London's Healing

London is healing, as I experienced during a long week-end in the UK capital. At Balham Community Church's fiftieth birthday celebration for Des Figueiredo I sat next to Bernadette O'Farrell, the Chair of Citizens UK . This alliance of schools and universities, churches, mosques and synagogues has been out in the streets listening to those who were caught up in the recent mass looting. Large numbers of people have taken little actions to support victims and build local community. London Citizens now has 200 Safe Places where young people who are in fear of gang leaders, parents or drug pushers may go. Des, who is Vice Chair of Citizens Balham, was presented with a large mounted photo of the time when he helped lead local people in singing carols in Tate Modern until they agreed to pay a living wage to their cleaning staff. Trained teams in each member community carry out a Listening Campaign. Through thousands of conversations they uncover common concerns, hopes and fears. They find powerful storie and discover new talent and leadership in their communities.

On my return to my university accommodation I walked among crowds that thronged the south bank for The Thames Carnival. Costumed energizers from every imaginable ethnic background pranced and paraded over Blackfriars Bridge and towards Westminster and every face was smiling.

This visit was part of my annual stimulus in the big city, when I combine spiritual direction or attendance at an invited event with a day or two to let my hair down. I was spellbound by Trevor Nunn's production of Shakespeare's The Tempest and by We Will Rock You (don't tell anyone), not to mention the British Museum's fantastic exhibition Treasures of Heaven. There were seven sections. It was nice for a Lindisfarne guy that Saint Cuthbert and Thomas a Becket filled one whole section.

London can be a place for pilgrims. As I stepped off the bus at Moorgate I decided I would attend any church whose bell summoned me. The church was that of St. Magnus the Martyr, with a sung high mass in Latin and English led by Monsignor the Rector. And it was Church of England. Pilgrims can walk beside the Thames and visit a network of city churches that stay open each day. At St. Pancras, don't miss the Friends House. The Quakers provide excellent earth-friendly food, reading and quiet places. Cycleways in London are brilliant.

It's such a pity the trains don't work - 90 minutes delay because of a tree on the line; transfer to an already crowded train; that train delayed 90 minutes because of a kite in the power lines. Why not replace trees with bushes beside rail tracks? Perhaps, living on a tidal island, I can claim compensation for lost nights? Roll on holistic planning and praise God anyway.

Posted at 00:15am on 13th September 2011
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