Shepherds Bush (SB) is a community of communities. It is the exciting and isolating, vibrant and lonely place that I have been proud to call my home since 2005, as the priest of St Stephens and St Thomas Shepherds Bush with St Michael and St George White City
SB combines a residential population of 39,000, with a footfall of a million people in a week. SB thrives on the Uxbridge Road which is the longest residential road in Europe with the most languages spoken. At the same time SB has 38% of her houses as single occupancy. There are five underground stations, one over ground station and a bus station all within a short distance of each other.
There is a liquid base to the community which means that people can move in and out of the area freely. It means that SB has a proud history of inclusivity and welcome. When the Ayam ZaMan Restaurant decided to use our church hall for Iftar meals during Ramadan they emulsion whitewashed the walls of the hall for free and described it to us as a gift from the community. We have to read newspapers to understand Brexit because it makes so little sense to us in our cross-cultural, multi-racial many faith life together. In the 1960s it was in Shepherds Bush that Caribbean families were made welcome. St Stephens even set up the Shepherds Bush Housing Association to ensure that this was so.
When we arrived in the parish a Polish family parked their car in our drive for a month and lived out of their car while they looked for work. They were wonderful people and came back that Christmas with a Christmas card and a bottle of wine. A homeless man came to the vicarage every evening for five years and taught me to see the world through the eyes of the poor and dispossessed. Eventually he left for a flat in Earls Court. The vicarage became a safe-haven for vulnerable people on crowded London streets. People would knock on the door after they had been released from Wormwood Scrubs with nowhere to stay. I would sit late into the night on the steps of the church and talk with them. One Saturday I sat with a concert goer and talked through the night about why he should not commit suicide. I was in church, a few hours later, preaching about the love of God in Christ Jesus.
I have seen the Westfield Shopping Centre open and develop a doughnut economy with all the jam at the centre and little effect on the local communities of SB and White City. It is still the case that life expectancy in Hammersmith and Fulham is three years shorter than that of those who live in Kensington and Chelsea.
I am leaving after 12 happy years to become Chaplain at Rochester Prison and work with young offenders. My last service at St Stephens will be at 10am on February 3rd. I will leave with SB in my heart to carry on what the area does so well which is to draw people from the edges of society back into the centre. 70% of young offenders re-offend once they have left prison. I will come with a listening ear, a loving heart and a determined mind and try to help prisoners to understand that there are different ways of living out their future.
My challenge for this next period of my life is to answer a comment made by Mother Theresa. She said that “the greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” Therein is my task: to meet the hunger for love and for God from within those that are in prison.