Seeing positive change in the lives of people and communities can be a slow process, that needs a great deal of perseverance and love. The outcome of persistence in steady change is encapsulated beautifully in Jean Giano’s The Man Who Planted Trees. In this short story, a man spends years slow planting trees at the foot of the Alps. At the very beginning of the story, the land is desolate, communities struggle to live and wind blows ferociously, unobstructed. As the years go by and the man perseveres in planting acorns and other seeds steadily and patiently, vitality returns to the land as life springs from the growing trees. Communities of people develop and the barren landscape of previous years becomes almost unrecognisable. Giano writes ‘the transformation took place so gradually that it became part of the pattern without causing any astonishment… Who could have dreamed of such perseverance in a magnificent generosity?’

people are reclaiming spaces and areas of land that had been left to waste

The Modest Experiments in Asset Based Community Development continued in January when we met again for our Community Listener Gathering. Asset Based Community Development is a way of seeking change in communities that looks for the things that already exist in a place, for example buildings and space that can be used or the skills of local people, instead of just looking at what they lack. In our Modest Experiments in ABCD, four parishes in Durham diocese have taken on an asset-based approach and are working out it means to use ABCD in their work, ministry and lives overall.  If you have not yet heard about our modest experiments, you can read about what’s happened so far in our previous blogs, an introduction here and insights from Revd Bill Braviner here.  

We were joined this time by Sam Ewell who has been working within the ABCD framework for many years. Sam shared his experience of moving to Birmingham, beginning to build up relationships with people in his community and taking steps with them to utilise the assets that they have around them. From community gardening projects and composting to a community ‘Bus Stop’ café, Sam spoke of how people were reclaiming spaces and areas of land that had been left to waste and making them spaces full of life for everyone to enjoy.

The experiences that Sam spoke about chimed with the experiences of many of the Community Listeners who were finding ABCD to be a slow moving process of shifting their mind-set so that all of their actions reflect the desire to empower others. An accompanying challenge is to share ABCD with whole communities and to see the culture shift to one that recognises gifts and talents in the community, rather than just the need.

It is our hope that in changing our patterns, and those of our communities to recognise the gifts and skills of all those around us, we will see people flourish and grow.