Monthly Archives: January 2012

Called to Change

Canon Dr Angus Ritchie, Director of the Contextual Theology Centre, blogs on a call to prayer, listening and social action this Lent

Lent is traditionally seen as a rather gloomy time, when we turn inward in tortured self-examination.  The truth is very different.  The deeper purpose of this season is to draw us outward – into a deeper communion with God and with neighbour.  Lent is a time of judgement, certainly.  But the ultimate purpose of God’s judgment is always that of love.

God’s judgment confronts us with reality.  His word pierces through our layers of self-deception.  It pierces through the false gods of profit, popularity and status on which we set our hearts, and through our shell of self-protecting cynicism. 

Under the loving judgment of God, we see ourselves as we really are.  We see the futility of our self-deception, the emptiness of our false gods and the destructiveness of our cynicism.  Why does God force this painful truth upon us?  For this reason: it is only when we face the reality of our lives that change and growth become possible.

The prayers and practices of Lent exist to open us to reality.  Their words of penitence urge us to face the truth about our sins and their impact on others.  The chastening words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy ‘Remember thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return’ force us to face the truth of our mortality. 
We won’t go on forever.  The choices we make each day mean there are paths down which we have decided not to travel, possibilities we have shut down, perhaps permanently.  We need to ask what kind of values we will affirm, in our deeds as well as our words.  As I face my mortality, I am forced to ask: what do I want this life to say?

This question needs to be considered alongside an honest examination of what my life currently says.  What would you say my values and priorities were if you looked, not at the beliefs I profess, but at the ways I spend my time and money, the things that preoccupy and vex me, the ways I treat the people around me? 
Lent helps us to explore the gap between the answers we give to these two questions: what does this life say? and what do I want it to say?

These are questions we can also ask of our common life.  In The Rock T.S. Eliot asks:
What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle together because you love each other?
What will you answer? ‘We all dwell together
To make money from each other?’ or ‘This is a community?’

Today, many people are asking these questions with a new intensity.  There is a large and growing gap between rich and poor, one which politicians of all parties say they want to see reversed.  And we all live with the ongoing and unpredictable consequences of the global financial crisis for years to come.

This Lent, two Christian social action charities – The Contextual Theology Centre and the Church Urban Fund  – are issuing a Call to Change.  (This is online at and on Twitter at @calltochange.)  It builds on decades of ministry by churches in some of England’s poorest neighbourhoods.  It seeks to draw more people into their work of prayer, of listening and of action for social justice.

The Call to Change is not a call to scapegoat someone else – be they a ‘benefits scrounger’ or a banker.  Each of us is called to open ourselves to reality.  We do this through prayer: as we encounter the ultimate reality of God in Scripture, worship and personal devotion.  We do it through listening: and in particular, a serious engagement with the voice of England’s poorest communities. 

Words are not enough.  They need to take flesh in action.  The experience of our partner churches points to concrete things every Christian and congregation can do – to tackle poverty, and build an economic system that works for poor as well as rich. 

It is through such changes that we grow together into ‘life in all its fulness’.  That is the message of Lent.  And, more importantly, it is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s word of love made flesh

The People’s Palladium

Based on one of London’s most iconic streets – Brick Lane – the People’s Palladium is an exciting and dynamic theatre group. It was set up in 2008 with the aim of creating a ‘Theatre of Ideas’ – to provoke local people to think about morality, human relations and history.

Those of all backgrounds are welcomed as performers and audience members. The group says its founding principle was ‘equality of opportunity’ while suggesting that “diversity is a core asset providing creative energy to make play and pleasure the hallmark of The People’s Palladium.”

The People’s Palladium began its life with a production of Federico Garcia Lorca’s ‘Blood Wedding’, a play of love and passion which was well received by the audience at the Departure Arts Centre in Limehouse. The company’s next production was ‘From Here’ which consisted of more than ten different individual stories told simultaneously in a participatory style. It was presented to a full house in Whitechapel.

The most recent performance was another Federico Garcia Lorca classic titled ‘Yerma’. The play deals with themes of isolation, passion and frustration, as well as nature, marriage and friendship. Yerma’ also played to a full house.

As well as bigger productions, the group also puts on workshops which are open to anyone in the local community who wants to come and join in. A good example of this is the recent ‘Scenes for a Spring Evening’ series. These open workshops gave the chance for members of the local community to come and take part in classic plays as actors, production team members or simply by watching.

The People’s Palladium is now looking to the future to further opportunities throughout 2012 and beyond. A grant from Near Neighbours is being put towards an exciting production. The aim is to bring together a group of local young people of different faiths and ethnicities and work with them on a show to be performed at Limehouse Town Hall.  Beginning in January 2012 the young people are taking part in drama workshops and will stage a selection of ‘scenes from world theatre’. They’ll also work together building props and staging. It’s hoped this will lead to lasting friendships.

If you want to find out more about the People’s Palladium, there are many ways to get in touch. You can visit the website:, visit the facebook page or even follow on twitter.

Happy New Year from Near Neighbours

2012 is now upon us and all of the team at Near Neighbours would like to with you a very happy and joyful new year. 2012 is, of course, a very significant year for the areas we cover. The world’s attention will be on Eastern London when the Olympic and Paralympic Games come to town this summer. What an opportunity for us to show why this is one of the best places in the world to live!

We’ve got many different ethnicities, nationalities and faiths living together to make up one of the most diverse communities anywhere on the planet. We’re delighted to be supporting grass roots community projects which help to encourage people from all kinds of different backgrounds to meet, deepen their relationships and take part in great community activities together.

We would love to hear from you if you’re involved in a project, or you’d like to start one that Near Neighbours may be able to support. For more information, simply click on the ‘About’ button above.

Over the next couple of weeks this blog will be profiling some of the organisations which are already benefitting from Near Neighbours grant funding and support. Watch this space…