Pilgrimpace's Blog

a dark age?

I was struck by this post by Lucy Ridsdale:

How to minimise the impact and duration of a dark age?
1. Build Community
2. Radically simplify
3. Maximise creativity
4. Maximise non-violent solutions
5. Resacralise life
6. Store knowledge
7. Adopt a supportive financial system.

I’ve been inspired by John Croft (via Emski) to consider the very real possibility that we’re heading into a global dark age. These are seven ways we can keep it as short as possible.

This seems to me to be a very good manifesto for living, and is of importance to those of us living in what seems to be a very dark time in Britian at the moment.  I appreciate Lucy’s insights because I know they come from the tacit knowledge that is trod out in the painful miles of pilgrimage.  I am also reminded of Alasdair MacIntyre at the end of After Virtue:

It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead – often not recognizing full what they were doing – was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. if my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached the turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St Benedict.

rhyme and reason
January 26, 2011, 4:01 pm
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An excellent programme in this series, interviewing Billy Bragg about poetry.  Click here to listen again.

Mr Gee presents the final programme in the four part series, Rhyme and Reason.
This week he is joined by musician and activist Billy Bragg to talk about how poetry has played a major role in his life. Billy Bragg tells of how he’s used music and poetry to express his feelings at pivotal points in his life. We hear readings of his favourite poetry and music from his back catalogue going back over 25 years.

justice mail
January 15, 2011, 11:43 am
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I would like to commend to you Justice Mail.  If you join, you will be occasionally emailed suggestions for positive social action and change.  It is very simple, takes little time and has an effect.  You can also join it on Facebook.  All the details are here:


Take five minutes to change the world!

Justice Mail is an email pressure group for busy people who want to get involved in social change but lack the time to research topics. If you send us your email address, we will send you suggestions from time to time for quick email actions. All campaigns are in accordance with policies of churches and leading charities.

You can join Justice Mail by sending an email to either

j.hull@queens.ac.uk or john.andrews43@ntlworld.com

giving us your name, your age if you are under 18 and your postcode

Justice Mail is sponsored by

All Saints Parish Church, Kings Heath, Birmingham, B14 7RA

and the Church of the Martyrs, Leicester, LE3 0QT

Justice Mail

Organisations supported November  2010


Amnesty International

Burma Campaign

Campaign Against the Arms trade


Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Church Action on Poverty

Christian Aid

Jubilee Debt Campaign

Global Zero


Labour behind the Labels

One International


Pax Christi

Refugee Action

Refugee Council



War on Want

Water Aid

World Development Movement


a franciscan christmas blessing
December 23, 2010, 12:45 pm
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May God bless you with discomfort…
at easy answers, hard hearts,
half-truths ,and superficial relationships.
May God bless you so that you may live
from deep within your heart
where God’s Spirit dwells.

May God bless you with anger…
at injustice, oppression,
and exploitation of people.
May God bless you so that you may
work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears…
to shed for those who suffer from pain,
rejection, starvation and war.
May God bless you so that you
may reach out your hand
to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with
enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference
in this world, in your neighborhood,
so that you will courageously try
what you don’t think you can do, but,
in Jesus Christ you’ll have all the strength necessary.

May God bless you to fearlessly
speak out about injustice,
unjust laws, corrupt politicians,
unjust and cruel treatment of prisoners,
and senseless wars,
genocides, starvations, and poverty that is so pervasive.

May God bless you that you remember
we are all called
to continue God’s redemptive work
of love and healing
in God’s place, in and through God’s name,
in God’s Spirit, continually creating
and breathing new life and grace
into everything and everyone we touch.

on earth as it is in heaven
December 9, 2010, 6:17 pm
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There’s a very helpful article by Samuel Wells on community regeneration, parish ministry and the Book of Isaiah here.

the role of the church in community regeneration

This is a departure from my usual blog posts.  Here is a discussion paper I have written on the role of churches like the ones I minister in within contemporary British society.

The Role of the Church in Community Regeneration – a view from the estate parishes[i].

This paper is written within the context of the Coalition Government’s Big Society agenda[ii], in which voluntary social action, public service reform and community empowerment are drawn together; the beginnings of partnership between the Church of England and other churches in delivering Big Society programmes; the start of stringent public spending cuts; opposition to this, particularly through street and campus protests.

This paper seeks to describe what this reality looks like from the perspective of a parish priest ministering in outer estate parishes in Birmingham.  It attempts to articulate some of the questions, difficulties and contradictions that such ministry leads to, and it looks at some of courses of action that seem most fruitful.  Please note that this is a discussion paper in which I am working out what I think.  It is not my final word and I would very much value any comments you have.

It is useful to reflect that next month marks the 25th anniversary of the Faith in the City Report.  Those years have seen a marked change in the culture of anglican parish churches in neighbourhoods marked by multiple deprivation and poverty as churches have developed community projects, enabling them to serve those in need in their parishes.  The Church has displayed a deep commitment to all people living in such areas.

In Birmingham Diocese, this commitment has particularly been through our parish churches (not least through the redistribution of resources from those in wealthier areas to those in poorer); through a commitment to being faithfully present in all areas of the Diocese; through service to our neighbourhoods (we are there for everyone who lives in them) particularly through parish based community projects, resourced by the Community Regeneration Department and Thrive West Midlands, and through city and diocese–wide work.

This commitment and presence of the church in the diocese has been deepened and made more effective by the partnerships that have been built up and established with local residents, local government, New Deals for Communities and other area based regeneration programmes, Third Sector organisations and many others. This model has been affirmed in the Church Reports Faithful Cities (2006) and Moral, But No Compass (2008) and in Crossover City (2010), the theological reflection commissioned by General Synod.

This faithful practice has been informed by a number of biblical and theological strands.  For myself, I would focus on the service of the Kingdom of God; the teaching of the Gospels to work with Christ in the creation of that alternative reality in which all people, and especially those who are “the least of the Lord’s sisters and brothers” may flourish; the discovery and service of Christ in the least of his brothers and sisters; the desire and imperative to help individuals and neighbourhoods to flourish (to expand on St Irenaeus, “the glory of God is a human being fully alive” is also seen in a neighbourhood or parish fully alive); the preferential option for the poor; the transformation of Christian communities into eucharistic people.  From a sacramental socialist perspective, we might look to patristic teaching on poverty and equality, to the example of the slum ritualist priests and parishes of a century ago, and to theology of liberation.

In her very helpful speech during General Synod’s debate of Big Society last week, Paula Gooder attempted to root the Church’s response to social and economic need in a biblical theology of community.  This seems to me to be a rich theme that I will be reflecting on in the future.  There is much here about the nature of corporateness; the nature of the Body of Christ; the Gospel tradition of community and Jesus being where the outcasts are; as well as much that can question and help us as we seek to understand and form ‘good societies’ in twenty first century Britain.

In the context of Birmingham, much of the grassroots-based work which is underpinned by such theological and spiritual vision has been informed and enriched by the key theological value of generosity, identified and reflected on so deeply by the late Bishop John Austin. The concept that a neighbourhood can only flourish when it is ‘clean, safe and generous’ has been a well-received and valued offering to Birmingham.

As a parish priest, I am interested to see that the Government’s ‘Big Society’ agenda is similarly shaped to much of the work that my parishes, and many similar ones, have been engaged in for many years.  The parts of the Big Society that are about empowerment, mutuality, partnership resonate strongly with my own practice (and with such elements in the Labour tradition, and other strands such as community organizing and some anarchist thought).

It is also important to restate that anglican parishes (along with churches of other traditions in areas of deprivation and poverty) have been working in partnership with a whole stream of  national and local government initiatives for the last couple of decades (as has most of the Third Sector)[iii].  In the areas I minister in, the Church is deeply enmeshed in the Third Sector and in partnerships and relationships with government.  This way of working has been adopted in order to help both individuals and neighbourhoods to flourish.  Parish based community projects have sought funding in order to keep their essential work going; the relationship between Government and the Third Sector has evolved to enable this to happen; while strands like community organising have put an emphasis on building relationships and partnerships.  Another dimension of this is that church-originated projects have developed a great deal of good practice.  We should therefore, as part of our generosity, be seeking how we can model and share what we do well with others.

I would see such work as being about Incarnation, service and the works of mercy; it is about empowering individuals and helping them and communities to flourish; about creating the possibility and vision for alternative futures; as such it is focussed on the Kingdom of God, on prophetic action, on the justice of God.  Being pragmatic, it is difficult to see how the Church could withdraw from the partnerships with Government in its various forms without doing immense damage to the lives of vulnerable people in deprived areas.  In the neighbourhoods in which I work, existing Third Sector work would be decimated if the Church withdrew from partnerships.

There are obviously deep questions and concerns about the Big Society.  The key one is that it is being implemented at the same time as swinging public spending cuts.  It has been good to see the Church expressing grave concern about the cuts and their disproportionate effects on those in the bottom ten percent of our society[iv]. I would characterise our work as being about creating a just society in which all can flourish, and am opposed to anything that casts an unfair burden on or which stigmatises those in poverty.  The Church must be able to remain free to criticise Government.

I have worries and questions about the Church being coopted into the agendas of Government (of any party) or, indeed, of any funders, but believe that our faith in the God of the Incarnation impels us to take risks in the service of the world.  It would clearly be foolish to go so entirely down the Big Society line when it may prove to be just the latest in a series of short-lived Government programmes (while recognising that it has the potential to reshape public life for a generation).  We are bound to feel uncomfortable with a great deal of this, but this is not sufficient reason to withdraw from work that seeks to serve those in greatest needs and which tries to cooperate with the Kingdom of God.  At the same time, however, we need to discern the lines that we should not cross.

The experience we have in developing areas of work which chime in with the Big Society allow us to see that Big Society type empowerment needs proper resourcing both in terms of finance and time if it is to be successful.  It is important that the cuts do not leave us having to make bricks without straw[v].  It is essential for the Church to maintain the freedom and vision to be able to speak prophetically against actions that we identify as harming those in greatest need in our society.

On the same basis our churches in this time of austerity need more than ever to look at the resources that we have and to see how we can make a greater offering to the communities and neighbourhoods we serve. Anglican churches in many of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods of Birmingham have a history of presence, sustaining and offering when on paper they have nothing whether it is through people, buildings or money – in many cases this is a widow’s mite offering. The opportunity for the wider and wealthier church to understand and support this has not always been seized and perhaps it is time for us to model a Church of England Big Society to demonstrate what might be possible in wider society.  We practice financial redistribution through the Common Fund and Parish Share.  How might this be yeast that transforms all our life as a Church?

This leads to the related question of what we can do while living with the cuts.  It is clear that life for parish based community projects and for people living in deprived parishes is going to be more difficult in the coming years.  As individual Christians and as Church communities, we need a very serious engagement with the reality of this.  In terms of estate parishes this might best be done by continuing to develop reflective practice whereby people reflect on the Gospels and their own stories, or those of people they know, so that they are led more deeply into the work of the Kingdom.  The methods of liberation theology are of key importance in this first step.  It is also important that those who serve the Church by teaching should help parishes in contexts of poverty and deprivation through Gramsci’s model of the organic intellectual.

It is vital that our work is connected with others.  Many of us are engaged in struggle to make the world better through movements like the unions or campaigns like the Peoples Charter.  It is essential that our work is as broad based as possible and as effective as possible.

There is a great importance in paying continuous attention as to why we are engaged in this work and this ministry.  We pray that all we do is rooted in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  As far as possible, we should model a life that is a beautiful, hopeful, creative and joyful offering to God.  We know that it is easy to become deformed in the struggle for justice.  Our life therefore needs to be strongly rooted in the disciplines of prayer and worship; we are here for the long haul.

Andy Delmege is Vicar of St Bede, Brandwood and Priest in Charge of St Gabriel, Weoley Castle in Birmingham Diocese.  He is the Convenor of Strengthening Estates Ministry.

An earlier version of this paper was presented to the Society of Sacramental Socialists Christ the King Meeting in November 2010 (http://sacramentalsocialists.wordpress.com/)

[i] Non-British readers should note that ‘estates’ refer to neighbourhoods made up of social housing, often with associated problems of poverty and multiple deprivation.  In the US, they would be referred to as ‘inner city housing projects’.  The estates that form the context for my work and ministry are ‘outer estates’ meaning social housing built since the First World War on the outskirts of British cities to house the white working class population as the inner city districts were slum-cleared.

[ii] See, for example Jesse Norman The Big Society: Anatomy of the New Politics, University of Buckingham Press, 2010

[iii] as Ken Leech has observed (private conversation, November 2010), partnerships between the Church and Government to overcome poverty and deprivation goes back at least to 1870.  In this paper, I am concerned chiefly with the particular relationships developed over the last couple of decades as the Government has commissioned the Third Sector to undertake particular bits of work.

[iv] see for example Archbishop Rowan’s interview with Radio WM on November 7th, or the five bishops quoted by Jonathan Wynne-Jones in the Daily Telegraph on November 21st.

[v] this phrase comes from a private conversation with Andrew Davey.

creative, just, passionate, joyful future
November 25, 2010, 1:36 pm
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