Category Archives: Church Action on Poverty

Sermon for Transfiguration / Church Action on Poverty Sunday

Reading: Mark 9 – The Transfiguration of Jesus
Lord, I pray that the words that I speak, and the words that are heard contain something of your transforming glory so that we can join together in the work of bringing about your kingdom here on earth. Amen
In Mark’s Gospel so far, Jesus has been leading his followers up a metaphorical mountaintop to give them a new view of God’s kingdom which he was ushering in. However so much of what Jesus has said and done has been a mystery to those experiencing it. Gradually, though, their eyes are being opened and they are starting to get glimpses of things as they really are. Jesus’ many miracles and parables are starting to show them that he is the Messiah and they are beginning to understand more fully what that means.
At the Transfiguration, it is no longer just metaphorical, we are on an actual mountaintop. God’s voice confirms what the disciples are gradually realising: “This is my Son, and I love him”. Just like Moses and Elijah received their calling from God on a mountaintop, Jesus also meets God on a mountain. He is sent out to finish the work started through the Law and the Prophets. The transfiguration is a sign of Jesus being entirely caught up in the transforming love, power and kingdom of God, so that it transforms his whole being with light. This is the sign that Jesus is not just indulging in fantasies about God’s kingdom, but that he is speaking and doing the truth. It’s the sign that he is indeed the true prophet, the true Messiah.
For us, experiencing the kingdom of God in Jesus shouldn’t mean merely a few minor adjustments to our ordinary lives. Jesus’ whole being was transformed until he was shining with the light of God. The transfiguration account invites us to a whole-hearted transformation of ourselves, so that we too can pick up our cross, like Jesus did, and follow him. We should be transformed by God’s light, until we’re overflowing with the light of the world. We know that, but do we really allow ourselves to be fully transformed into the likeness of Jesus? Are there areas of your life that continually resist full transformation?
Our Chapter of Mark continues with the argument between the disciples about which one of them was the greatest. It amazes us that they have spent so much time with Jesus and yet they still don’t understand the upside down kingdom that he has been talking about and bringing about. But, if you’re honest with yourself, do you really get it? Are you completely immune to the pressures of this world for material success and status?
We know that in God’s upside down world God is biased towards the poor. The theme of Church Action on Poverty Sunday is “Poor Church, Transfigured Church”. What can the account of the Transfiguration teach us about what we should be like as a church? If our churches are to be communities that put the poorest first, how must we change? What must we let go of? What sacrifices are we called to make? How can we allow God to transform us into what Pope Francis has called a “poor Church for the poor”?
First we need to see God in Jesus. In Mark’s Gospel the accounts of Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration are two times that Jesus is identified as the Son of God, both times by a voice from heaven. The only time he is actually recognised as the Son of God by a human being is at his crucifixion. And this wasn’t by someone who had walked with him and listened to him – Jesus was recognised for who he really was by a gentile, a Roman centurion. And it didn’t happen when Jesus was at his most powerful. In fact it was when Jesus was at his most vulnerable – he had been stripped of everything and was at the mercy of the authorities. Jesus’ divine identity was most truly revealed when he was at his weakest.
We need to see God in Jesus and then we need to see God in each other. I think Emma reminded us last week that the Quakers try to see “That of God in everyone”. Do we really see God in those who, by the world’s standards, are weak and seemingly at the mercy of the “system”? Those people who are as weak and vulnerable as Jesus was at his crucifixion? When we see people in poverty do we see the face of Jesus Christ, and want to listen and learn – or do we see “them” as people who are not “us”, do we see “them” as a problem, do we want to fix “them” and sort “them” out? Fixes that come at cost to “them” but not to “us”; that change “them”, but fail to transform “us”?
Part of Church Action on Poverty’s mission has always been to give a voice, a face and a name to those of us who experience poverty on a daily basis. To create a space where there are different voices and people truly listen to each other.
I think we, at All Hallows, are not too bad at doing this. We have a lot of things going on in our building during the week. Through our work with refugees, through our café, and through many other things that we as individuals are involved with we encounter people different from ourselves.
In our café just last week we took part in a Big Conversation as part of the End Hunger UK campaign which is co-ordinated by Church Action on Poverty, and Student Christian Movement is part of. Emma, Sarah and I asked people to write on paper plates their response to the question: “What one thing would you ask the government to do to end hunger in the UK?”. The significance of using paper plates was that we were asking the government to “step up to the plate”! It was fascinating to listen to people’s conversations as they struggled to narrow it down to just one solution! You can see the ideas they came up with displayed in the café. It was a vivid reminder to me how much I have to learn from listening to people and learning from their experiences.
Have a think about your week ahead. How often will you make time to encounter someone with a different lived experience to you? Can you make some more time to sit and listen, maybe to someone who has had their benefits sanctioned or who has had to make the impossible choice between heating or eating? Can you make more time to hear people’s experiences for yourself and be transformed by them?
When thinking about the possibility of being a poor church for the poor I’ve been challenged to think not only about what we do in mission but also about our act of worship here on a Sunday morning. We like to think of ourselves as an inclusive church, and we try very hard to be, but how varied are the voices who lead us? Heston is very conscious of being a white male, although at least he is from another country and challenges other stereotypes of a parish priest! How many people of different colours, countries and financial situations are involved in designing our worship services? Is it actually possible to be inclusive for the person who struggles to read, while being inclusive to those who love the beauty of liturgical language? And what about being inclusive of the person who didn’t finish school, while being inclusive of those who like an intellectual debate about the finer details of eschatology? I don’t think there are easy answers but, to truly be an inclusive poor church for the poor, they are issues we need to be grappling with. How do we ensure we are a church where people from all backgrounds and life experiences can meet with the transforming love of God?
Instead of providing our own opinion of the solution, how do we equip and enable those individuals with personal experience of the challenges of life to exercise leadership? How do we empower them to make the changes they themselves have identified as necessary? It’s probably more costly, especially in terms of time which is a real challenge when we feel so time poor, but is it what we should be doing? Like Church Action on Poverty, how are we ensuring that we’re not just a voice for those without a voice, but that we’re helping those who are not heard to use their own voice?
As I finish I’ll leave you with some inspiring words from Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche which could transform us as individuals and as a church if we’re brave enough to follow them and really become a poor church for the poor:

“If you enter into relationship with a lonely or suffering person you will discover something else; that it is you who are being healed. The broken person will reveal to you your own inner hurt and the hardness of your heart, but also how much you are loved. Thus the one you came to heal will be the healer. If you let yourself be moulded thus by the cry of the poor and accept their healing friendship, then they may guide your footsteps into community and lead you into a new vision of humanity, a new world order, not governed by power and fear but where the poor and weak are at the centre. They will lead you into the kingdom Jesus speaks of”.

Lydia Groenewald

For further inspiration: ‘Poverty is many things’ by Tony Walsh

Poverty is not entertainment, it’s not noble or romantic.
Poverty is… heavy.
It’s heavy hearts and heavy legs.
It’s sore skin and hollow eyes.
It’s upset and downhearted.
It’s hunger. Malnourishment. It’s always thinking about the next meal.
Poverty is bailiffs, it’s food banks, it’s queues and lists, it’s never being told what you’re entitled to but always being told.
Poverty is being shown up then put down.
It’s missed payments and mistrust.
It’s always answering questions but never answering the door.
Poverty is hiding in plain view. It’s hiding.
Poverty is high bills and low pay.
It’s higher costs and lower self-esteem.
It’s invisible scars and visible pain.
Poverty is living nextdoor, it’s living on your nerves, it’s not living, it’s… barely surviving.
Poverty is… everywhere. With… nowhere to turn
It’s a gut-wrenching silence, screaming.
Poverty is depressing, demotivating and dehumanising.
It’s degradation, desperation and despair.
Poverty is feeling… worthless, it’s feeling anxious, it’s feeling excluded, it’s feeling rejected, it’s feeling ashamed, it’s feeling trapped, it’s feeling angry, it’s feeling fffrustrated, poverty is…. exhausting.
It’s not feeling anything. It’s… numb.
Poverty is… crushing. Empty. Lonely.
Poverty is cold. It’s damp. It’s ill health. Bad housing. Sadness, fear and human misery.
Poverty is ignored and abandoned. It’s sanctioned and sectioned. It’s late payments and early deaths.
Poverty is not something that happens to… “others”.
Poverty is our old people, our young people, our sick people, our disabled people, our mentally ill people, our homeless people. Poverty is people seeking asylum, it’s people who are refugees, people who are migrants. Poverty is over-worked, under-paid everyday people.
Poverty is people. It’s children. Babies. Not… “them”. Us.
“Poverty is the worst form of violence.” (Mahatma Ghandi)
Poverty is growing in our country. In 2017.
Poverty is many things, but
it is not
acceptable.

A collaboration between Church Action on Poverty and Tony Walsh

Sermon 7th February – Lydia Groenewald and Emma Mawer

This Sunday we were privileged to have two sermons for the price of one! Lydia spoke about Church Action on Poverty Sunday and Emma told us more about how TRJFP@AH Cafe tries to help our community. Here are notes from their sermons.


Lydia
Reading: Matthew 8: 1-17

Today is Church Action on Poverty Sunday, with the theme “Bread Broken for All”.

Church Action on Poverty is a national, ecumenical, social justice charity, committed to tackling poverty in the UK. They work in partnership with churches, and with people in poverty themselves, to find solutions to poverty, locally, nationally and globally. (As Heston has mentioned) I’m one of their Trustees. I took up the position of Treasurer over a year ago as I am passionate about the work they do and was very impressed by the impact they have despite their very limited resources. Church Action on Poverty believes in equipping people who are experiencing poverty to speak to power themselves – not to provide a voice FOR the poor but to give those in poverty a voice – as they are “experts by experience”. Church Action on Poverty is increasingly becoming part of the essential movement for food justice in this country, the need for which we will explore today.

There are many things that unite us as humans, but few more universal than our need for food. Without access to a regular, nutritious supply of food our bodies die. Without the feeling of community and acceptance that comes as we share food together our spirits die. Food has elements of healing and is essential for a healthy life, but as we know well, not everyone has access to this primary aspect of life – not only in the majority world, but increasingly here, in our wealthy and privileged country too. Food is a gift from God. But today, in one of the world’s richest countries, thousands of people are being denied access to that gift and made to go hungry.

Our reading from Matthew 8 recounts many acts of healing: the man suffering from leprosy; the Centurion’s servant and Peter’s mother-in-law, amongst others. I found it interesting to think about the role food plays in these accounts.

I love the fact that, after her healing, Peter’s mother-in-law’s first action, once she was back up on her feet, was to prepare dinner for Jesus. Sharing food through hospitality is her instinctive response as soon as she is made well again.

The account of the man with leprosy might feel a little alien to us – how many of us know someone with such a debilitating skin disease today? We’re so fortunate that, in our country, leprosy is not a disease we’re at risk from. But if you think back to Jesus’ time, when this disease was all too commonplace, it was a much bigger deal. Leprosy meant not only sickness and disfigurement, but also social banishment. Leprosy was highly contagious. Sufferers had to stay well away from everybody else. Nobody approached them, let alone ate with them; nobody would dream of touching them. Imagine for a moment what it must have felt like for that man, to have Jesus touch him and accept him after years of being ostracised? PAUSE. Jesus’ action was the start of that man’s restoration into society, not only physical healing but also the means for re-integration.

Even if we don’t have the tragedy of people experiencing leprosy in this country today, who are the people that our society treats as social outcasts? Could it be the asylum seekers, those with mental health issues or the so-called “benefit scroungers”? If we are to follow Jesus, then how can we find more opportunities to encounter these people, and show God’s love to them by accepting them, loving them, and even sharing a meal with them?

In the section about the Centurion’s servant, Jesus’ description of the invitation of the Kingdom of heaven is wonderfully inspiring, and revolves around sharing food. The quote from The Message translation is: “This man is the new wave of many outsiders who will soon be coming from all directions—streaming in from the east, pouring in from the west, sitting down at God’s kingdom banquet alongside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” This not only shows the value God places on sitting and eating together, but also challenges any narrow-mindedness that we find in ourselves about who might be “in” and who is “out” of God’s Kingdom – this is a feast where everyone is welcome and we’re all invited!

Church Action on Poverty is working hard to ensure that God’s kingdom banquet can become a reality, in our society today, as it is in heaven. And so their supporters campaign for a “right to food” for everyone and try to hold the government accountable for this.

The right to food is contained within the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Its special committee on economic food and social rights explained it as:

“The right to adequate food is realised when every man, woman and child, alone or in community with others, has physical and economic access at all times to adequate food or means for its procurement.”

The British Government signed up to guarantee an adequate standard of living, including food, when the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was ratified in 1976. So as citizens we are entitled to expect that the country we live in will respect and fulfil the right to food that is affordable for all our people.

The right to food is amongst the most basic of all our human rights. Its a matter of justice, not charity. However, we know that injustice exists today, even right here on our doorstep.

Are we too accepting of the existence of food poverty in our country? It has been great to see churches stepping in to the breach and setting up foodbanks, like our own Parish Pantry, but are we doing enough to challenge the government policies which have made these provisions necessary? The Trussell Trust, one of the main facilitators of foodbanks, highlights how many of their recipients are actually in work but not receiving enough wages to live on; or there because of harshly applied benefit sanctions or delays. By providing foodbanks, as necessary as they are, are we treating only the symptoms, and not the causes? You’ll all know the story of the community which had a river running through it. One day they found a person being swept along by the river, and then another and another. Initially they rescued each person floating by, but as the numbers increased, they realised they would need to go up stream to deal with the cause of this issue to prevent people falling in the river in the first place.

Food poverty is, of course, not about a shortage of food as we very well know. I read recently that the world already produces enough food for 14 billion people, twice as many as are now on earth. But what is happening to that food? In a moment, Emma will be sharing with us how our café, here at All Hallows, is being used to challenge the shortcomings in our food supply system, and to counteract the impact of food poverty amongst our neighbours.

Community is a core part of what helps us to flourish. So alongside the re-instatement of our social-security safety-net, we need to support initiatives such as our café which encourages and fosters community building. We’ve seen first hand how food can be a vital ingredient for nurturing community. Foodbanks follow the model of “I give and you take”, re-enforcing inequality, but our cafe is based on the principle of “We share” through its Pay as You Feel system.

The bread and wine that we are about to share together as we share the Feast of Life are symbolic of Jesus’ final supper. Jesus shared that meal with his disciples, some of whom themselves were the outcasts of their society. This was his last act before his body, the “bread of life”, was broken for all. One of the significant elements to this symbolic meal is that everyone gets an equal amount – God’s hope for the world in action.

After the service today we will be sharing food together – yummy pancakes in honour of the fact that it is Shrove Tuesday this week. We will also be taking donations to support the work of Church Action on Poverty. Any money you give will help people who are affected by stigma and food poverty to make their voices heard, building their confidence and helping them to speak out for justice. It will also support Church Action on Poverty’s campaigns to tackle the root causes of the UK’s growing hunger crisis, working towards a UK where no-one is made to go hungry. As their Treasurer I can assure you your money will be put to very good use!

Emma is now going to tell us how our Sunday Feast of Life continues during the week through our wonderful café and its people.

 



Emma

TRJFP (The Real Junk Food Project) @ All Hallows’ Café has been running since the 12th September 2014. It is essentially a means by which this church reaches out into its surrounding neighbourhood and shows them the love of God.

The UK, which now has so many people in food poverty, doesn’t have a food shortage. The problems are consumerism and mismanagement. As consumers we are encouraged to buy food that it ‘2 for the price of 1’, the latest food product on the market, food that is pre-packaged in a plastic bag, food that looks attractive (not wonky carrots or muddy parsnips), convenience food, food that will only last until its use by date. Due to this pressure, the average UK household throws away almost an entire meal a day (that could have been eaten). To add to this mountain of waste food, supermarkets throw out anything that is slightly mouldy, squashed or past its use by date. Most of the time, this food is still perfectly edible and yet it ends up joining our ever increasing piles of landfill. By using waste food in the café, we are trying to be better stewards of the wonderful gifts that God has given us. Last year alone we ‘intercepted’ (put to good use) 8⅟4 tonnes of waste food.

The café opens on a Tuesday, Thursday morning and Friday. It has about 25 regular customers and then there are always new people who pop in each day. On an average day, any number between 30 and 60 people come through the doors. On arrival they are greeted, shown where to help themselves to drinks and snacks, and then their food order is taken. The food is given on a ‘Pay As You Feel’ (PAYF) basis – customers either give a monetary donation, or volunteer their time to ‘pay’ for their meal.

Hyde Park has a diverse community which we welcome and serve. Our regular customers include council refuse collectors, a few asylum seekers, people struggling with alcohol addiction, others who have recently been made redundant, one family are Muslims, and then there are those with physical health challenges, mental health challenges and housing issues. Sometimes our role is to encourage friendship and understanding between some of these individuals who wouldn’t usually mix. Other times it can be fighting against stereotypes. Our main aim is to treat everyone with respect, regardless of who they are or where they have come from. We do this to demonstrate how Jesus views each member of the human race – worth more than the flowers and birds of the fields. Regular customers often describe the café as having ‘a lovely atmosphere’. The fact that Heston is actively involved in the café enables us to actively share our faith, not only in actions, but also in what we say. Many people have asked for prayer and others have had questions about the Christian faith.

A group of volunteers help to prepare, cook, serve and tidy up after the meals. They include various people who are on benefits. These individuals really value being able to ‘do something worthwhile’ with their time. In addition, they enjoy the social aspect of being part of a team. One of them has been out of work for a long time and in January, at the age of around 50, was still living with his father. Through volunteering, he has really grown in confidence and is now starting to take on a supervisory role. He has moved into a flat of his own and has applied for a part-time job. Another volunteer has struggled with poverty and ill health for many years. However, the café gives her a purpose, an opportunity to give to others. It also provides her with hot, tasty meals when her cupboards are bare. A third volunteer is again in poverty. He has ad-hoc jobs, but struggles to feed his family. On one occasion he admitted going without food so that others could be fed. In the café, he is very hard working and a wonderful role model for other volunteers. Two weeks ago, he invited a friend to come and volunteer too. She is a stay at home mum, who found that she had too much time on her hands, when her youngest child started school. Volunteering in the café means an awful lot to her. We are currently training up 3 of these individuals, with the hope that they will become café managers. Our aim is to give each of them a salary of 5 paid hours a week, at the living wage of £8.25 per hour.

The café reaches wider into the community than just serving those who come through the doors. Last year, the Sinclair project, the Ladybird project, the Youth Offending Service, Leeds City College and St Annes alcohol services, all approached the café, recognising its value. We now work in connection with them all, be it through providing placements for volunteers, providing a space where they can hold meetings, providing hot meals for their service users, or receiving their excess food. Live at All Hallows’ invites artists to perform gigs in the church. We are also work alongside them, offering pre-gig evening meals. Then, on Christmas Day we provided a Christmas meal and entertainment for 65 people, most of whom would otherwise have been on their own, or finding the day difficult.

TRJFP @ All Hallows’ Café is an exciting project to be a part of. No two days are the same and there are frequently new challenges. But to sum up in terms of healing, the café gives food to the hungry, both physically and spiritually. It gives hope to the hopeless, friends to the friendless and purpose to those who feel worthless. We try in our own small way, to bring some of God’s kingdom to this area of Hyde Park.

If you would like to partner with the café, please pray for the project and, if you can, support us financially by filling in a ‘Community Investor’ form (available from the church or from Lydia).