Friday, 29 August 2008

The Glue that holds us together

My study leave has been fascinating; I have read so much that has stimulated my mind but I will not give it to you all at once! I have been working in the quiet studious atmosphere of the National Library of Scotland on George IV Bridge, a bit of a retreat into an ivory tower for two weeks. The 'glue-question' was prompted by something I read.

What is the glue that holds us together? 'Mothers' was the immediate answer that Jean gave me and I suppose for many families that is true! Mothers, so often, are the hub through whom the family news travels; mothers keep in contact when families are spread much more than anyone else.

We could ask that question about the community we live in: what holds our community together? A hundred years ago the glue holding the village of Juniper Green together would be the fact that everybody knew everybody else. Last year, the village came together around the JG300 celebrations. Is there any kind of glue holding the community together in Baberton Mains? Not living there, I'm not aware of anything, other than the little pockets of friendships and relationships between neighbours.

What about society in general? A hundred years ago, British society was held together by a common Christian story. Most people knew the Bible's story. There was a Christian heritage that the nation held as important and most people shared, even if they didn't profess a faith of their own. This heritage gave a set of values and standards that was almost universally accepted as good and as the basis and foundation of British society.

We now live in a pluralist society. That simply means that there is now a number of sets of values and standards, not just one. Different groups of people hold by different values. We can no longer argue that one set is right and wrong because we are told that 'what is good for you is not good for me'. As a result there is no glue holding society together and my fear for the future of Britain is that society continues to disintegrate in a welter of confusion, violence and fear.

What about Church? What is the glue that holds us together? We might see ourselves as a random collection of individuals who happen to believe similar things and who happen to live in the same place and so happen to worship together once a week, on a Sunday. That's not a very strong glue!

On the other hand, we could be a group of people who have a real sense of shared purpose. We could be a group of people who really do have a sense of shared faith, that we do believe the same things. We could be a people whose passion is to share our faith with others, to see other people come to believe these things too. I believe that the best thing the Church can do for the nation is make sure that our glue works.

What do we need to do to make that happen in a stronger and stronger way?

Thursday, 7 August 2008

The Post-Office-less community

The village Post Office is closed. It all happened last week. Juniper Green Post Office was open one day and the next there was a sign on the counter telling us that it was closed and we should go to Currie! Will the shop be next? Apparently it will close in 4 weeks time. There are plans afoot for the site. Where will I go for my morning paper when the shop closes? Will someone other bright entrepreneur begin to sell newspapers?

For me, this is not so much of a problem. I can climb into my car and go to Currie Post Office or Colinton or Wester Hailes. I can walk to Currie or Colinton for my paper (I might be exhausted at the end, but some might argue it would do me good!) but there are people in Juniper Green and Baberton who depend on the community having a Post Office and a shop nearby. They don't have a car; they can't get on the bus; they can make it to Juniper Green but they could not get to the more distant places!

I read somewhere that there are 2,500 Post Offices earmarked for closure (I assume that that is a UK-wide figure) and that in the last year some 1,400 pubs have also closed, largely due to the smoking ban. Many of these post offices and pubs would be in small communities, places where it is hard to make these enterprises succeed. What impact do these closures have om community life? There is something true about not knowing what you've got till its gone! Take away the Post Office and the pub as community meeting places and something is lost from the heart of the community. How many people are out and about in Juniper Green simply because they visit the Post Office and the shop (and the pub)? There are people whose only conversation is with someone they meet on the way to the shop for their paper; for people like that the danger is that they become more and more isolated at home.

What does Church do about this? We could complain about the loss of the Post Office but from what I understand that would be fruitless. There is another challenge here for Church - how do we make sure that Church is a meeting place for people in the community? The article I read about Post Offices and Pubs then lambasted the Church of Scotland for taking churches away from small rural communities too. How can we make sure Church is at the heart of community life? How can we persuade people that Church is at the heart of the life of our community? In some very obvious ways, Church can never replace the Post Office or the shop, or the pub, but how can we serve the community best? How can we be and remain a meeting place, a place at the heart of our community?