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Hope in the city

by
02 November 2006

What is the single issue that brings together Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Humanists? If the experience of the good people of Southall is anything to go by, the answer is rats.

Southall has an infestation of rats. Some residents claim that they cannot walk out of their front doors without having them scamper across their path. But an interfaith group, Citizen Organising, is doing just what it says: organising the citizenry to campaign in the community and petition the council to act.

Citizen Organising has had some success in the past with its work on behalf of cleaning staff at Canary Wharf — most notably wresting an agreement on fair pay and conditions from the chairman of HSBC. The difference between this and other campaigning organisations is that it is constituted primarily by faith groups.

In Cities Without Maps (Radio 4, Thursdays), Tim Gardam — Principal of St Anne’s College, Oxford, and a member of the Church of England’s Commission on Urban Life and Faith — reported on the plethora of institutions that have sprung up among religious communities in our cities. The implication of the series title is that there are many aspects of the modern city and its religious topography which those of us on the outside would hardly recognise.

Provided you don’t mind the sense of disorientation which comes from embracing this vision, the outlook is optimistic. While the talk in the Western Church is of diminishing attendance, Mr Gardam’s documentaries remind us of the wealth of faith-based projects through which the Church touches people who would hardly dream of attending services regularly.

Mr Gardam’s analysis vindicates the conviction of the Church in the 1980s that it should not abandon the inner cities. His final interview — with the Revd Pamela Ingham, a woman from the “Wild West End” of Newcastle, who returned to be its Priest-in-Charge — is a heart-warming tale of how such a long-term policy can bear fruit.

Mr Gardam showed a knack for getting religious leaders to talk candidly about their situation. This is a knack sadly lacking in the DJ Gary Bellamy, the presenter of a revolutionary new Radio 4 phone-in, Down the Line (Tuesdays). Last week’s two subjects were religion and the invention of new colours. When a young man, Mohammed, rang in, Mr Bellamy was desperate to hear his rock-face experiences of being a Muslim in post-7-July Britain, but poor Mohammed wanted to talk about colour.

Never mind. Down the Line and its presenter are, in fact, fakes: the comic creations of Paul Whitehouse, Charlie Higson, Harry Enfield, and co. If the BBC messageboard is to be believed, several listeners didn’t get it, and so the producer had to appear on Feedback (Radio 4, Fridays) to explain.

I suspect that Down the Line’s appeal will not be based entirely on this one con-trick. After all, real phone-in shows can get much more bizarre than anything Mr Whitehouse could concoct. As some great characters develop, though, the show promises to generate the kind of comic impetus that made The Fast Show such a hit on television. Let’s hope it doesn’t spin off to TV too soon.


 

Forthcoming Events

2 July 2022
Bringing Down the Mighty: Church, Theology and Structural Injustice
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HeartEdge Mission Summer School
From HeartEdge and St Augustine’s College of Theology.

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