Retreat & Encounter
At the top of a hill with a light-up cross, Blackley Baptist Church aims to be a beacon of hope and peace in the local community. Reverends Joanna and Andy Williams were called to this beacon around two years ago. As Baptist ministers with a wealth of experience in community mediation and interfaith relations, they found that their lives were enriched by the friendships they developed with people of other religions, particularly Muslims. Their ministry is motivated by a desire to share this joy with others.
For the Blackley Centre, reconciliation is ‘finding God in the other’. As God works with humanity, so we have the responsibility – and also the pleasure – to work with one another. Joanna and Andy looked around at the narrowing of relationships and the fear of difference that characterises some communities across the UK, and said ‘let’s transform it’. It was with this vision that the Blackley Centre for Peace and Reconciliation was formed.
Sometimes this transformation involves entire church communities. Joanna, Director for Reconciliation at the Blackley Centre, gives an example of a church that had become run down: after five to ten years of conflict and three years without a minister, the congregation was dwindling and the church was considering closing. With support from Joanna and Andy, they were able to address areas of conflict in their community and are now ready to bring in a new minister.
Transformation can also happen at an interpersonal level. Two sisters – one living in the North West and one living in Australia – had a completely broken relationship for over thirty years. Joanna describes how mediation was needed to repair the relationship, ‘for them to learn how to be family again’. Joanna facilitated their difficult conversations and helped build open routes of communication. Now the sisters are relating well and working together to support their wider family.
The Blackley Centre is still developing its ministry of reconciliation, having rooted their work in the local church congregation and community. And it is not just limited to people: Joanna believes that ‘there is something restorative about the beauty around Blackley’ which allows people to reconnect to nature and experience a real sense of retreat. Alongside the Spiritual Ecology focus at St Ethelburga’s and the rural farming context of Rose Castle, our reconciliation with the earth has an equally significant role to play in the Journey of Hope pilgrimage.
by Bathsheba Wells Dion