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Musical Director of Sing Tower Hamlets and freelance vocal leader, Leanne Sedin, writes...

Working with St Katharine Cree on the Wrenathon was really special for us. In addition to Sing Tower Hamlets performing being hosted by St Katharine Cree on the day of the Vocal Marathon itself, we also had the opportunity to work with some of the church's established community as part of the wider Wrenathon programme. Through a series of workshops, singers from Sing Tower Hamlets joined together with the majority-Spanish-speaking community of the church, to learn some songs together, talk about the songs we loved and carry with us, discuss we identified with different lyrics, and ultimately write an original piece of music together, to be performed at the Vocal Marathon.

A theme that kept coming up in the discussions was around being split between two places - many of this community originating from Central and South America, having moved to the UK to work - as well as the different things in our lives that keep us going. It was clear these things needed to be expressed in song - and lyrics were developed from these discussions. It was incredibly special for Sing Tower Hamlets to perform the resulting song, entitled "Distance Between", at St Katharine Cree at the Vocal Marathon on 24th June, with one of the workshop participants joining in to sing, and many more in the audience, hearing their own words reflected back.

Another joyful thing to come out of this collaboration was Sing Tower Hamlets learning to sing in Spanish for the first time! We were guided on pronunciation by members of the St Katharine Cree community as we learnt the song "Ya Basta!" (meaning "enough!"), which includes the words of Spanish poet Antonio Machado: "caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar". This translates to "walker, there is no path - the path is made by walking" - and this was certainly our experience journeying through this new and exciting collaboration together.

I'm so grateful for the warmth and generosity with which we were welcomed in by the community of this church, and hosted by Priest-in-Charge Josh Harris and chaplaincy team members Ivonne Loján and Claire Moll Namas. It was a really special collaboration and we hope to build on it in the future!

On a personal note, it was delightful following our performance to then go and see various diverse choirs performing in other Square Mile churches - several of which I stepped foot in for the first time. I'd love to see this kind of event happen again in the future!

Revd Josh Harris writes...

We were so delighted to welcome Leanne Sedin to St Katharine Cree for these singing and story sharing workshops, and the fantastic performance by Sing Tower Hamlets of a new song written out of those workshops. As the Guild Church for Workers in the City, we are building community and relationships of trust and solidarity among workers here - including the many who have travelled from around the world to contribute to the prosperity and vibrancy of the City of London. As followers of the creator God, we know that music, art, singing, and sharing the stories which make sense of our lives is such an important way in which we can do this.

We are grateful to support from the Diocese of London, Wren 300, and the superb producer of this event, Holly Hunter.

Chaplaincy team member Danny Palmer writes...

The Guild Church of St Katharine Cree has been offering classes in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) since September 2022. What was initially a small group with a single volunteer has now grown into a whole day of classes. Anywhere between four and six volunteers per session and over fifty students per day come to learn. The ESOL classes continue to build the Church’s presence in the City of London and to develop beyond all hopes and expectations what being a Church for workers means.

During the early periods of the ESOL project at St Katharine, students mostly came from the cleaners and facilities branch of IWGB, a small Spanish-English language trade union branch focused on unionising precarious workers. When we had asked workers what they wanted from the Church, they asked for English classes on Saturdays. These students were migrants, principally from Latin America, engaged in low-wage jobs where precarity and harsh working conditions determine the vast majority of their time. And even when people are not at work, we’ve found through countless conversations that these communities are subject to persistent marginalisation in their everyday lives. They are often unaware of the unfairly complicated processes of employment contracts, registering for a GP, housing claims and more. An inability to speak English confidently only worsened their situations. It was with these concerns in mind that St Katharine began offering its classes, aiming to teach English to help members of these groups and communities better control their lives and not be dependent on, and vulnerable to, the help of others.

Over the course of this year the initial group who met on Saturday mornings has grown in numbers and developed in form. Many who have joined the morning class have come to St Katharine either through friends or by hearing about us through word of mouth. We do not need to advertise. Many migrant workers now come to St Katharine, knowing that here we are building a Church whose heart lies with those most exploited and marginalised. Our 'offer' now includes an afternoon session, run parallel to an intermediate-level “Conversation for Action” group, as well as our beginner class on Saturday mornings. New members of the ESOL classes come from ever more diverse contexts, from refugees from Kosovo and Ukraine to Albanian workers residing in London.

The increase in students has also led to an increased need for volunteers. Our fantastic lead volunteer teacher Alison is now joined by friends and partners helping every Saturday during term. The languages our volunteers speak now include Spanish, Portuguese, Romanian, Ukrainian, Albanian, French and Italian. This allows us to welcome far more workers and migrants than we could have ever hoped. If you'd like to volunteer with us please get in touch.

We love to help migrant workers in London learn English. But we are not a language school. We are a Church, and our mission for workers here in the City means building a community that is shaped by the Good News of the Gospel. At the heart of this is joyful celebration: of music and culture, often with partners and other organisations and involving food, and of Christian feasts and festivals which matter to the migrant communities in our classes. It has become a profound source of joy to see how many of the ESOL students want to be part of a community, the many other people they bring in, and the interest with which they actively engage in the Church’s life. We have hugely enjoyed moments of songs being learned in Spanish by English-speaking volunteers while Latin American-led choir groups perform in English, and precious occasions where the most timid non-native speaker summons up the confidence to say they want to converse in English alone. As one of those involved with our ESOL classes, I am deeply moved at how this Church, at the heart of London’s financial district, has given life to the fellowship of many flags, a legion of languages, and an unnumbered but resonant voice.

We began with the hope of offering something we knew from our listening process that many needed. We have now become a community that was initially brought together by need, but it continues to grow in the confidence that nothing should be a boundary to fellowship. Our ESOL classes have been instrumental to this. With an eye to the coming Autumn term, and with a trail of truly celebratory and touching moments, our hope has become a reality, which not only underscores this Church’s mission to workers but shows both its necessity and beauty.

Many cleaners who work in the Aldgate part of the City of London are Spanish speakers originally from Latin and South America. Some arrived as asylum seekers, while most travelled to the UK for work directly or via European countries including Spain. However they came to be in London, few offices in the City would be as clean if it wasn't for the hard work of Spanish speaking cleaners. Recognising their contribution to the prosperity of the City is one reason our London Cleaners Carol Service was in Spanish (as well as English and Portuguese).

The majority of our English learners at classes on Saturdays and conversation groups during the week are Spanish speakers, and so it was a natural extension of this to begin exploring whether some would be interested in joining a regular act of Christian worship. This development has been led by our Spanish speaking chaplaincy team members, Claire and Ivonne.

We now have a weekly Rosary Group which meets on Fridays at 3:00pm and is led in Spanish, and our Saturday Bible study has grown so that we have now three times gathered for a Spanish language Eucharist on the first Saturday of the month directly following our English classes. It's a beautiful service - and the two priests at St Katharine's, Fr Angus and Fr Josh, have enjoyed learning to preside in Spanish as we continue to meet the spiritual as well as practical needs of workers in the City.

Most of our activities take a break over August and the next Spanish language Eucharist will be on Saturday 2nd September at 12 noon.

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