franciscan - September 2003
© The Society of Saint Francis, 2003
Glasgow - a celebration of SSF’s presence
24th June, 1984 - the feast of John the Baptist - and SSF started work on the Barrowfield housing scheme in Glasgow's east end. This was then a desolate, squalid and violent place which has undergone regeneration in the twenty years of our presence. Brothers Juniper and Stewart with a young helper (Alan Paterson, now Brother Alan Michael) were the pioneers - and Barrowfield with its graffiti, rubbish, street gangs, heroin addiction and wonderful human inhabitants has drawn to its heart a succession of First Order brothers and a sister.
When it is remembered that the times of Juniper, Benedict and now Amos span the entire twenty years, it is realised that this is not a place to be trifled with for a week or two. It elicits, sustains and tests affection of the kind that keeps a family together - unspectacular, nothing much to show for it maybe; but in terms of support for young lives exposed to appalling circumstances, for mothers and families, for friends, it elicits a mutual affection for Christ's sake with incalculable effects.
The days are longer in summer, shorter in winter, than in England. It rains, seriously. As in Northern Ireland there is a strong flavour of sectarianism in society which extends to football and dictates support for Celtic (RC) - Barrowfield is in the shadow of their Parkhead ground - or, for Rangers (Protestant).
It is sometimes not appreciated south of the border that the Scottish Episcopal Church, although Anglican, is quite different from the C of E. It has different names for things as simple as a parish or an archdeacon arising out of its separate history since the Reformation. But, it does have bishops and is known in some quarters as the English church.
At present, this outpost of the European Province, SSF, is manned by Brother Amos, Sister Moyra and Brother Robert Coombes. Soon, our flats will be empty. The point has been reached at which it is said that what we came here to do is done and that God is calling us on - in fact, not to leave Scotland, but to Dundee. Closing, leaving, parting, mean loss, bereavement, pain - nonetheless we offer readers a snapshot of these latter days of our presence in Barrowfield.
I get some good exercise every Tuesday, as I carry my piano keyboard across to a local school for the two hours I work with the children of the PEEK (Possibilities for East End Kids) Theatre Group, and in particular with the children on their songs for the shows we do at six monthly intervals. PEEK is a project I've been involved with almost since its inception, as my arrival in Glasgow was at the same time, and it can have me taking part in all kinds of activities. As well as the theatre group, I've helped with one-off trips, short term six week projects, and holiday clubs - I even survived the residential weekend on the Isle of Cumbrae with 12 of the older children. Out of this came a request, from them, for groups of girls to learn cooking skills - ‘You mean, you make cakes with flour and eggs, butter and sugar - you don't just open a packet and add water?’ Doing the food for a community event can be hard work - just imagine preparing a buffet for about 40 people with ten young helpers. We had fun! The boys are clamouring for their turn.
I occasionally preach at church, and have got used to two electric organs on the occasions when I am ‘fill in’ organist at two of the churches we go to. It's a piano at the third!
Mondays wouldn't be Mondays without the soup run. I find myself looking forward to meeting those I've got to know, especially many of the women, and anxious about those we've not seen for a while, hoping and praying it's for good reasons.
And in between times, it's whoever and whatever happens….. there isn't the space for it all….
Barrowfield is a place of contrasts; on the one hand, graffiti, rubbish and broken glass all around; on the other, friendship, honesty and commitment.
It is a place you would not visit without a good reason. Only one road in, surrounded by major roads on three sides and Celtic football stadium on the other, cut off by geography and by reputation, Barrowfield is an island - yet alive and yearning for something new. Refurbishment of the scheme is going on, creating new houses and new beginnings. We live, pray and worship in the middle of all this, on the top floor of a three storey block of flats.
Our chapel looks out over the bus park of the football ground and beyond you can just see green hills in the distance. Worship and prayer times are punctuated by the chimes of the ice cream van that goes around the scheme, which is quite a distraction when you first come here, but is soon put to the back of the mind. After a match during prayer time, you can watch the seagulls do their tidying up of the burgers and food, fighting to get the choicest bits.
During the day peace descends - the kids are at school, some people are at work. There couldn't be a quieter place in the middle of the city. Once, one of the clergy asked to come here for a retreat!
People say that Barrowfield is a rough place to live. There is truth in that, but for the last twenty years the brothers who were here worked and prayed, and now SSF is accepted and has become part of this small piece of Glasgow.
On my desk…
I have a file of letters to and from the council about litter and blocked drains. They're trying to get out of doing anything.
I have eight copies of a questionnaire on health issues. I knock on doors for the Health Forum, and ask questions like "Do you brush your teeth once a day, twice a day, once a week, never?"
I have the agenda and bumph for the monthly staff meeting of the Citizens' Advice Bureau. I am now a "minder" of trainees.
I have a bible, commentary and dictionary of the bible in a pile. My Sunday sermon is gestating.
I have a pile of information which keeps coming through the door - on the homelessness problem, because we do a soup run on Monday nights - on asylum seekers - from Oxfam - from Church Action on Poverty - from the Glasgow Children's Holiday Scheme - the Neighbourhood Forum - the Drugs Forum - the Health Forum - and every other forum.
I answered the front door and listened to a story, then gave out a bag of tins.
I went shopping and greeted six different people on the way. One was deaf, one was lonely, one was returning from the off-licence, one was returning from mass, one was in a pram. I saw three clients at the CAB. One was in debt, one had been sacked and one couldn't fill in a form.
I went for a walk/swim/cycle ride. I sang, I prayed, I cooked and ate; I snoozed, talked football, watched TV and had a whisky.
I was aware that "Jesus is here in our midst transforming our human disaster … no one can be written off … every human face has a divine secret to disclose … listen to the exhausted, the ravaged, the burdened and oppressed - they know the secret." (Archbishop Rowan Williams, in his Enthronement Sermon.)
'Community Routes' will indicate the present whereabouts of Amos, Robert Coombes and Moyra - and future issues of franciscan will include news of the Mid-Craigie Estate in Dundee. f
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