St. John’s House, a former Church of England Nunnery and orphanage, provides a Christian presence and a green oasis of peace and calm in the heart of Alum Rock, an urban multi-faith area of East Birmingham. Or at least it was peaceful until, in May this year, when members of MADD descended upon it and turned it into a phrenetic hive of activity. The six of us, Andrew du Boulay, Roger Tiffin, Neil Pearce, Peter Dane, Ron Porter and myself, had been invited by James and Mel Lynch who work with Interserve at St John’s and have been mission partners with Christ Church since they left All Nations in 2007.
Arriving at lunch time on Wednesday we set to immediately in the garden and house completing tasks such as clearing and decorating a conservatory, removing ugly glass panels from a courtyard area, to let light into the lounge and refectory, clearing patches of garden for planting and compost bins, decorating a conservatory, putting a huge net over the fruit bushes, clearing weeds from paths and lawns, pruning bushes and removing rubbish (and dead rats!) from the garden.
There was more to our stay than work in the house and garden. Our visit coincided with the local elections and St. John’s, being a polling station, had many visitors. A table was set up with leaflets advertising English language courses and other activities that St John’s are running as well as their open day. Refreshments were also available. In turns most of the group helped to staff the table and engage in conversations with the local voters.
While at St John’s, we were also able to participate in a course on how to share Christian faith with Muslims. Part of this involves a mutual understanding of each other’s beliefs. Some of us visited a mosque with the course group, which included a tour and a question and answer session with the Imam. What struck the author was the Muslim belief that if he prayed all night in the mosque he would receive extra rewards at the end of Ramadan.
St. John’s has several times of prayer during the day and the group usually joined in with these, especially the morning prayers and lunch time communion. We also enjoyed fellowship together with a pub trip, involving a walk to outside the Alum Rock area where there were no pubs, and a meal out.
On last year’s trip, we had unearthed a memorial stone for a boy, John Gabriel Whittaker, and Ron had made a cross for him. This year Ron returned with two plaques to complete the cross which is now in the Chapel Garden and stands as a memorial to all the young children who lived at St. John’s during the time it was an orphanage.
Interserve has recently been granted planning permission to move their offices to St John’s and this will be the latest change in its long history. It continues to be the source of Christian witness to the community and an area of greenery in an urban environment. However, some rooms are now brighter, one room is much whiter, the garden is greener, lawns and bushes are tidier and for one boy his journey is now complete.
* Why phrenetic? Ron had a crossword puzzle book and the answer to one clue was frenetic. This did not fit and so Ron put in phrenetic which not only fitted but was the correct answer. Apparently phrenetic is an obsolete spelling of frenetic. I will make no comment as to what this says about Ron’s age.Tags: MADD