I was asked a question on Twitter the other day. It was this:
@steve_kneale I was chatting with a gospel worker from a mc background who’s been serving in a wc area of L’pool for a few years. They are still working through their own culture shock. Are you aware of any materials that aren’t focused on international cross cultural work?
— Tommy Farrell (@trf197) June 30, 2018
Despite how the conversation ultimately unfolded, I was initially very sympathetic. I suspect that is why I was asked the question. I have been making noise for some while about middle class people moving to working class and deprived areas in order to reach those that Evangelicalism has largely passed over. I have all the time in the world for a middle class person who has decided to forsake the usual comforts and aspirations of their peers and thrown their lot in with a church in an area to which few are willing to go.
Unfortunately, as the conversation developed, it became apparent that we were not dealing with a middle class person who had forsaken themselves to go to a working class community. We were dealing with a middle class person who had moved to one of the most sought after areas of a city, determined it was working class and was now struggling. I don’t know the people involved but the struggle was most certainly cast as one of a middle class person struggling in a working class area. What we are actually dealing with is a middle class person moving to a particularly sought after, aspirational and broadly middle class area of a city.
Now, I want to caveat all I am about to say with the following. First, I believe the area of the city in question obviously needs churches too. Everywhere that has people needs churches. Second, I don’t think the people in question are wrong to go to that church. If there is a need for workers in that area, I am delighted they have been willing to go. Third, I don’t want to dismiss the fact that moving to a new area can be hard. This is nothing unique to the particular area we are talking about but would be true of moving from pretty much anywhere to any new area of the country. It can be hard to fit in, make new friends and adjust to any culture. But I want to be clear this is likely to be a problem for almost anyone moving to almost anywhere new.
With those caveats, it bears saying some other things. First, I was not all that sympathetic to somebody troubled at being in a working class area that almost everybody else in the city considers aspirational and middle class. I have family members living in that area. As far as I could see, we were dealing with a problem of off-kilter perception. The struggling person felt they were in a working class community; most people in the area consider it middle class and reasonably well-to-do.
I have since mentioned this to various people who know the city well, some who still live there and some who don’t, but the reaction was invariably the same – everyone immediately burst out laughing. Nobody wants to suggest that middle class people don’t have struggles – of course they do; everyone does – but living in a very affluent and highly sought after area strikes most people as not really being one of them. It feels a bit like Richard Branson asking a guy on benefits for help with his budget as he’s struggling for cash this month. It lacks perspective.
Second, as my wife has repeatedly said to me (usually about herself), we all just need to toughen up a bit. When we lived in Liverpool, she struggled with the culture in a big way. She is not from a working class background and came from an area of the country culturally very different to the city. Her issues were entirely cultural and were not especially class-based. She has not found those same issues in Oldham because the culture – though working class – is not the same.
The point she is usually making (to herself) is that many of us, in the grand scheme of things, get uptight about things that are really not issues at all. The truth is, if we are getting concerned that our children will now have to go to the local comprehensive school that is still rated outstanding by OfSTED and is full of the children of middle class people who have eschewed private education (much like most of the London set of New Labour MPs who, for the sake of PR, wouldn’t send their children to public schools so bought houses in the most exclusive areas of London to achieve the same end) our priorities and view of what amounts to a struggle is severely off-kilter.
This has been one of the points that regular readers of this blog will recognise. Whilst there are some things we will have to give up in moving from a middle class to a working class area, we must also keep such things in perspective. On the one hand, people are going to Hell and need to hear the gospel. On the other, we will probably be able to afford an even bigger house than we might be able, albeit in an area we might not otherwise pick for ourselves. It is interesting that many are quite happy to scold others for referring to British ‘persecution’ on the grounds that people elsewhere are facing genuine persecution (whether that point is right or not), whilst simultaneously getting upset that somebody hasn’t ladled out the feel-goods for somebody struggling to move to an area that most people would give their back teeth to live in.
I really do want to help people adjust to hard areas, such as I am able to do that. But it is hard for me to help people who simply lack perspective about where they are. I have no problem welcoming both baronet and barista to Oldham. I want to help the publisher and paediatrician acclimatise to life with the publican and plumber (and vice versa). But it is hard to help those from middle class backgrounds who feel they are roughing it fit in to an area replete with lawyers, doctors and teachers but of an ilk they don’t recognise.
A helpful video, to which my wife pointed me, was the interview at the end between Dr Helen Roseveare and Jonathan Carswell (I have no idea why Jonathan is wearing that get-up, apparently tank tops are fashion-wear in Yorkshire). The final answer from Dr Rosaveare is the key, particularly when we know her background. She exhibits both the reality of genuine sacrifice for the Lord and yet says she was willing to go through it because she trusts Jesus and she loves him.
Helen Rosaveare was born into a middle class family in Hertfordshire and went to a boarding school and subsequently onto Cambridge to study medicine, where she became a Christian. She then served as a medical missionary in the Congo. In 1964, she was taken prisoner by rebel forces, was a prisoner for 5 months and suffered regular beatings and rapes. She came back to England for a short-time, before returning to the Congo to carry on as a missionary.
This is her key: do you love Jesus as Lord and master? Are you willing to hand your rights over to him; your right to choose? Are you allowing God to be in control of everything because of your love for him? That’s the secret God has for you in finding your niche in his overall plan and doing it because you love him.