"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair."
Running a community centre is a challenge at the best of times - there’s the blessing of a building, a space to outwork our creative endeavours, to realise the possibility of gathering different sorts of rag tag people to build friendship, learn new skills, dance, run kids’ clubs, worship, craft, cook and eat some delicious food. Then there’s the liability of a building… fixing leaky roofs (and endlessly surprising things that break), clearing gutters, keeping the building warm, fielding flaky hall hirers and constantly searching for funding… While this is a manifestation of the heart of The Journey and our friends, it’s a credit to Denise, who manages The Hub, that we’re here to tell the tale.
I don’t really need to set the context for the last bit of time, suffice it to say, everything about this endeavour has become that much more fun and challenging! In the dark depths of lockdown, while the physical space of The Hub was largely dormant,
Save for the tinkerings of small DIY tasks, lots of our efforts were directed towards the local community and practical, collaborative friendships. Some of the connections forged in this time have been really precious and invaluable. Those relationships have been forged in a crucible, in ways that never would have been possible in other times. They have shone a light on the depth and scope of need right on our doorsteps, as well as all the depth of care and heart present among our community, we’re still discovering after all these years.
Alongside the great care shown among the Journey family for one another, the mini community of people (largely previously unknown to us) that grew around the regular videos released through the Hub which included dance tutorials, fitness instruction, crafts and games for kids, ‘Gardeners’ World’, Sunday thoughts for the week, and beekeeping escapades was an unexpected blessing and source of small joy in the midst of loneliness for so many.
As life began to emerge, and people poked their heads out of their burrows, things started to begin again in small ways. At The Hub it was the bees that really brought about the first, cautious interactions. Oblivious to all the fuss, they just did their thing. They were our new arrivals, and a catalyst for hope. They have been the glue (or propolis, if you like) for entirely new friendships -people who now take great care and pride in those tiny creatures - alongside the garden, which has flourished in such a beautiful way. As a nod to all those who have put so much work into these spaces, we received an RHS ‘thriving’ award for thegarden and a bronze ‘Eco-Church’ award from A Rocha.
People have come to put their hands in the soil and to grow flowers and vegetables but found, I hope, something so much more.There are loads of stories but, among them, I remember talking with two telecoms engineers who loitered for an unreasonable amount of time around the beehives, asking all manner of questions while sharing their wisdom, and who were overjoyed when I suggested they pick a courgette. There is a woman who is here near daily, who seems to be working and cultivating with her mind, body and heart. I like to think of the tomatoes, chillies, pansies, lettuce, chard, courgettes, sunflowers and honey as a small reminder of the faithfulness of God, and as a signpost towards the fecundity and flourishing that is taking place just under the surface, even in the depths of ‘winter’, and the promise of things to come.
It has been outdoors - including for many of our first church gatherings in person - that has provided a gateway back to human connection for many of us, as we and others have also gradually been able to make use of the indoor space in limited but nonetheless life-giving ways. May we continue to recognise God at work among us through whatever circumstance and medium is available, even (and perhaps especially) if the outward prospect seems bleak.
So, while this whole undertaking is often challenging, stress-inducing, frustrating, slow, tiring and pretty hard work, the question remains:
Is it worth it...?
Pete Gadston - The Journey