My Justice Journey: Shoes that tell a story

blog-6-alisonAlison Butler - Mission and Heritage Officer, Wesley Memorial Church Oxford

Before you judge, walk a mile in their shoes

The opening of Oxford’s first purpose-built Methodist chapel in 1818 caused outrage in a city, where ‘enthusiasm’ was frowned upon and any non-Anglican form of worship was very strongly discouraged. The powers that be hoped that following Wesley’s death, the movement he set in train would fade away. It was an embarrassment.

Wesley was an Oxford man who did not behave in an ‘Oxford way’. Gradually though, as outreach work became established, particularly in educating the city’s poorer children, Methodism became accepted and appreciated. There was much less opposition when in 1878, Wesley Memorial was built in front of the old chapel.

blog-6-display-caseWhat has this got to do with justice and the Walking with Micah project? Well, it can be lonely and risky to respond to God’s call. It is all too easy to be blinded to the needs of others if we make no effort to see life from their perspective. Some people can only see the value in what churches are doing by the results they achieve.

Rather than highlight the small number of artefacts in our care (such as a fascinating scale model of the church which you can see whenever you visit Wesley Memorial), we’d like to tell you about our latest temporary display: In These Shoes, which is on show until the end of August, in the new heritage atrium

Church members and friends have been asked to contribute footwear which tell a story, especially shoes, boots or slippers that help us view life from a perspective that is different from our own. These is something very personal about shoes. They tell a story in their scuffs and wear. So, it’s no surprise, but very encouraging, that this display is catching people’s attention both on Sundays and during the week, when there are lots of groups meeting on the premises.

There are baby shoes from someone who was adopted, ballet shoes from girl who was teased for her size, stilettos from a trans friend, flip flops from our street pastor volunteers and a pair of hiking boots that were worn (not that long ago) while the owner was living in Ukraine.

Each are accompanied by poignant stories, some quite long, others very short. All of them challenge us to reflect on the ways we stigmatise or judge others, and in doing so, we are called to act justly, love mercy and walk with our God.


blog-6-yellow-shoesLittle yellow shoes

“I found them in a box in the loft of the house my father and mother built. They gave birth to that home, but they did not give birth to me. They made me welcome, more than welcome.

They made me their own and gave me a name. We needed each other. The little yellow shoes represent the thousands of little ones, mostly babies, who were adopted in the UK during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s.”


blog-6-ballet-shoesBallet shoes

“I never had the body – at school they called me ‘Fatty!’ But I had the technique. I’ve always had the feet, and the heart, of a dancer.”