We arrived at 2 Thornhill Terrace on the 31st August 2012. Sunderland is surprising beautiful, and despite the image problem, is a great place to live. Thornhill Terrace lies 1 minute walk from the Ivy House Pub, 2 mins walk from the Metro University Station, 3 mins from the city centre, 4 mins from the University and 5 minutes from the Minster. Ideal.
My new job is based at the Uni, a down to earth place with a real dedication to the region. I'm also attached to the city's Minster Church, which already has great clergy team, including my old friend Martin Anderson, and a dynamic and progressive new 'Provost' Sheila Bamber.
September saw lots of unpacking, a trip to London for the national gathering of Uni Chaplains, and some exciting discoveries (such as Barnes Park and Tunstall Hill). Fr John Dear came to talk in Sunderland on his national tour promoting non-violent direct action for peace. He was inspiring and challenging, even for me! The York gathering of the SPEAK network of social activist Christians was equally so. The Spilt music festival was the highlight of the month, especially hanging out with my favourite band - the Unthanks, who happened to do their rehearsals in the Minster.
At the very beginning of October I got to explore the area when I joined the Bede's Way walk for Christian Aid from St Peter's Church in Wearside to St Pauls in Jarrow. October saw the arrival of the 'Tax Justice Bus', and a debate with the local MP in the Minster. Tax Justice is the most important area to campaign about both in terms of global and local poverty (poor countries unable to raise revenue from greedy multinationals for development, and rich nations making cuts hitting the poor whilst big companies and individuals are allowed to evade taxes) There was also a planning meeting for a new Winter Nightshelter in Sunderland, which gave me the opportunity to network with those on the side of the disadvantaged in the city.
Amid all the meetings with Uni staff and local activists, I found time to be the theological reflector for the National Social Responsibility Board, which allowed me to get to know Basingstoke! Met some lovely folk who reminded me why I'm still in the Church of England.
I travelled up to Edinburgh to speak to the regional Student Christian Movement, and attended the National Demo against the Cuts, though this time, in Glasgow, not London - how a move shifts your geographical focus. On the march, I had the honour of walking with the Remploy workers section. It reminded me how vicious this government has been - axing 1000's of jobs for those with disabilities. Mental note; never forget how despicable the Condems have been to the most vulnerable.
October also saw two wonderful trips back to Bradford, first for 'Apple day' (nobody does it as well as Bradford!) and for the wedding of two dear friends, Ben and Tansy. They have been a backbone of community activism and non-violent direct action for peace, and it was a real privilege to marry them!
November saw a memorable Diversity week at the Uni, and an exhausting bus journey to London with some Sunderland and Newcastle students for the national demo for a free and fair education. There was also a stay at Hazelwood Castle with the Harrogate Deanery - Liberation Theologians get themselves in very strange situations indeed.
Back in Sunderland, I began to make connections with the various anti-fascist groups. We will all have our work cut out as the far right have targeted the city in the hope of regaining some support. I think that the job of the church is to help both 'We are Sunderland' and 'Sunderland Together' unite in their common aim of diminishing the scope of the fascists coming into the city. The EDL, BNP, NPF and NF are all using the siting of a second mosque to create tensions within the area. They will be defeated by the left coming together, not fighting amongst themselves.
The University Memorial Service and a visit from Revd Barbara Glasson also stand out in a very busy month indeed. November included the Launch of our very own 'fresh expression' Church called 'SPACE'; Sunderland, Peace And Christianity Explored! During term time, it meets every Sunday evening in he Minster, and has already attracted some great folk. All very promising.
On an international front - the situation got much worse in both Palestine and Syria, and I really fear for the Middle East in the coming years. At least Mitt Romney was not elected, and despite my reservations about Obama, he at least may be able to resist the march towards a disastrous war against Iran.
December began with lots of fun, with a series of excellent 'World Aids day' events (thanks especially to Stephen Canning who spent a week living with us to help out) It was a month of singing, with a very well attended University Carol service, Carols and Cider in a local pub, and a fun 'flashmob' carol service in the Bridges shopping centre.
The joy of the new job and the obvious happiness of my wife and kids (great house, good school, and living near the sea) is marred by only two things. Firstly; the work prospects for my wife are grim. The local paper revealed at the end of December that Sunderland is the second worst place to be for jobhunting in the UK, and is one of the areas worst hit by this government's economic policies.
The Second problem is that the Church of England seems to be trying to commit suicide. At synod it was unable to pass legislation allowing women to become bishops, and then it made itself look nasty and backward in the debate about allowing same sex marriages in church buildings. The census results showing a massive decline in those willing to call themselves Christian should be a wake up call to the church.
The one bit of good news for the national church is that they have appointed the present Bishop of Durham, Justin Welby to be Rowan William's successor as Archbishop of Canterbury. He is a wise choice, and will oversee some much needed changes. The day after the announcement, I handed him a copy of a book about Archbishop Romero, a great man who became less conservative and more committed to the people as he gained high office. One can live in hope!
2012 - what a great year for the Howson family! Now, lets get on and work for faith, hope and peace in 2013!