The Marlpit

Monday, 4 March, 2013

Katie Miller serves as a Reader with St Michael's Church, Hellesdon, near Norwich, and heads up a lay leadership team serving the Marlpit estate. Now hoping to train as a pioneer minister, Katie tells how the team built relationship with the community from a position of powerlessness.

St Michael's had been involved in this estate for 40 years before its Marlpit base, built by donations from local residents, was closed down in 2007. To me it's very interesting that what could have been the end of something instead became the start of something new because it was then that we truly started to build relationship with those around us.

The Marlpit is a council estate, half of which was built in the 1930s and the other half in the 1960s. It is squeezed between a main road and the River Wensum. We are with the parish across the river so there is a very real sense of it being a unique entity.

We found that not having a permanent church home became a blessing and we made friends precisely because we had no building. There is such a sense here that the church is part of the establishment so it was very helpful to be able to say, 'We are church but we have got nowhere to meet'. Relationships grew from that and it was useful to learn that you can very much build from a position of powerlessness.

Marlpit - housesThere are four of us in the core leadership team, including a couple who came to the estate 20 years ago and lived through various curacies. We recognised that it was important to break the cabal of the four of us so we have gradually built up indigenous leadership from within the community. That's why, when the time comes for me to move on, I will be ready to hand over because that joint – or new – leadership is now in place in all of the areas for which I had personal responsibility.

We have found it important to put two or three possible leaders in place because many people's lives are so chaotic on the Marlpit that it's important to have someone else to stand in the gap if an individual can't make it for whatever reason. In terms of context, this is a place where some people have lived for a very long time with generations of the same family around the corner from each other. There are also people who only stay for a while, people who are 'housed' here rather than live here.

The Marlpit - craft

We are fortunate in that there are public community places on the estate; it has its own primary school, play group, health centre and a couple of shops. It also has two community centres, one of which is set up as an internet café and drop-in sort of place. We have rented rooms in both of those centres and also in the school; we've been everywhere at one stage or another! The toddler group grew to such an extent that it had to move off the estate to a Methodist Church nearby.

We tend to describe ourselves as having six ministries in the Marlpit, one of which happened to be a Sunday morning time of worship. The rest involve all sorts of things, including a mid-day mini service after toddlers' group – something which has all the hallmarks of a church. The mums from that group all care for each other and want others to be part of it.

We set up the Marlpit community choir and we're now asked to do many gigs; it has become a focus of real pride for the estate - not only for the people who take part. The estate really 'owns' it; there’s nothing like making music together to make people feel as if they are part of a community. The choir also has a Facebook page where the members pray for each other. We have 25 people involved and they're not all brilliant singers by any means but when the whole choir is singing together; they really do make a great sound. There must be a message in there for the church! We basically do karaoke and use backing tracks for music from the 1940s to the present day. Bill, one of our leadership team is the choir master. He finds the backing track and we go with it; we did Born to be Wild and something from Queen when the Archdeacon came to visit us!

Marlpit - sheltered housing

We also lead a monthly service in local sheltered housing as part of our ministry here but that's very different. There we do hymns and have a very calm service; we pray for all the residents and we have some little thought or reflection as part of that. It's very gentle but we are welcomed in. In all of this, the parish church is really positive about what's happening here and we have never been stopped from doing what we do in this context; we have just got on with it.

My own background has very much fed into this time. I am an academic palaeontologist (the geology of ocean beds), have been a theatre director and now I'm pioneering. The link is that it's all about storytelling – a good geologist collects data and puts together a story from that; a theatre director is there to let the actors play through creativity and chaos before telling them, 'this is the direction I want you to go in' and pioneering is all about God's story and those whose lives are changed by it.

The Marlpit - choirI have loved what I do here and I'm shocked at the ways in which some people imagine life on a council estate. The fact is that residents here are the same as anyone else; they want to have stable relationships, they want their kids to do well at school etc; I find absolutely nothing different about that.

I don't feel what I'm doing is more 'worthy' or 'radical' because of my location or context. We should be helping the poor, people who require committed support in order to give them the backing they need. We shouldn't be judging them.

Updates to, and learning points from, this story

Monday, 9 September, 2013 On Demand clip

Katie Miller shares the story of six ministries on the Marlpit estate, Norwich.

Comments

Norwich City Council is running a housing funday event for Christmas on Thursday 12 December 2013 at West Earlham Community Centre. Last year the Marlpit Community Choir sang at the Christmas Funday and it was very much appreciated by the local community. Would it be possible for the Marlpit Community Choir to sing at the entrance of the community centre under an open sided gazebo from 4pm on Thursday 12 December 2013?

Thanks very much for your help and I look forward to hearing from you.

Armana Handley
Tenant Involvement Officer
Norwich City Council.
01603 212512

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