When you walk around MediaCityUKUK in Salford, it’s easy to get swept up in a temporary glamour. Ooh look – there’s someone filming! There’s the Blue Peter garden! There’s Mark Kermode having his picture taken!
I’m a Methodist minister shadowing Hayley for two days, and as part of my sabbatical studies I’m doing some work on ‘the Church and the Media’ – and how they fit together (or not).
One of my first tasks was to be let loose in MediaCityUK for two hours with the brief – “see what you notice – what strikes you – what connections and reflections can you make?” Armed with a Costa, I set out on my mission, but quickly realised the best thing to do at first was to sit in the central square – and watch.
MediaCityUK is a diverse and fluid place full of people with different reasons to be there or to pass through. In the space of an hour I saw BBC employees walking from meeting to meeting, children on a school trip, smokers stepping outside for a fag, contractors setting up Olympic hospitality tents, a jogging club, visitors walking over the bridge to a graduation at the Lowry Theatre, pensioners looking at the landscaped garden, and local residents walking through the centre or waiting for a tram. I talked to security guards, receptionists and a landscape architect who was visiting MediaCityUK looking for inspiration but thought the buildings were a bit too corporate. I met the staff in Costa and yes, I did see Mark Kermode having his picture taken and got a bit nostalgic when spotting the Blue Peter garden (albeit the new one, not the original).
MediaCityUK is a fluid place but it is also a controlled place. Without a pass around your neck, you ain’t getting past the security guards for love, money or chocolate. You have to be invited in. And to get that invitation takes time, because people have to trust you, to have a reason to want to see you. You can’t waltz in with your Christian faith and lay it on the door mat. You are the guest not the host. (Jesus was good at that). You have to listen and be alongside and take opportunities as you are offered them. They’re not an automatic given.
So I talked to those who were the gatekeepers – the security men and the receptionists and the girl making Lattes in Costa. They provided coffee and smiles and help and made me feel welcome – but for now I still had to remain on the periphery, even though I could see in through impressive glass windows.
I’m still articulating my thoughts after only a day here, but already I am struck by the themes of community, presence and invitation. Who is in and who is out? How can community be fostered between individuals, departments, companies, parish, world and God? How do those in the surrounding streets, often with problems and challenges of their own, relate to this shiny new media cathedral? How, in turn, do the residents of this shiny new media cathedral engage with them? How as a chaplain do you make a go of being a faithful presence in the world, speaking of faith and God and doubt and hope while also reflecting the world’s own doubts and hopes back to a church which is often caught up with its own internal stuff?
Many questions still need to be asked and answered. I’m not even pretending to do that in a day – it might take a lifetime. But the chaplaincy is here, and I’m glad of Hayley’s invitation, and hospitality, and presence. And I’m learning to be a guest.