“What I need is a good listening to”. That was the headline, a few years ago, of a powerful ad campaign run by the Children’s Society. Not the “good talking to” from a cross adult, more familiar to many children. But adults need “a good listening to” too.
In Hodge Hill, we run a drop-in that we call Open Door. The name is quite deliberate – it’s a place where you don’t need to make an appointment, where you can come and go when you want to, and where you’ll find a warm welcome, a smiling face, a cup of tea, and a listening ear.
And that’s where Listen Up! - a process designed to help churches listen to their communities - comes in.
We were really keen to find opportunities to give people an opportunity for a longer, more in-depth “good listening to”. To help them become more aware of the resources and resourcefulness they have, the ways they have – even when things are really tough – to make ends meet, and to give them a safe space to voice those experiences of being overwhelmed. In the process of these kinds of conversations, relationships of trust, understanding and empathy are deepened, and friendships have a chance to grow, bridging differences of background, experience and nationality.
But Listen Up! has helped us discover even more. We work really hard in Hodge Hill to celebrate and nurture the ‘hidden treasures’ in our neighbourhoods – the networks of support and care, the groups where people come together around a shared interest or concern. The conversations we have had with people through Listen Up! have highlighted and uncovered many of these, but also revealed some of the gaps: the kinds of local support that are missing, the things that would make a real difference to people’s ability to ‘make life work’, and the things we can develop together – with the people we’ve listened to potentially taking a leading role.
And then there’s the bigger picture. We know first-hand that the savage cuts to services and the so-called ‘reform’ of the welfare system are having a huge impact on many, many people in our neighbourhoods. But Listen Up! has helped us get into the nitty-gritty detail: the difference the bedroom tax or a sanction from the Job Centre makes to a household and its livelihood, how they manage to cope, and what happens if they ‘go under’. Listen Up! has helped us to build a real, lived ‘evidence base’, helping to challenge and undermine the easy prejudices, and building a rooted, shared authority to speak and act for change.
Listening seems to be a quiet thing. But it’s actually the seed-bed of revolution. As listening ‘hears others to speech’, it empowers them as new hearers in turn. Those who heard Jesus cry ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ became the witnesses to, and agents of, resurrection. It’s a world-changing movement, and it begins with “a good listening”.
We've now completed our first round of Listen Up! conversations, and worked with the Church Urban Fund to write up the process and our early findings. Read the report and executive summary here: www.cuf.org.uk/listenup
Written by Revd Al Barrett
See more from Al here thisestate.blogspot.co.uk
Author: Bethany Eckley
Date: 05 September 2014
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