While living in Toronto I heard a very memorable sermon at the Church of the Resurrection. During the sermon my rector showed us some PowerPoint slides. He explained that what looked like pictures of simple graffiti to most of us were actually turf markers for gangs. These markers signified that particular areas were claimed by particular groups for dealing drugs and other activities. After flipping through several slides, he asked us these questions: "Where are our markings in this parish? How do we show to the community around our Church that we have claimed this area for Christ? What does that even look like?"
I was reminded of that sermon when came upon a Celtic Cross during a walk this past week. It is located on the corner between Water St. and Prince William St. My initial thought was, how beautiful it was and how it could serve as a natural meeting point for people to come together to pray. As I went closer I read the inscription and learned that this cross is a replica of the cross located on Partridge Island that was erected in memory of the 2000 or so Irish emigrants who came to New Brunswick and died. Being of Irish descent, I was disappointed- but for a different reason altogether. Instead of being a symbol of God's perfect and unending love - this cross was just a reminder of death. Such a mark just won't cut it; neither will graffiti for that matter.
So what kind of markings will adequately and effectively express the presence and love of God in the South End? I'm reminded of the four attributes of the kingdom described in N.T. Wright's Simply Christian. They are, if memory serves, Justice, Spirituality, Relationship and Beauty. These are the hallmarks of God's Kingdom. These are the ways we are called to leave our mark.
I've learned of some really exciting things that are happening or have happened in the South End. One of these is the Food Club operating out of Centenary-Queen Square United Church. This is a system that will allow people to order inexpensive Fresh Produce once a month. Members place their order at the beginning of the month and it arrives in the third week of the month, allowing people with a limited income to enjoy fresh produce.
Another church in the area has hosted community parties in Queen Square. These parties bring lots of people together for food, games, live entertainment and even bouncing castles for the children. These parties provide the means for starting relationships between the church and the community as well as encouraging a more closely connected neighbourhood. According to a survey done by Vibrant Communities, South End residents recognize these kinds of community events as vital for the health of the community. We could use more of these.
What are some other ways we could leave our mark in the South End? Perhaps through art and music fairs in which people could have access to instruments and art supplies? How can the Church work together to promote kingdom values rather than denominational ones?