Tuesday, January 1, 2008
Neighborhood ministry in Birmingham
Every week for the past several years the brothers living at St. Clare House in Birmingham have hosted evenings for the young people of the neighborhood to come to the friary to play pool, video games, make snacks, and to enjoy the company of the brothers. This ministry provides a safe place for the young people and the brothers work with them, helping them to discover new ways to live and relate in the world. Above, I am giving the reigning champ a run for his money, but he soon cleared the table of the red balls and won the game. Pictured below is Br. Alan Michael, the Guardian of the brothers in Birmingham. The other brothers in Birmingham, Br. Desmond Alban, Br. Anselm and Br. Martin John, share in the ministry with the young people of the neighborhood. Sadly the brothers' work in Birmingham will be ending this March. Br. Alan Michael has been elected Guardian of Alnmouth Friary. Due to a shortage of brothers in the province there is no successor for the current household of brothers after they move to their new postings. But I was extremely inspired and encouraged by this ministry, and I suspect it won't be long before the Franciscan calling to live among and work with the people most at risk in our world will manifest itself in another creative ministry. The impact of the brothers won't be soon forgotten in Birmingham. They've done this work long enough so that they are now working with the children of some of the original youngsters who came to them eleven years ago. "They'll always be welcome at any Friary" says Alan Michael. He haas taken a group of them several times to Alnmouth, so they will know the way to find him!
After my stay at Birmingham I took a train to Bentley, near Doncaster. I stayed at the vicarage of St. Peter's Church with Bros. Malcolm, Nathanial and Paul Anthony. They work as a team, running this parish. Originally Bentley was a mining town, but with the closing of the mines the town has suffered. The brothers chose to move into this economically depressed area, to create a vibrant parish life. Pictured above a young girl is holding her Kristingle. This Christmas tradition originated in Moravia. As you can see, the Kristingle is an orange with a ribbon around it, candle and candies stuck in the top. The orange symbolized the world, the ribbon is the blood of Christ, the candies on four toothpicks symbolize the four seasons and their fruits, the candle is the light of Christ. And it is good to eat (not the candle of course). Quite a crowd turned out for this event and the collection was given to an organization helping children in different parts of the world. Below, Br. Malcolm shares a Kristingle with some of the young at heart in his parish. The brothers are involved in several programs with senior citzens in the parish. One day Paul and I shared a baked potato lunch with a group who then stayed on to play Bingo all afternoon (we left pleading other responsibilities).
After my time in Bentley, I went north to the holy island of Lindisfarne. Br. Damian met me at Berwick-upon-Tweed train station and we had to make tracks to get across the sand flats which stretch between the mainland and Holy Island. The road is only passable at low tide. If a traveler is too slow getting across, midway there is a tower to climb up into to wait til the next low tide, but bye-bye car. We made the trip with minutes to spare (water was lapping the asphalt). Lindisfarne is one of the ancient sites of celtic Christianity. It was the home of Aidan and Cuthbert. Br. Damian is vicar of the ancient parish church of St Mary's. Built at the same time, or perhaps predating the abbey which was there until the dissolution of the monateries in England byHenry VIII, the church is over 1000 years old. It was an extraordinary experience to pray in this ancient, holy place. It was so cold inside the church during morning prayer it was easy to imagine life on that island as a monk a millenium ago.
One of the most impressive relics of the early monks on Holy Island is the Lindisfarne Gospel book. Here, Damian is holding a gorgeous facsimile of this ancient book housed in a special building near the parish church. Working in a popular pilgrimage site gives the brothers enormous access to a huge variety of people who come to see this place. It is very impressive to think about the very long history of Christianity in this place.