Rev’d Alister Palmer, vicar of St. Barnabas’ and Holy Cross Churches, together with his wife Sally and the family came to Knowle West in 2003, six months ahead of us. We greatly value their friendship and prayerful support.
Alister writes: I thank God that Lee Abbey has chosen to stand in solidarity with the people and churches of Knowle West. It means so much to us.
The decision to establish a presence in the less sheltered environment of a housing estate and to found a household community of outreach and hospitality to which the powerless and disadvantaged are welcomed as friends, is a very significant one. I think it reflects the kind of apostolic spirituality we need today.
Here in Knowle West, ranked third most deprived estate in England, the gospel imperatives speak powerfully through our daily encounters with the people. In the homes and streets we find the graced revelation of the liberating Christ working where least expected. The ‘Word made flesh’ is there to be listened to in the asylum seeker family adjusting to life in an alien land and in the recently-widowed bed-ridden blind lady confined to her cluttered bed-sit and cared for faithfully by a far-from-well elderly neighbour who gasps for breath with every sentence.
The poor, excluded and disabled not only reveal the true state of our society but also the heart of a compassionate God drawn irresistibly towards them in their struggles.
More and more, I feel at home in this community where humanity struggles, weeps, dances and laughs in such an undisguised way. The desperate drug addict mirrors my vulnerability and compulsion hidden behind a mask of respectability. The children dancing in the streets are a reminder that life is always renewing itself and that there is a fountain of hope in the human heart.
Acceptance of others who are different means entering into solidarity with them and conceiving a love for them ― a genuine love for concrete human beings whom we know by name. Without friendship, without lovingness, without tenderness, there is no genuine deed of solidarity.*
Such love is born so often when we sit beside the powerless ones, listening with reverence to their stories, registering their pain and joy in our own hearts. This is one of the wonderful gifts offered to those who venture here.
Please pray for Alister as he prepares to take a sabbatical and study leave in Spring 2007.
* Gustav Gutierrez, quoted by Jon Sobrino, 1989, Spirituality in Liberation, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, N. York p.36