of the Stourdene Benefice of churches we decided to fill the Stourdene Gift Shop with some of our gifts. Everyone thought about a skill, talent or gift they have which they could share with a neighbour or someone in one of our communities.
It was fun.
At the ABCD Festival in Blackpool in June there were lots of stories about sharing gifts and lots of practical ways of putting the idea into practice….not least the Gift Wall
The Coady Institute have uploaded all the presentations on this playlist #abcdglobalfest2015 on Soundcloud.
It’s so easy, despite the best of intentions, to slip into engaging with the world as one that is full either of deficits or commercial opportunities; a world full of people either in need of a service to ‘fix’ them or some cash burning a hole in their pocket. A colleague recently noticed that if you clicked on ‘My Community’ on the Bromford website then all you got was an invitation to tell Bromford about ‘a problem in your community’ (so we can send in a professional to fix it presumably).
Hopefully by the time you read this we’ll have fixed it.