Nothing good comes out of Wythenshawe

Nothing good comes out of Wythenshawe

I was slightly concerned, genuinely surprised and frequently amused at the number of people who recited this line to me when I arrived in Wythenshawe Manchester – which for many years held the awkward title: biggest council housing-estate in Europe. Of course it was said tongue in cheek but what was striking was the sheer number of individuals who greeted me with the standard local line, “nothing good comes out of Wythenshawe!” whenever they found out where I was working. They often said it with one of those knowing smiles. “Nothing good comes out of Wythenshawe”. And one person added helpfully “… except for the bus”.

Well apparently nothing good was supposed to come out of Nazareth* either …

Since 2014 I have been on a ministry training placement at Brownley Green Baptist Church, Wythenshawe, a small but active church with a congregation around 50. Wythenshawe is a large estate on the edge of Manchester. Although the church is a good mix of professional and working-class folks, Wythenshawe itself has many difficulties including low literacy, debt, unemployment, poor housing, gambling and pervasive low self-esteem.

Wythenshawe_2

Wythenshawe Centre

Living in the moment

But there is a rawness to life here. People live day to day and that can strip away both our layers of false security and our layers of unbelief.

One day – it was a Monday – I was sitting with a young mother in hospital awaiting news of her critically ill husband. I chanced to ask her how she was coping with shopping and finances, and her reply is one I will never forget. She thought about my question carefully and then said …”well we’ve money coming in on Thursday and I’ve got £16 … so we’ll be OK”. The last 4 words caught me completely off-guard. I sat there thinking … for lots of people I know, £16 could fall out of their pocket and they might not even notice – never mind running a family for 4 days.

On a happier occasion I happened to know two couples who were getting married. I learnt that one in a Cheshire suburb were spending over £1,000 on flowers for their big day. Whoa! That’s a lot but apparently not that exceptional since the average British wedding is coming in at £10-20,000. Our couple in Wythenshawe however sensibly went to the local flower shop with £60 and asked them what they could do.  More recently a second couple looking to get married with church providing ceremony and reception, postponed their plans after learning they needed to save up £70 to pay the registry office.

This closeness or rawness to life does have benefits. If you say you’ve got some good news, most people are at least interested in what you have to say and will hear you out. Perhaps folks are simply less insulated from the need for good news.

Brownley Green-4

Food usually crops up – in one form or another – at Brownley Green

Thinking in the moment

All of us absorb the culture we are in, and to an extent that can surprise us. I used to live in inner-city Manchester but for over 15 years have lived in a Cheshire suburb and that has left its mark. A few months ago I was conducting a series of Bible Studies in Wythenshawe and I noticed one night that people had slipped into some “bad language” by way of conversation. Now admittedly I am guilty of swearing but I do it in that quiet sort of way (and I would like to stop!) So I sat there wriggling silently, thinking, “hang on, as the minister here should I be saying something about this … or am I just bringing in conventions which simply don’t belong here?” After some uncomfortable minutes – and realising unfortunately it wasn’t going to stop by itself – I made up a random rule. Swear-words which began with certain letters would now be met with a gentle rebuke while others would not …. Yes it sounds ridiculous – but I was again taken by surprise**. Anyway people took it well – conversation continued, with a little less colour.

Going beyond the moment

Through the week the church is very impressively engaged with this community and across all ages – last year 9 people came forward for baptism half of whom were new to the faith. They also know how to celebrate. Celebration is a big part of life here. Everyone’s birthday seems to get called out and every event that can be marked is done so with bouts of fine food, music, and even the odd dance. Of course there are deep-seated issues in an area like this but there is also a joyful resilience that won’t be silenced.

What are our priorities as a church? Actually no different to any church; they include:

  • Reminding people (including myself) to give thanks for everything that’s good, everything we do have – as writer Ann Morisey puts it: “learning to see the present through rose-tinted spectacles”.
  • Empowering people to take responsibility for their own wellbeing and health (harder than it sounds).
  • Encouraging people to volunteer in “random acts of kindness”, as a mitigation against worrying about ourselves, and the surest way to grow in one’s own faith.

Brownley Green-3

Easter – and Christmas – at Brownley Green

Nothing but good comes out of Wythenshawe

There’s a deep honesty about people here – they don’t tend to wear masks to hide their problems. But the truth can also be shocking. I admit I sometimes feel like closing my ears to the messy stories people tell me. But then I remember that God is passionately involved in our mess, so much so that he became a part of our mess. My mess.
It’s only a placement, but I’ve been here 18 months, still enjoying it, and I haven’t caught the bus yet.

Notes

*John 1.46: ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip.
** Feel free to contact me for a table of permissible swear words to use in church Bible Studies
If you enjoyed reading this post try reading Is Consumerism Killing Your Faith?
This blog was also published by Premier Christianity and the Baptist Times

  • Debbie Styles

    WHO are the guilty one’s who swore at your bible study I’m intrigued…….
    “values that don’t belong here” I think is a little out of order Chris, I would definitely had said something had I been there.
    Majority of Wythenshawe have the same value’s as our middle class neighbours.
    . Your slightly p’%#@ friend Debbie

    • Hi Debbie. Intrigue aside, thanks for reading the article – and sorry I may have offended you here – even without swearing. Here are my thoughts:
      1. What one person calls swearing is not swearing to another – its just part of language
      2. I feel that we put too many requirements on people to change their behaviour overnight. There is no easy answer, but church should be a place where people can belong without feeling they need an instant change in behaviour
      3. “Bad language” – whatever that is – is prevalent in any community today. I don’t like aspects of my own language. The interesting point to me was whether or not we feel we need to cover up our language
      This magazine article is interesting. Although I don’t fully agree with it, it makes some great points: https://www.premierchristianity.com/Past-Issues/2015/July-2015/Holy

      • Ron Hyde

        Chris – as a young teenager I swore like a trouper in my peer group but stopped overnight when I was converted. (I still utter the odd one when I hit my thumb with the hammer)
        Whilst thinking on this issue I read today’s reading for the church from Romans 12. v2 reads “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

        • Yes – you have put the opposite side of the coin very well there Ron. As well as being sensitive to the context / the area we happen to be in, you are right, the Holy Spirit changes people and we should expect to see evidence of that. Its a tough balance!

  • Ron Hyde

    Thanks Chris. In terms of good things coming out of Wythenshawe did you know that Dave Richards the author of worship songs such as “For I’m building a people of power” was a Wythenshawe lad who was at school with me in the sixties at the school that is now Manchester Enterprise Academy. Just an interesting piece of trivia!

    • I think Mr Richards is one of many good things – thanks for noting that Ron

  • Niromi

    Hi Chris, what an interesting blog post. I’ve heard the “nothing good comes out of…” being applied to other place too. Sadly, I think that level of negativity and pessimism can be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    That lady’s comment about how £16 was OK puts life into context doesn’t it? And to think that some people spend £1000 on flowers!? Wowsers!

    • Yes we need to get away from negative perceptions. Takes time of course. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • It’s fun to get a glimpse of life there. I know I encountered incredible poverty while in Guatemala—this might be on a smaller scale, but seeing life across the pond is intriguing and reminds me that we’re all people who need Jesus. Thanks for sharing, Chris!

    • Thanks for reading Camden – look forward to hearing more from your South American journalling trip!

  • Alastair France

    I loved that!
    I’ve never had much in the way of involvement with inner-city ministry (although have been involved in some inner-city worship!). Despite being a country boy at heart, what goes on in our church in the country (and in many) often doesn’t inspire too much; although I try a bit (with the significant limitations that a lay member in the CofE can do

  • Entertaining and honest, and had a little chuckle about a permissible swears table!

  • Good piece Chris.
    As you suggest maybe there has to be an honest approach to life in communities like Wythenshawe that some of us have forgotten.
    Now what about the chuffing swear word list :- ) LOL.

    • My aim was to reflect something of the honesty, decency and wisdom of people who attend the church I work in, and also my own challenges and lessons I have had to learn 🙂 …. ok ok still learning

  • Thank you for introducing Wythenshawe to me Chris. A place I have to admit I know nothing about! I love this attitude of joyful resilience that you talk about.

  • Malc Brown

    Interesting piece, Chris. I’m reminded of a quote from Tony Campolo, that I have been thinking about recently “There are three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a s@*t. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said s@*t than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night”. Tony is touching on the point that we so often make Christianity all about personal holiness. Your article is helpfully making the case that polarisation is not helpful. There is the sweet spot of holiness, mission and ministry. Jesus found the balance. So can we.

    • I do remember that Campolo comment which received a lot of interest and for all the right reasons. Yes so often we are troubled with our little problems while God is troubled by something completely different …. thank you for the reminder Malc.

  • Jane H

    Brilliant reflection Chris and confirms much of the same experiences I have had on placement in Openshaw. I love the ‘rawness’ as you put it, and the tangible sense of God’s presence in the ‘mess’. God is also in the suburbs but we do our best to hide him! I also like Malc’s comment above about the priority of personal holiness that we can get caught up in, when the Bible speaks much more about social justice. You’ve inspired me to collate my own experiences.

    • Yes – definitely some things in common there. In fact I think I actually got the phrase “a rawness to life” from chatting to you 🙂 I hope you do gather together some of your own experiences – that would good to see

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