Saturday, 26 January 2013

An Inspiring Day in Leith

I had a great day today at the launch of the 'Peoples Map of Leith'.  The event took place at the Macdonald Road Library in Leith.

My colleague Ian Dyson has been doing the most amazing job over the last 2 years working for Bethany Christian Trust funded by Inspiring Scotland.  The Leith version of this project is called 'Inspiring Leith' and Iain has been doing a great job in bringing the communities of Lorne and Dalmeny together to have an impact in their community.  He has been involved in helping local people to set up the Lorne Cafe, the PDP Men's Games Cafe, Friends of Dalmeny Park Street, a Lunchtime Cafe at St Andrew church for pupils from Leith Academy and various litter pick ups including Kirk Street. 

Today's event was really well attended by a wide variety of people from Leith.  The Peoples Map was a great way of bringing old and young together to capture stories and memories of Leith.  As most people know Leith is a unique place and has a very different identity from Edinburgh.  I think they also have a football team who won the Scottish Cup a long time ago.
The peoples Map of Leith

I've been at some of Inspiring Leith's events before (like a great night of Curry making at Punjab'n de Rasoi on Leith Walk in December).  One of the things that strike me about community events is that they rarely go as planned.  Just like the community, these events can be very diverse, hard to predict and at times, a little bit messy.  This is often why so many of us don't really get involved in our communities other than in a very half hearted way.  It can be difficult, messy, exhausting and time consuming.  We also don't have much control when we get involved with our communities and most of us like to be in control!  I was talking to a leader of a Christian charity recently who told me that in a recent survey they did in a Scottish city most people surveyed responded that their community was no bigger than their immediate family.  What a sad indictment on 21st Century Scotland!  How can we change this?

1.  We need to get involved. 
Ian Dyson told me the story of a woman he met who was thinking of emigrating.  She was fed up with the litter, the drugs, the youths hanging about and the general depression around her community.  The next time he met her she had decided to stay and change her community.  Along with Inspiring Leith she organised a litter pick up in her street and established a Tenants Association to work together towards creating a better environment.  Imagine what would happen if every community had even one community activist like this?

Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies is that so often the church in Scotland is not leading community change.  Despite a church on almost every street corner the church is often the absent partner in community transformation.  But that hasn't always been the case.  When Thomas Guthrie walked the streets of the Cowgate and the Lawnmarket in the 1830's he was appalled by the 1-2000 'ragged children' he saw all around him.  He wrote, campaigned, organised, spoke and served until these children were fed, loved and educated.  He got involved. 

Thomas Guthrie's statue in Princes Street Gardens - 'a friend of the poor and the oppressed'
We might despair about our communities but Guthrie and others have shown that Christians can (and should) be at the forefront of community change.  As Tim Keller says 'the only way to reweave and strengthen the fabric [of community] is by weaving yourself into it.  Human beings are like those threads thrown together onto a table.  If we keep our money, time, and power to ourselves, instead of sending them out into our neighbours' lives, then we may be literally on top of one other, but we are not interwoven socially, relationally, financially, and emotionally.  Reweaving shalom means to sacrificially thread, lace, and press your time, goods, power, and resources into the lives and needs of others' (Generous Justice, p 177).

Ian Dyson in front of the Peoples Map of Leith
2. We need to listen to the community
If our communities are going to change, local people need to be involved with the solutions that will bring about transformation.  For too long communities have had services that have parachuted in to 'rescue' individuals and families.  Ultimately this solves very little.  On the other hand, community inspired projects create capacity and confidence for local people to take on other challenges.  As the Peoples Map of Leith showed very clearly, major projects like the Kirkgate Shopping Centre at the bottom of Leith Walk destroyed so much that was good in Leith and many feel the heart was ripped out of the community.  Local people know best and should be trusted about the future of their communities.

3.   We need to invest in community
At one time churches were at the heart of most communities in Scotland but sadly this is no longer the case.  People are now very reliant on community facilities.  The problem is that when councils close down these facilities the glue that often holds communities together is weakened.  The young people end up hanging on street corners, the older people become more isolated, the mothers who used to attend the mother and toddlers group get more stressed, and the ultimate effect is greater expense on other services.  This is why we can't afford not to invest in our communities.  For comparatively little expense, community facilities and investment provides much more in return with greater cohesion and a better living environment for all of us.

The Peoples Map of Leith show us how intertwined all our lives are.  We need each other.  We all need community.  Our cities prove Guthrie's point that 'the solitude of a crowd is the most painful of all.'  So many people are living in fractured and broken communities. 

Wouldn't it be great if the Christian church was leading community change once again?  Rather than seeing churches open for 3-4 hours per week wouldn't it be great to see them open every night and once again at the heart of their communities?  To do this we need to get involved, we need to listen to local people and we need to invest in the facilities and resources that can help community transformation.  This should be natural territory for Christians.  Why?  As Keller says 'God created all things to be in a beautiful, harmonious, interdependent, knitted, webbed relationship to one another.  Just as rightly related physical elements form a cosmos or a tapestry, so rightly related human beings form a community.  This interwovenenss is what the Bible calls shalom, or harmonious peace' (Generous Justice, p 173).  As Christians we should know what community looks like and feels like.  It is that shalom that Keller mentions - something we want for every community in Scotland.  We need to stop keeping it to ourselves and start living it!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Guthrie on the Lords Day

Like most Christians of his time Thomas Guthrie believed the Lords Day (Sunday) was to be kept as a special day of rest and to be used for public and private worship.  Like marriage the Lords Day is a creation ordinance.  If God rested on the seventh day, it is a fairly powerful argument that we need to rest one day in seven.  We believe that the Sabbath moved from Saturday to Sunday when Christ rose from the dead.  The Christian Sabbath, of course, used to be a great protection against exploitation of the poor and it is sad today  to see the Lords Day swept away in our 24 hour consumer driven culture. 

There are many stories about peoples negative experiences of the Lords Day, of swings being chained up on Sunday and children being cooped up all afternoon without being allowed to blow off steam.  No doubt there has been legalism in the past with greater concern on the outward form rather than the inner reality, but there can be little doubt that the loss of the Lords Day in Scotland has been a huge blow to our national life.  Research abounds that families are not spending enough time together and the decline in the traditional Sunday get together had has a damaging effect on family life.  It is unusual even to find Christians today who believe in the Lords Day and the Church is poorer as a result.  There is more teaching on the reformed view of the Lords Day at the bottom of this post.

We as a family, make the Lords Day a really positive family day and my hope is that my own children look forward to it as a day of rest, learning, enjoying God's creation and worshipping with the people of God.  Some of our best memories as a family are visiting our local Bellsquary Woods on a Sunday afternoon to feed the ducks.

Thomas Guthrie was a great proponent of the Christian Sabbath and was frequently asked to speak at rallies and meetings on the subject.  He often mentions how grieved he is about those who do not keep the Lord Days in his Memoirs.  Guthrie expresses his shock when travelling through London on his way to France in 1826; 'I see no religion here; they sell and buy openly upon the streets on Sunday.  I was shocked the first Sabbath upon leaving my lodgings, when a fellow in the street asked me if I would buy an umbrella.  When I went a little further I was asked to buy fruit' (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, page 229). 

He was further shocked when he arrived in France and in a letter home on 17th January 1827 he says; 'It is on the Sabbath more than any other day that I think of you all at home: the awful scenes which obtrude themselves upon my view suggest by contrast the very different circumstances in which you are placed.  When I see the tricks of the jugglers and hear the music of the musicians, and observe the busy traffic of the merchants, and the reckless levity of the people on the Sabbath day, I think of the quiet streets of Brechin; and the stillness of our house is brought sadly to my remembrance, when I hear, in this one the light song instead of the sacred hymn, and see, instead of the Bible, the cards and dominoes upon the table, and the people, instead of repairing to church, driving off every Sunday night to the playhouse' (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, page 231). 

Later on in his Autobiography when Guthrie was in Arbirlot, he talks about a farmer who took his harvest in on the Lords Day. The farmer was an adherent rather than a member of Guthries church but it was still very unusual to do any work on Sunday.   It must have been around around 1835 and it was a very wet summer.  Suddenly on a Friday the clouds began to clear.  Most of the community turned out on Sunday to thank the Lord for the change in the weather and were all set to get to work on Monday.  But one farmer had gathered his 'servants and cottars' together on Sunday and ordered them to gather in the harvest on the Lords Day.  Despite remonstrating with the farmer, the workers were conscious that their livelihoods depended on him and they carried out his orders with an uneasy conscience.  Being members of Guthries church, the workers were summoned before the session, but due to the circumstances, the session recommended to Presbytery that great leniency and tenderness should be shown to them. 

Guthrie says that the 'petty tyrant raged and fumed!  talking tall, big words about the liberty of the subject, and ending personal attacks on me by a challenge to defend myself and my Sabbatarian views at a public meeting in the church.'  Eventually a meeting was arranged in the manse and Guthrie says that the farmer had little to offer against his own thorough Biblical knowledge.  The farmer exerted great pressure to get the Presbytery to erase all records of the incident which they refused to do. 

It turned out that the farmer had harvested too early.  Guthrie tells us; 'Other farmers waited till Monday before they lifted stook or sheaf; and when they were stacking their crops in good condition, his barn-yard was smoking like a kiln.  His grain had not been ready for carrying on the Sunday, and every stack built on that day heated, as they call it, and had to be taken down on Monday; so this oppression of his underlings and breach of the Sabbath-day cost him, besides loss of character, loss of labour, of time and grain.  The people, as well they might, were much struck with this: his sin had found him out, and his neighbours who feared God, respected His law, and trusted in the old promise of harvest as well as seed-time, saw in the sound condition of their stacks and stack-yards how, in the words of Scripture, he that believeth shall not make haste'  (Autobiography and Memoir, 1896, page 108). 

Guthrie was a confessional Christian and held that the teaching of the Bible was summarised through the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and  Shorter Catechism.  If you have never read them I would encourage you to read them.  One of the most helpful books for understanding the catechism is Thomas Watsons Body of Divinity published by the Banner of Truth.  Chapter 21 of the confession summarises the Biblical teaching on the Lords Day;

7. As it is the law of nature, that, in general, a due proportion of time be set apart for the worship of God; so, in his Word, by a positive, moral, and perpetual commandment binding all men in all ages, he hath particularly appointed one day in seven, for a Sabbath, to be kept holy unto him: which, from the beginning of the world to the resurrection of Christ, was the last day of the week; and, from the resurrection of Christ, was changed into the first day of the week, which, in Scripture, is called the Lord's day, and is to be continued to the end of the world, as the Christian Sabbath.

8. This Sabbath is then kept holy unto the Lord, when men, after a due preparing of their hearts, and ordering of their common affairs beforehand, do not only observe an holy rest, all the day, from their own works, words, and thoughts about their worldly employments and recreations, but also are taken up, the whole time, in the public and private exercises of his worship, and in the duties of necessity and mercy.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Streets Paved with Gold - the London City Mission, Ragged Schools and Rice Christians

Once again I have to thank Rev Dr John Nicholls, Chief Executive of the London City Mission for sending me further material on Ragged Schools in London.  Below are a few quotes from chapter 4 of John's book co-authored with Irene Howat called Streets Paved with Gold, Christian Focus Publications, 2003.  If you want to read the entire chapter it can be downloaded from here and is used with kind permission from Christian Focus Publications. 

Within the chapter on Ragged Schools by Nicholls and Howat there is a good summary of a what a Ragged School was;

'An Edinburgh man, when asked to describe a Ragged School, said they were Sunday schools set up in the poorest parts where every house was ‘worn-out and crazy’ and nearly every tenant a beggar, or worse. ‘These schools, he said, were for ragged, diseased and crime-worn children, such as would not be admitted to any other kind of school.’ The one he instanced was in Field Lane, Smithfield, where 45 young people had to overcome the objections of their parents in order to attend; the parents viewing any possible reformation in their offspring as a potential loss of criminal earnings. Some of the children, who were aged six to 18, had already been in prison, and that, the Scot concluded, would be where they would spend much of the rest of their lives unless educated at the Ragged School. The teacher at Field Lane School was a big-hearted woman who did the work voluntarily three days a week' (Chambers’ Edinburgh Journal, 7th June, 1845).

I've already written here about the Ragged School Movement in London, the 'Devils Acre' and the involvement of Charles Dickens.  My family and I were down in London in October this year and visited Covent Garden for the first time.  It is an extremely nice part of London and it is hard to imagine the Dickensian situation described in Streets Paved with Gold ;

'As the men of the young London City Mission tramped the streets and alleyways of their districts, they met the conditions described by Dickens. ‘Covent-garden Market, when it was market morning, was wonderful company. The great wagons of cabbages, with growers’ men and boys lying asleep under them, and with sharp dogs from market-garden neighbourhoods looking after the whole, were as good as a party. But one of the worst sights I know in London, is to be found in the children who prowl about this place; who sleep in the baskets, fight for the offal, dart at any object they think they can lay their thieving hands on, dive under the carts and barrows,dodge the constables, and are perpetually making a blunt pattering on the pavement of the Piazza with the rain of their naked feet. A painful and unnatural result comes of the comparison one is forced to institute between the growth of corruption as displayed in the so much improved and cared for fruits of the earth, and the growth of corruption as displayed in these all uncared for (except inasmuch as ever-hunted) savages’ (Oliver Twist).
It is interesting to see the size and scale of the Ragged School Movement by 1876 and also to notice Lord Shaftesbury's multi faceted campaigning which included reform of abusive working practices;

'By 1861, 176 schools were connected to the Ragged School Union, which for the previous 17 years had worked ‘to give permanence, regularity and vigour to the existing Ragged Schools and to promote the formation of new ones’. Shaftesbury was chairman of the Union. Baptist Noel and R.C.L. Bevan, both closely connected with the London City Mission, were on the committee. So it was not only individual missionaries who were concerned to help the least privileged of the city’s children, the Mission’s leaders were also working to the same end. Mid-19th century evangelicals had a social conscience that led them to hands-on action; they also had a loud voice that got things done in government. While Shaftesbury was lending his name and support to the Ragged School Union, and visiting individual schools in the poorest parts of London, he was at the same time campaigning for there to be a limit to the number of hours children were allowed to work in factories and coalmines.' 

Perhaps one of the most interesting points raised in Streets Paved with Gold is the fear of creating 'rice Christians'.  This continues to be an issue today with many Christian organisations being accused of manipulation when offering food/clothes/help on condition of salvation.  I am often asked at meetings 'when do you get the gospel in?'  My response is usually to say that there was there was no sermon on the Jericho Road and the Cross itself was an act of love rather than a sermon.  When people walk in to a Night Shelter run by a Christian organisation or a church, cold, hungry and wet, the greatest act of love is to feed them, and give them somewhere warm to sleep. Perhaps the greatest example of this is Les Miserables where Jean Valjean is on the receiving end of great kindness and grace from a Bishop. Famously he says to Valjean 'Do not forget, never forget that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man. Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good.' This grace led to spiritual transformation without the need for a sermon. Preaching of course has a central place in the salvation of sinners but we need to remember that it is the Holy Spirit that regenerates and any church or organisation that seeks to bribe or manipulate people in a vulnerable position will only do huge damage to the kingdom of God.  Love, if it is true love must come with no strings attached.  In order to avoid the allegation of 'rice Christians' LCM pursued a policy of dividing evangelism and practical relief although it seems to have been fairly loosely interpreted;

'The LCM’s official policy had always been that the spreading of the gospel was paramount, and missionaries were forbidden to be involved financially with their people. As more and more missionaries became involved in the setting up and running of Ragged Schools, the Mission clarified this policy further. ‘The missionaries are most carefully to avoid the giving of temporal relief, as not their department of Christian effort, and as most materially interfering with the integrity of their especial work.  The missionaries are strictly forbidden from writing letters soliciting aid for persons in distress, or for objects connected with the district except with the special leave of one of the Secretaries … The missionaries must not make themselves responsible, or incur pecuniary responsibility in any form, for ... expenses attendant of Ragged Schools, rooms of meeting ...’ Behind these regulations lay not a lack of concern for the poor but the fear that, once missionaries were seen as a source of ready cash, it would be difficult for them to be sure of the honesty of those professing spiritual concern and conversion. The Mission was concerned to avoid the problem of what later became known as ‘rice Christians’. Yet the regulations were always interpreted fairly broadly, as in the case of a missionary who persuaded his local butcher and cookshops to help him feed starving children.'

There is also an interesting story about an LCM Missionary who is jumped on the way back from  a meeting.  It gives an insight in to the dangers missionaries placed themselves in on a daily basis;

'The Mission would probably not have been for the nervous or fearful either, as illustrated by one missionary’s experience of a visit to a Ragged School. The ‘little incident’ was reported in the February 1863 Magazine under the heading ‘A Missionary Garroted. ‘We fill up the remaining lines of this number with a narrative of a little incident which has just occurred to a missionary … Having received an invitation to attend a Ragged School Meeting in his old district (Deptford), he was induced to accept the invitation and pay a visit to his former friends. His return home from this visit was necessarily somewhat late, and in passing though Southwark near St. Saviour’s Church, he was accosted by two men, one of whom pinioned his arms and the other grasped his throat in his embrace. From the effects of the violence he is not yet free. He was robbed by them of his watch and the money which he happened to have in his pockets.’  Interestingly, his watch was returned to him by one of the thieves, but the other had no compunction about keeping a missionary’s money!' 

The chapter concludes with the legacy of the London City Mission and the ongoing work of the Shaftesbury Society the successor of the Ragged School Union;

'London City Missionaries have on many occasions been the agents of change, and this was certainly true in the establishment of Ragged Schools. From them, or associated with them, were the Ragged School and Chapel Union (again, with Lord Shaftesbury as its President), the Children’s Country Holiday Fund, Pearson’s Fresh Air Fund and, more loosely, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.  Thirty years after the first missionaries began Ragged Schools, their work came to an end. With the Education Act of 1870, elementary education was made available for all children, regardless of means. But while children’s educational needs were then catered for, their most basic welfare needs were not. The Ragged School Union became the Shaftesbury Society and continued to work for the good of the  children. Nor did the London City Mission opt out of education. Missionaries today are still involved in school work, after-school groups and children’s clubs. They still have a concern for the whole life of each child.'

I would like to recommend Streets Paved with Gold.  Remember you can read the whole of chapter 4 here.  It is an excellent read and the London City Mission continue to do a wonderful work which deserve our support and prayers.