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Right to Light

18th June 2015, posted in


Apparently everyone has a Right to Light. There is a set of regulations and guidelines that governs how this Right to Light has to be protected. Buildings have to be constructed in such a way that minimises any impact they might have on inhabitants of neighbouring buildings who must have access to an acceptable degree of natural light.

This is one of the many nuggets of learning I have picked up from my first contacts with people working on the Project Lighthouse for Holy Trinity Church, Swiss Cottage, as I prepare to leave The Foxton Centre.

The phrase strikes me as an apt title for this blog as I reflect on my time as Chief Executive Officer of The Foxton Centre since 1998. Everyone has a Right to Light.

Now I am not one to over spiritualise things. So, here I use the concept of Light in a very broad sense. Light understood as being to do with what makes for health and wellbeing, belonging, right relationship, inclusion and purpose; that is, all that leads to human flourishing.

I understand these interpretations to be somewhere along the same spectrum that includes encounter with ‘The Light of the World.’ Personally, I think all such Light has the same source.

I start from a basis of believing that this Light shines on, in and through all people. In my experience, this is true of many people; those of a faith different to my own and those who profess no faith.

The Christian’s task is to be among those who ensure everyone has access to that Light.

In founding the Centre in 1969, Bryan Foxton was inspired by stories of Jesus Christ drawn from the Christian Gospels. These show Jesus spending time with and offering hope and inclusion to those deemed by the society of the time to be outcast.

The Foxton Centre of the 21st Century is a kind of dynamic equivalent of that approach. The word ‘outcast’ is rarely heard in modern parlance. But similar sentiments seem to underlie much rhetoric and practice associated with “poverty,” “benefits scroungers,” “welfare reform” and even “youth.”

The Centre contradicts this Zeitgeist. In even the most entrenched adult or disaffected young person, we see beauty and the potential for human flourishing. In other words, we see Light. My personal experience confirms this position.

In my time at The Foxton Centre, I have seen inspiring examples of loving care, of ‘going the extra mile’ of putting the other first and of sacrificial service, from professionals, volunteers, homeless people, those who misuse substances and young people from deprived backgrounds.

Sadly, I have also encountered, from the same sources, prejudice, manipulation, aggression and deceitfulness, but, I am glad to say, not in anything like equal measure.

Every person I have met has contributed to my learning, growth and development. Some people have been kind enough to say that I have ‘done a good job’ at The Foxton Centre.

If I have, it is because of the help I have received and the learning I have taken from that along the way. Help has come from countless professionals willing to share their expertise. Help has also come from the countless marginalised individuals or community members willing to pass the time of day or share their stories of survival in the face of adversity.

I have learned that Pastoral Care is an action, not merely an attitude. Jesus encourages the paralysed man to get up and walk. Feeding homeless people is only part of the job. Enabling them to develop the skills and emotional intelligence to live successfully is another part. Challenging and changing systems that create inequality and social injustice is the rest.

What seems to be true is that Governments, systems, ideologies, and even frightened, prejudiced and damaged people (that’s you and me) can conspire, knowingly and unknowingly, to deny people access to that light, or even to make it that ‘people walk in darkness’, as the Bible puts it.

The Christian’s task is to be among those who ensure everyone has access to that Light.

I came to Preston with very little experience of working in and with deprived communities. I was, however, willing to step outside my sense of what I knew and therefore, what was safe. I was driven (called) by the conviction that an authentic expression of Christianity is to be in the middle of the mess. And Avenham, at the time, was a mess; people inhabited boarded up houses with mould growing on walls and sewage seeping through floors after heavy rain.

I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that there was also a sense of constant underlying danger and an air of hostility when walking the streets. The rebuild of much of the ‘Avenham Estate’ and the refurbishment of the high rise flats has combined with concerted efforts at community development from many agencies and authorities and has, in my opinion, contributed to Avenham being a success story. Let there be Light.

My first year at The Foxton was marked by a sense of having to swim very hard to avoid sinking as I felt I was very much out of my depth. Or to use another picture, at times I just hung on in there. I would like to be able to say that I prayed and received words of assurance. Actually, I hung on, believing that this was the right place for me. My faith, such as it was, was that I had to do what it took to develop the Centre’s presence, potential and practice.

What I have learned is that true growth comes from true risk taking, from what is called stepping outside one’s ‘comfort zone.’ There has to be training, preparation, support and risk assessment! But this is what it takes.

There are remarkable examples of Christians and churches doing this – but not nearly enough. When I read the Gospels, I read of world changing sayings, events and values. When I read about the acts of Jesus’ followers post resurrection I see risk takers, with a radical, dynamic faith, out to challenge oppressive systems and ideologies.

Despite the increasing efforts of churches to be at the forefront of the response to austerity and welfare reform, I am still disappointed, frustrated and dissatisfied by the apparent failure of too many Christians to take risks for the sake of the Gospel.

I am aware that it is easy to appear to be preaching from the safety of having ‘been there, done that.’ It is easy to advocate Christians going beyond their comfort zone from the position of having done so in such a way that I am now within my comfort zone. If you get what I mean?

This brings me to my next step; which is to become the Executive Director of the Lighthouse Project at Holy Trinity, Swiss Cottage. (If you are interested, see relevant pages on www.htsc.org.)

This will involve me in working very closely with, and within, an open Charismatic church planted in 2006 from the church at Holy Trinity, Brompton.

Those readers who know me, know I am not a Charismatic!

I have truly enjoyed the freedom of developing The Foxton Centre beyond what I see as the confines of being a Minister of a church. For seventeen years I have happily held a supporting world view in which I have interpreted the activity of The Spirit as being to do with prophetic action and kingdom building.

In that world view my spirituality has been shaped and fed by reflective music (Choral, Taize) and by liberal/radical Christian values. My God has been very passive, non-invasive, in the sense that God is the one who equips us to get on with it. This God uses us as hands and feet. This is how God intervenes.

Now I am going to be with and within a Christian community that puts huge store in a regular, personal encounter with a life-changing, immanent Spirit; a supernatural, intervening God. This Spirit is out of human control (and therefore out of my comfort zone). As one colleague has remarked “God has a sense of humour.”

I am also apparently going to work with very talented and possibly very rich people. It is they who (we hope) will provide much of the funding needed to develop the proposed six storeys high Lighthouse church and community facility as a beacon of hope for Camden. They too, so the theory goes, have the Right to Light.


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