Jersey: home of Bergerac, finance industry, cows....and gorillas, foodbanks and knitting.
Roger and I visited the Channel Islands District as a tag team: I went to Jersey and Guernsey; Roger visited Guernsey and Sark. And whilst the islands were as beautiful and the people as friendly as you'd expect, we were both privileged to see life beyond the tourist trail.
I met with Revd Tony Morling and colleagues at the Methodist Centre in St Hellier in Jersey. This stunning building, built originally for the French Methodist population, is now home to a community cafe, foodbanks, Toddler Church, Messy Church and much more. Its local population is now largely made up of Portuguese migrants. Tony talked with me about the poverty and inequality on the island, and the increasing number of people who were coming to the foodbank for lack of other options. The Centre is clearly committed to offering a warm personal welcome to all who visit, and exploring ways of deepening discipleship among everyone who connects with it.
The circuit is investing a lot of energy into work with families and children. I was fortunate to spend a morning with the layworkers on the island, who run a selection of Messy Churches, toddler groups, youth groups, to talk about what holiness and justice might look like in their life and work. But this was the first time I had come across "Messy Vintage" - taking messy church crafts, conversations and worship into care homes and dementia units. What a great idea.
For this really is a creative place! I met Cathy Morling of Talitha, a group of professional artists and arts therapists passionate about the potential to restore hope, dignity and worth to people who have experienced exploitation or violence through the freedom of the creative arts, which is starting work on Jersey. And Revd Elaine Halls gave me a wonderful knitted nativity, which is distributed to people before Christmas as a way of exploring the nativity story.
On the Saturday morning I shared interesting conversations with members of the circuit as we explored what "speaking truth to power" means in Jersey, looking particularly at issues of poverty and ethical investment. In the afternoon, I was pleased to attend the Pride Jersey march, a lively community celebration of human identity and our ability to coexist.
At various points I was reminded that the Channel Islands had been occupied during the second world war. This experience has not surprisingly shaped many residents. This swastika, scraped in the brick of a house occupied by someone who was alleged to have collaborated with the Nazis, is a reminder that the scars run deep.
So where do the gorillas come in? Well I had the pleasure of visiting the Durrell, an amazing conservation centre with the aim of "saving species from extinction". We were shown round by Dominic, the Head of the Mammals Department, who talked with pride and passion about the work of the centre. It was sobering to hear from him about the impact of climate change on animal populations, as well as the increasing impact of deforestation. And whilst the bats were probably my favourite animal there, and the breeding programme of endangered frogs was the most interesting, what a sheer emotional privilege it was to see the mighty gorillas at such close quarters, the mother holding hands with her baby.
On Saturday afternoon I flew off to Guernsey for the celebration of 40 years of the creation of the Bailiwick of Guernsey circuit...but I'll let Roger pick that up in the next post. Thank you to Revs Graeme and Elaine Halls, Rev Tony Morling and colleagues at the Methodist Centre, the lovely layworkers and everyone who welcomed me to Jersey.