Its been a bumper year of experiences for me, but it's always fun to try and look back and pick out my own personal highlights! Here's a top ten!
1) Ashing of Starbucks.
In protest of their refusal to pay a proper rate of tax in the UK, and as a reminder that the corporations need to repent of their ways as much as the rest of us, A small group of us went from the Sunderland Minster Ash Wednesday service and proceeded to make a sign of the cross on a Starbucks window. This was significant for a number of reasons, not least because I felt I had finally 'found my feet' in my new city, and was confident enough to engage again in acts of 'prophetic protest'.
2) Trip to Taize
The Spiritual core of my year was my first ever trip to Taize. This remarkable community of hope, set in the beauty of Western France, proved to be a fantastic spiritual tonic for the soul. I wept tears of relief and joy during the powerful services of songs and Eucharist, and I shared tears of laughter with the wonderful group that I travelled with. If you are in need of spiritual 'pick me up' or need to remind yourself of why having a Christian faith is so beautiful, then head to the French hills for a week!
3) Exorcism at Excel
The courage of the protesters at Excel amazed me this year. Every 2 years, the people who brought you internal repression and warfare through out the world, gather together to see who can sell the biggest and best killing equipment possible. And every two years, those of us who believe that humanity can do better than this, gather to oppose them. This year included an 'Exorcism against greed and militarism' which blocked the entrance to the exhibition as they tried to unload tanks and gunships. It was deeply moving a well as an effective way to mark our opposition to the trade of destruction. Solidarity to all who got arrested and are up in court in the new year
4) Yurt in the Minster
I have far too many ideas for my own good, and most thankfully disappear in the tide of reality. But this one worked! We wanted a space for students and the local community to gather, share stories, pray, meditate, have fun - and I had experienced a 'Yurt' at work during my Bradford years. I managed to secure funding and an excellent builder. (Paul Spencer of Highland Yurts) First we had the Mongolian round tent in the centre of the Minster for Holy Week during Easter, and now we have a permanent smaller one fitting snugly in the South Transept. It can also be used for schools and community projects during the summer months. It is great for hosting 'SPACE' our Sunday evening service based on the principles of 'liberation theology'. Come and see!
5) Feast at Greenbelt
FEAST is our new family worship based at the Minster at 11.15am on Sundays, and allows all ages to worship God in a fun, creative and spiritual way. All our family love it and its great going together each week. Some of us who are involved did a sample service in Greenbelt Christian festival, mixing elements from liberation theology, story telling and the worship music of 'Hyldas', a band influenced by Northumbrian Spirituality. Sublime. Good luck to Greenbelt as it moves to its new home.
6) The Unthanks in Sunderland
It was definitely one of my highlights to convince 'The Unthanks' to perform in the Minster. They are Geordies at heart, so it was the first time they'd played a proper gig in Sunderland. Music to the ears!
7) Pop Recs Ltd in Fawcett Street
'Frankie and the Heartstrings' are a liberation theologians dream. A politically progressive band with a heart for their locality, willing to invest in the local community. So Frankie and the gang set up a coffee shop, drop in centre and record shop in the heart of the city, putting on free gigs most weeks of local and national talent. It doesn't get much better than this.
8) Lindisfarne Legacy Exhibition
As well as giving me the chance to meet the super cool Dr Michelle Brown, the world's leading expert on the Lindisfarne Gospels (she compared St Cuthbert to the 'occupy' movement) - this gave me a chance to show how Sunderland has with the birth of multi-culturalism through our connections to the Illustrated Gospels, Islam and Coptic Egypt. Still on in January 2014, this is a real treat - and unlike the Durham version, you can see all the pages of the Lindisfarne Gospels, see their inspiration on the local community and to top it all - its free!
9) Interfaith Walk of Friendship
Not once but twice in 2013, we walked between the Minster, a mosque, a Gurdwara, a Buddhist Temple and various churches in the city. It was a real highlight because Sunderland is new to the wonders of good interfaith work, and for me, it was a great antidote to the fascist hate campaign against the opening of a new mosque in the area. Goodness always prevails!
10) Two trips to Ireland
Went on a great family holiday to Ireland, which included seeing all our friends in Sligo, seeing the Giant's Causeway, and meeting the good folk at the Corrymeela Community. Only a few weeks later, I was privileged to accompany several Tax Justice campaigners on a Christian Aid protest to mark the G8 gathering in Northern Ireland. It was a pity to be so far from the actual summit in Enniskillen, but it was good to show to the world that Belfast can hold big and peaceful protest events (and always could, but our media never showed that side of NI life)
It was hard to name a top ten, as it has been a busy and eventful year indeed, with protests at Menwith Hill in support of Edward Snowdon, campaigning at Faslane over money being spent on nuclear weapons, Anti-cuts campaigns, Successful demo's against the EDL in Bradford, not to mention successfully ousting the Fascist DiCanio from his job as head coach at SAFC. I've also enjoyed speaking engagements at the CND conference, the SCM 'Seeds of Liberation' gathering, the Christian Social Workers Federation, the Sea of Faith Conference; Not only is it great to share the story of a God who liberates, but its wonderful to meet so many people who remind me that the path to the reign of God is a joyful and communal one.
The real highlights are of course also about those close to us, and a great birthday weekend with Cat in September is a cherished memory, as is a great summer of family trips discovering places like 'Cragside House' and the wonderful coves of the Sunderland coastline. Thanks also to old friends who came to stay with us in our new home, and helped make such an enormous transition possible.
I give thanks to Cat and the kids who keep loving me and encouraging me when I encounter hurdles or make mistakes. I give thanks to God for this time on earth, and the opportunity to see where love and justice already reign in peoples hearts.