Is inner city ministry as hard and scary as we might led to believe by the media? I’ve been in Blakenhall, Wolverhampton for two and a half years. This area of the city recently received a European development grant for £55 million and now the ABCD community redevelopment project is almost complete. Old high rise flats have been pulled down, the tatty pavements have been block paved, the parks are being landscaped, shop fronts restored.
There have been sad and scary stories of Blakenhall in the national media in recent years including a mother who has twice been sent to jail because of her son’s truancy; three young Asian men who drowned whilst on holiday in the Lake District; a gun battle in broad daylight on a shopping street this side of the city centre and perhaps most notorious of all, the machete attack on our church school’s nursery in 1997 which made Lisa Potts a national heroine.
I could tell you the stories of the drug den we used to pass on the way to school, of the red light district less than half a mile from our front door, of the funeral I conducted where one member of the family was handcuffed to his prison warden, but then I would be as guilty as the national press of sensationalising the unusual.
This article by Ed Jones in the Guardian about life in Salford typifies media attitudes toward our inner cities. I encourage you to read it in full. The original article was titled ‘Get them f***ing Polish out of your house or I’ll burn it down’
Youths smash the windows at the back of the house with stones and rocks. I put bars over the upstairs windows. A huge firework is thrown into the house through the back door. One of my lodgers is pelted with eggs on her way up the street and, once she goes inside, our front door becomes the target. My new car is vandalised. The drainpipes are pulled off the house. The porch is covered in graffiti, as are the windows. “Ed sucks Polish dick” is among the gambits. There’s always some bother.
This reportage would make Damien from Drop the Dead Donkey proud. The damaging effect of such “news” is the skew it puts on our nation’s picture of the inner city. This lopsided view stops many university educated middle-class ministers venturing beyond what is familiar and comfortable. I know, because it’s partly how I felt two years ago.
Mark Greer, an Oasis minister, had his letter Salford’s not all grim published in the Guardian in response to Ed Jones’ article.
Our neighbours have been welcoming and we have had no trouble. I have lived in upper-middle-class suburbs of Leeds and London and this tough working-class area has more of a community spirit.
I am glad for Mark’s response. It’s great that the Guardian printed it. I echo this view. There is a healthy community spirit here in Blakenhall.
One young lady who came to our “Cake and Chat” drop-in on a Tuesday morning commented on the work of ABCD. She said “it is not pavements that need regenerating, it’s people.” The scary question is this: with middle-class flight from the inner cities, who will tell the wondrous story of the Christ who died for sin and who brings true regeneration?