A few days back I wrote about the fragmentation of the working classes. I want to pick up on that and focus on one group because I think it has important implications for how we approach urban mission.
Urban Mission is a broad church. The City to City initiative considers itself urban. There is a lot of attention in reaching millennial sceptics, students, graduates and city centre workers. That’s brilliant, however, it’s not primarily what we have in mind when we talk about urban church. Rather, we are thinking about our inner cities (un-gentrified) and council estates. Now, I think the temptation is to have one aspect of this in view and it distorts our vision. We recognise ( though admittedly not enough) that there is a group of people that have been left behind, those devastated by gang and drug culture, those suffering from intense levels of deprivation. We then imagine a particular type of worker who can reach such people, one or two of them exist, they are often robust and charismatic, they need to be. We make that the image of our ideal urban worker, we assume most people don’t fit that mould ( they don’t) and we think that by giving them an occasional platform that we are doing our bit.
There are two problems with this, first that giving one or two people an occasional platform is not the same as deep, long term partnership and support. These men need much more.
Secondly, it puts the focus on one stereotypical aspect of urban life. Our cities have huge problems with homelessness drugs, gangs, alcohol, broken families, other forms of addiction etc. We see something of that on a daily basis. It is both a challenge and a privilege to walk alongside the single parent and the asylum seeker. However, there is another group of people who get forgotten by this.
These are the people who hold down steady if not particularly well paid jobs, they may even be self employed as builders, plumbers, cleaners , roofers etc. They work long hours, often shift work so they may well be time poor. They may have bought their council house but never cashed in on any of the housing bubbles or they may still rent. Their children may be at college and may go on to University, although the thought of loans and fees is giving them second thoughts. Also, if they do go on to Uni, they are worried that they won’t fit in. They are intelligent but not academic, they enjoy learning but hate pretentiousness, they have lots to offer but are self-conscious about putting themselves forward. They are not destitute but things have become incredibly tight since the credit crunch and they are worried about debt.
They realise that their views on all sorts of issues are not politically correct. They fall on the right side of the Brexit vote result but on the wrong side of the dominant cultural view of Brexit. They enjoy comedy but your average comedian actually seems to be targeting and mocking the very views and values they hold.
These are the Urban forgotten. Politicians will talk about Just About Managing at General Elections but these are the people who rarely benefit afterwards. And I want to suggest that if our churches focus on suburban, student and graduate mission with the occasional foray into areas of intense social deprivation then they will be forgotten by us too. They are the people who don’t belong. They were never part of and never will be part of the gang. If they find themselves in a middle class church, they feel uncomfortable and awkward. They are outside of the clique. They don’t belong here either.
Who will reach the urban forgotten?