When Jesus Came To Birmingham

***'When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed him by' says the famous poem by G. Studdert Kennedy. No longer. Geoff Holt and I spent two days with the core team of Newbigin Centre for Urban Hope, Winson Green, Birmingham. Four of the six have Ph.D's: all have deep compassion. Their aim is to develop Roots in the Soil, Relationship with the Neighbourhood, and Rhythms, insights into which they invited us to share.

One of UK's largest prisons is round the corner. Two members have begun to work with people there. The local school , run by the Christian Oasis Foundation, has very few white faces. Most children don't speak English and only stay a few months before they are moved on by the system that regulates asylum seekers and those at the bottom of the social pile. Anji is the community chaplain there. She has persuaded a farmer to set up an animal centre. Animals are brought to the school. They bring healing, friendship and creative inter-actions. Many residents are Muslims. Certain Christians have decided to fast with them during Ramadan.

We shared in the opening ceremony. a multi-ethnic BBQ with the animals and the BBC. Birmingham's Bishop David blessed it. Lesslie Newbigin's son welcomed it, Churches of Christ sponsored two posts, I offered reflections on how to sustain rhythms, and Geoff presented each with a Celtic Cross.

It was good to stay with Geoff, whose wife Joy was helping out on Lindisfarne. Out of his post popped two books on how to learn Iranian - many Iranians who sought asylum now worship at his local church.

Some months ago Ash Barker, the mobiliser of this new initiative and the founder of Urban Neighbours of Hope Australia, came with his son Aiden to Lindisfarne to seek God's leading on the purposes, people, places, programmes and partnerships they were to develop. Ash's book 'Risky Compassion' about their work in the slums of Bangkok, is worth a read.


Graham and I attended a service at St. Aidan's Bamburgh - the site of Aidan's death - to meet the Anglican Bishop designate of Newcastle UK, Christine Hardman. She prayed at Aidan's shrine. So did we - bringing to God changes and chances that lie ahead.


* BRF, who, following the success of my book on Hilda of Whitby, have commissioned a book about St. Aidan's model of mission for our post Christian world, is advertising for an exciting range of new posts www.brf.org.uk/vacancies.

Posted at 03:39am on 3rd September 2015
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