Reflections on the field of poppies on St George’s Hill in Everton Park

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My wife and I love poppies, and this particular poppy f field location has great memories for us. We met at a School Square dance in 1953, and shared a strong evangelical faith which initially led us to seriously consider offering ourselves for service as overseas missionaries, until we lived for 9 months in Falkner Square in the Rachmanite Toxteth of 1961. We fell in love with the inner city and were absolutely delighted to start my ordained ministry in the Beacon Group in 1964. We arrived there with our new born daughter Mandy and lived in John Kennedy Heights.

We were even more delighted to be invited to the living of St Georges in 1969, where we spent a very happy and rewarding ministry from 1969-1981. The congregation then was mostly made up of people who travelled back to Everton for their Sunday worship. This seemed to me to be a denial of the heart of Anglicanism. To address this imbalance called me to ask some fundamental questions about my ministry, that are quite related to fundamental horticulture – i.e. matching seed to soil.

My own evangelical faith had been nurtured on the idea that christians had the responsibility to bring the life imparting seed to impoverished pastures. It took me a while to cotton on to the folly of this idea, and to learn instead that its the earth that is already there that sets the scene for the right seed selection. This called for a radical revision – almost to move from a masculine understanding of mission, where invasive seed penetrates, to a feminine approach that emphasises the need to be present, to discover , to learn and to respect the earth beneath ones feet from which like the wonderful poppies that emerge.

When I arrived in 1969 St Georges parish was on the merge of the next phases of slum clearance, as over 60 % of the population had to leave their homes and the tightly knit community which had nurtured them for so long in the past to seek pastures new. It was painful and yet wonderfully invigorating for me to be involved in this process, and learning new styles of ministry and outreach, based more on discovery and celebration of what was there and respecting the dominant working class community that had survived.

Some of my memories of this time are still so vivid – baptising 1000 babies, marrying circa 300 couples, conducting 600 funerals – setting up the St Georges Day Festival involving 12 primary schools and two festival services in the church of 500 hundred children, who in turn a little later distributed 1000 christmas parcels to the over 1000 elderly people living in the community.

The poppies speak to me of some memories of that period in my life – the sadness of old everton passing, the new emerging , the amazing ability of the earth of everton to survive and yield forth new abundance and vitality….the glorious success of the Reds at Anfield where I had the privilege of a season ticket on the Kop, and for me now to say thanks for all that our time in Everton gave to us… for educating my daughters, for teaching me so much about life and being with and enjoying the richness its people and their ways.

Canon Neville Black MBE