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.
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.
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).