You don’t go to our local Post Office when it opens on a Monday at 9 am. Not unless you need your benefits payment. The queue slithers out of the door and along the street. You’d better have something to occupy your mind.
For although our manse is on a prosperous estate, the nearest Post Office is across the park in a deprived area of town. It’s the only part of Chelmsford to have a tower block.
And, it turns out, you also don’t go there on a Tuesday at 9 am for the same reason. I know, I did that today. To keep things manageable in our small manse, Debbie sells toys, books and clothes the children have grown out of on eBay. She has sold about two dozen items in the last ten days, and I have been taking most of them to the Post Office for her.
As I waited today, distracting myself with music on my MP3 player, I looked at the variety of people waiting. The tracksuited teenage couple with their toddler. Already, the mother was getting irritated by the child’s independent exploratory jaunts. The mother and adult daughter. Was one of them long term sick? The short, elderly lady immaculately turned out in a red coat far cleaner than any garment most other people were wearing. It was her public signal of dignity. The preponderance of up-to-date mobile phones, clutched by people whose demeanour suggested they couldn’t afford them.
And I thought, what is good news in a culture like this? I lived in such a place for eight years before moving here. Often, there was terrible low self-esteem there. People had been rejected, dismissed and ignored by governments and commerce. You would have thought it were a simple case of ‘good news for the poor’.
But it wasn’t. For just as the good news is preceded by bad news as Wesley put it (preach law and then preach grace), there was the attitude that society owed them a living.
Somewhere in between those two attitudes locally is something my local vicar friend Paul has described to me. His parish strides across half of our middle class estate and half of the deprived area. In one half, he has competent, educated, professional people who will volunteer for activities and get things done. In the other, he has people who either cannot or will not take the initiative to do things, because they swim in a culture where everything is done for them. Either they are disabled by that, or they have reason never to grow as people by taking more responsibility.
So what is the shape of the Gospel in such a place? I’m still wondering.
This made me laugh: British nurse told to ‘take English test’ before she can work in Australia. The Daily Mail has gone all morally superior over another easy target case of ‘political correctness gone mad’ (™) but it is crazy. However, it does make a change from the Mail criticising people in this country who can’t speak English.
Anyway, Happy St Patrick’s Day to you. I commend May We All Be Irish by James Emery White as a suitable Christian reflection for the day.