Grace town

From the archive.
For Mark Berry, ancient practices can be used for radical new mission

According to the media, I live in 'Godless Telford'.

While it is true that we have one of the lowest average Sunday attendances in the country, God is as much here at the heart of the new town as he is in any leafy suburban Bible-belt. There is a growing section of the community for whom church is either a distant memory or something that never played a part in their lives; yet they have some sense of their own spirituality and openness to the possibility of God. As one 20-something lady said recently, 'I think I believe in who God was before the Church called him 'God''.

Telford is a town born in the mid-'60s and forecast to have a population above 200,000 in the next few years. Some would have you believe it is a soulless place with no history, but the evidence to refute that is everywhere. Most people will be aware of the industrial heritage of the area: Ironbridge, Coalbrookdale, Coalport etc. You may be aware of its ancient history, sitting astride Watling Street and close to Wroxeter. What few realise is that sites of spirituality, worship and community ring the town; we live in a place that has deep wells of Christian faith.

Safe Space, the project with which I am involved, has begun to explore ways to link together our own spiritual walk with God, the spiritual history of our town, the beauty of the creation we live in and those we meet who have a desire to explore their own spirituality, who seek for God but cannot connect with the Church.

We have started to host local pilgrimages: walks around the town that connect each of these things.

We currently run two parallel pilgrimages; one aimed at adults and young people called In Sacred Steps, and the other, A Poem of Creation, for pre-school children and families. We are just beginning to find that these journeys can be times of mutual revelation and discovery, for those with a Christian faith, those with none, and those just beginning to explore. As the author Mike Ridell wrote, 'To observe the complexities and subtleties of the natural order is to be aware of the abundantly creative nature of God … and all of this calls beyond itself, speaking in a language, which our souls comprehend, of the one whose fiery imagination has sung all this into being.'

Published 6 August 2007

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