Community lessons

May 29th, 2009 | By | Category: Ministry

‘Letter from Dublin’ for broadcast on Downtown Radio on Sunday 31st May.

The wind has blown the election posters on the lamp post sideways so one of them looks directly in this direction. “Marius Murgatroyd, Full Time Community Activist”, it declares. We have six councillors in our ward of the county, I could name five of them off the top of my head, but, hand on heart, until his posters went up, I had not heard of Mr Murgatroyd.

This is not through any lack of effort on the part of Mr Murgatroyd, it is just that there are few ways of hearing about people you don’t actually meet. Working in the North, there would be an abundance of local newspapers where Mr Murgatroyd would be pictured at doing various things, you would know all about what he stood for, but in the suburbs of Dublin, there are no real local papers. The free papers that appear in the letter box from time to time aren’t a substitute for buying the local paper every Thursday: I used to love the Down Recorder and the Larne Times.

I still read the local paper from where I grew up in England. The Western Gazette covers south Somerset and north Dorset, like most local papers, it conveys a sense of place and a sense of rootedness.

Dublin is a grand place to live, but there is never that sense of community, there is never a sense of rootedness. The identity of south Co Dublin is so amorphous that it we are not sufficiently connected to each other for the sort of paper you buy in the newsagent on a Thursday to find enough readers to survive. I sometimes buy the Bray People, a Co Wicklow paper, but, naturally enough it tends to stop at the county border; this side of the county border, we do not have the community and identity which characterize rural areas.

I watched television coverage from the Balmoral Show in Belfast a couple of weeks ago; I used to love going to the show and meeting lots of people I knew. The local papers would have news of who had won prizes in the show and there would be chat about it at church the following Sunday – such things just don’t happen in a city of a million people.

I sometimes think that one of the problems for the church is that it works well in farming communities and country towns, but we have never established the same sense of belonging and community in the new suburbs. We were trained in the ways of a bygone age, where the priest and his people shared the life of a community and where that life was reflected each Thursday in the pages of the local paper.

I must find out about Marius Murgatroyd and discover his work as a full-time community activist. If there are clues as to how create a community in a place that is changed beyond recognition, they would be valuable lessons for the church to learn, perhaps, one day, there might even be a local newspaper.

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