Authentic change does not come easily – a weekend retreat October 5-7th, 2018

Lee Abbey, Devon, UK

In the last 20 years there has been a significant rise in Christian social action projects and initiatives to combat poverty. Foodbanks, night shelters and debt-relief such as Christians Against Poverty, have grown at a remarkable rate.

But in the enthusiasm for social activism, we cannot deny a central fact: change does not come easily.

For those labouring day after day on the frontline, it is easy to become dispirited amid the continued rise of inequality, debt and desperation. On a more basic level, people let us down, problems don’t get solved, volunteers don’t turn up, staff argue and funding runs out. It’s not easy to avoid cynicism.

More than ever, I believe in the relevance of a Christian hope which can resource and encourage us in our work. Reality is liberating – God wants us to be honest about the struggles we face. Accessible and applied theology can equip us and underpin a spirituality which sustains and nourishes us.

Weekend at Lee Abbey, Devon, October 2018

I am leading a weekend at the beautiful Lee Abbey in Devon on this theme. We’ll explore the transformative power of Jesus’ message of grace and truth and what it means in the gritty reality of our broken world.

It is a weekend for those who are working hard for others and who need encouragement and inspiration in their work. Do you know someone who could benefit? Why not send them the link and encourage them to come?

For more details and how to book a place on the weekend, see the Lee Abbey website.

Grace and truth in action

As an example of the kind of teaching we will explore, here is a short talk I gave at a recent conference hosted by the London Diocese on Responding to street homeless people:

Chris Ward, with whom I wrote the booklet Homelessness: Grace, Truth and Transformation  also spoke powerfully about his recovery journey from homelessness and addiction.  Chris will be coming to the Lee Abbey weekend too and you can hear some of this story here:

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I’m not surprised at The President’s Club scandal – it’s just like my University Rugby Club

The waves created by the Harvey Weinstein eruptions in Hollywood are being felt all over the world. But you can imagine the organisers of The President’s Club, an all-male, exclusive fundraising event, felt pretty safe.

After all, they had been running it for 30 years, high rollers from major City firms were guests and it was held at the world-famous Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane. And, of course, the event was really all about raising money for charity.  What could go wrong?

A really good boy’s event

Maybe it was these factors that assured The President’s Club that it was fine to contract with an agency who hired hostesses based on their looks, instructed them to wear skimpy dresses, dictated the colour of their underwear and plied them with wine before the event.  Perhaps they thought these are just what makes for a really good boy’s event.

And maybe they thought that insisting these young women sign non-disclosure agreements was just the sensible thing to do. After all, these days people sue over the slightest little thing…

But in this unpredictable world, the very concept of this kind of event has come crashing in on those involved. And The President’s Club is no more.  Shocking but true – groping women and putting your hand up their skirts is not acceptable.  And an event which seems to have institutionalised and condoned this kind of behaviour has not survived public scrutiny.

Vile behaviour

In some ways, the interesting thing about the controversy is the surprise it has caused.  I am not surprised because the scandal reminds me of behaviour I saw when I was at Hull University in the early-mid 1990s.

For a year after graduating, I was Vice-President of the Student Union for a year. It was a paid, full-time ‘sabbatical’ post and meant being on a committee, along with five others, who were responsible for the clubs and societies run by the Union. And this included the Rugby Club.

Sexual harrassment

Every year, the Rugby Club held an Old-Boys dinner at a local hotel. As can be expected for rugby social, it was always going to be a lively evening but things got a slightly more out of hand than usual. Food was thrown, plates smashed, the room they hired was trashed and yes, the waitresses were sexually harrassed. The guests exposed themselves – as the hotel themselves phrased it – the waitresses had ‘penises waved about in front of them.’

The damage to property totaled over £2,000 and the Rugby Club were responsible for finding the money.  So, in a stroke of genius, the club decided to hold a fundraiser – an all-male, ticketed event titled ‘A Gentlemen’s Evening’. What could go wrong?

Strippers

I remember being asked to buy a ticket by an enthusiastic Rugby Club member. I had been heavily involved in the Cricket Club for 4 years and I loved (and still do) a beery sporting social. But there was no way I was going anywhere near this.

The Gentlemen’s Evening was basically a night being entertained by strippers. But the women they booked offered perhaps more than these middle-class boys imagined. In the event, various members of the audience ended up on stage, engaged in sexual activities in front of everyone. Furthermore some of it was filmed.

A scandal erupted and though it was pre-internet, the story got into various newspapers.

Suspension

The scandal led to many other disclosures about other incidents involving the club – the trashing of rooms, throwing drinks, urinating out of the back of coaches. So, as the committee running the Student Union, we took the decision to ban the club for bringing the university and union into disrepute.

This meant withdrawing them from the tournaments they were in and suspending their RFU insurance so they could not play matches.

Arrogance

After such incidents, you may have thought that the rugby club members felt a level of shame and that being banned was a fair cop.

But actually the key people in the club were incensed about the ban. They argued vociferously about how harsh it was and how this was just a bit of lad’s fun.  It was the arrogance in their responses to being challenged that was the most disturbing thing of all – because it showed the underlying belief that they had a right to behave like this.

Reality exposed

Their attitudes were an aspect of boys private school sub-culture which is frequently exposed at university. Attitudes and behaviours towards women, generated in all-male environments, are freed from the moderating influence of parents and let loose in a sea of beer. Its a phenomena captured well by the film, The Riot Club.

And, as we see with The President’s Club, this goes beyond just some bad behaviour by individuals.  The key issue is the institutions and clubs which exist to cement, embody and celebrate these cultures. And its good for everyone, not least the men involved, when the reality is exposed and things have to change.

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Grace in the face of oppression: what I saw in Egypt – by Martin Kuhrt

Land of the Nile, pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, a centre of early Christianity; Egypt well deserves its status as ‘a cradle of civilisation’. But its glories do not all lie in its past.

Its fast growing, population of roughly 100 million people is among the most youthful in the world, with a staggering 75% of people under 25. Whilst the ‘heart of Islam’ is in Saudi Arabia, scholars believe the ‘mind of Islam’ is in Egypt. Its ancient Al-Azhar University considered the ‘Oxbridge’ of the Muslim world.

Despite widespread poverty, illiteracy and political turmoil it remains a key nation in both the Middle East and Africa.

My visit to Egypt

I recently visited Christian communities in Egypt to learn about what God is doing here. Today there are at least 10 million Coptic Christians and one million Evangelicals.

Since the 1970s, Christians have been increasingly harassed and discriminated against. Long running dictator Hozni Mubarak was toppled in the Arab Spring of 2011 and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood was elected to power.

The Muslim Brotherhood government, however, was quickly regarded as a disaster by most Egyptians and was ejected by a second popular uprising led by the army in 2013. Elections produced a new president but extremists blamed Christians for the demise of Islamist rule.  It has led to constant attacks on churches and monasteries throughout Egypt since 2013.

Without bitterness or hatred

Christians in Egypt have been willing to both to face martyrdom and forgive their oppressors.  I stood in St Peter and St Paul’s chapel in Cairo, where one year ago a suicide bomber killed 29 worshippers. Some of the dried blood still stains the masonry, pock-marked with the force of the blast. The youngest killed was a ten year old girl called Maggy. I heard her grandfather speak about the family’s grief. Yet he spoke without bitterness or hatred and emphasised how Christians should unite in prayer for the nation.

The present government fears religious extremism and doesn’t want to be seen to be soft in dealing with terrorism. Most Muslims are genuinely appalled at murders of Christians and minority Muslim groups like Sufis, hundreds of whom were slaughtered recently in Sinai.  Armed soldiers guard all Christian places of worship now but they too become targets – I saw many wearing balaclavas to protect their identity.

Easy targets

However the powerful disdain for Christianity within Egyptian Islamic culture regularly spills over into mob-violence against the most vulnerable which the police are disinclined to prevent or punish.

Christians are easy targets for neighbourhood bullying and bureaucratic discrimination. Even minor repairs to church buildings require government permission and it is nearly impossible to extend or build new churches. Many Christian girls have been abducted and forced to marry Muslim men and convert. Whereas the mere rumour that a Christian man has designs on a Muslim girl can result in the most savage of attacks.

The most severe persecution occurs against believers from a Muslim background. This year alone in Upper Egypt eleven girls who wanted to follow Christ have been killed by their families. No police action has been taken over these so-called ‘honour killings’.

Turning to Jesus

Despite all of this, many are turning away from Islam and considering the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I went to a large Evangelical church where about 10-15% have a Muslim background and many Muslims are turning up to hear about the Christian faith.  During the uprisings and violence in Cairo this church turned itself into a hospital, providing help for all those injured, whatever their religion.  I saw a huge range of Christian ministries: helping lift people out of poverty, care for refugees, literacy programmes, bible teaching, marriage and parenting courses.

The ugly face of Islam is prevalent in Egypt. And many are rejecting and seeking the truth of Christ. The day after 21 Coptic Christians were beheaded by the Mediterranean coast, a Christian pastor (who is also a medical doctor) I heard preach in Cairo, composed this poem. It soon went viral.

Two Rows By the Sea

Two rows of men walked the shore of the sea,
On a day when the world’s tears would run free. 
One a row of assassins, who thought they did right, 
The other of innocents, true sons of the light. 
One holding knives in hands held high, 
The other with hands empty, defenceless and tied.
One row of slits to conceal glaring-dead eyes, 
The other with living eyes raised to the skies. 
One row stood steady, pall-bearers of death, 
The other knelt ready, welcoming heaven’s breath.
One row spewed wretched, contemptible threats, 
The other spread God-given peace and rest. 
A Question… Who fears the other? 
The row in orange, watching paradise open? 
Or the row in black, with minds evil and broken?

Martin Kuhrt is vicar of the Church of the Holy Spirit in Aylesbury, UK

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My cousin and the bitter cost of drug addiction

This weekend, I was on the BBC1 programme Sunday Morning Live (see on BBC iPlayer, 24 mins in) discussing homelessness and begging.

I was on the programme because I disagree with the view of journalist Matt Broomfield who believes people should give ‘directly and unconditionally’ to people who are begging.

Experience 

My views on this issue have been shaped by 20 years of working with homeless people.  All my experience tells me that handing over cash does not help and often makes the situation worse. (for more see How should we respond to people begging or When helping the homeless doesn’t help).

In the discussion on Sunday, one of Matt Broomfield’s points is to ask yourself how you would treat someone in your family? Well, for me this is not a hypothetical question because alongside my professional work, I have also seen the terrible cost of addictions in my family.

My cousin James

My cousin James and I were the same age so as youngsters we spent a lot of time together. He was very good looking, cheeky and outwardly very confident. But in his teenage years, he began drinking heavily and in his twenties he became addicted to heroin. It began a 20 year battle with the drug.

James died suddenly just after Christmas last year. He was 45.

James’ mum asked me to speak at his funeral in January. After a long gap in our 20s and 30s, we had re-built a close relationship and we often spoke on the phone.

James’ life was chaotic as he continued to use drugs on top of his methadone prescription.  He gave permission for me to speak with his case worker at the drug clinic and we tried to support him to make progress. But it was hard and there was many ups and downs. The pattern was that James was able to go through physical detoxification from drugs but was  not able to undertake the psychological rehabilitation that would address the underlying issues.

Boundaries

One of the reasons we got on well was that we were honest and upfront with each other. He would often say ‘Let’s have no bullshit Jonathan’.

Crucially, we agreed some clear boundaries. Firstly we agreed that I would never lend him any money. Secondly, although he could phone me whenever he wanted to, I would end any conversations where he was simply blaming everyone else for his situation.

Rather than find these judgmental, James appreciated these boundaries. Perhaps they made him feel secure as he was not able to blag anything off me or even disappoint me. We had many heated conversations but the relationship never got broken.

The especially tragic thing was James had been doing well before he died. He had met a new partner and they were happy together. He had a nice meal with his Mum and her husband and he had given her a Christmas present for the first time in decades. He had even come off the drugs.

But the damage he had done to his body caught up with him. And shortly after Christmas he suffered a fatal heart attack.

Re-thinking kindness

Its not easy to write this. But I wanted to share it (with James’ mum’s permission) because its a personal experience. I loved James as my cousin. He was not someone I was paid to work with. There was no contract or strategy.  In one way it was nothing to do with my work.  But in another way it has everything to do with my work because the same principles apply to helping him as they would to anyone struggling with an addiction.

We need to re-think what it means to be kind because often the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.  If we are to really help people with addictions then we will need to hold boundaries and be thoughtful about what we do.

The best things to give

I wish with all my heart that my cousin James was still alive. But I know that the best things I gave him was friendship and time because it was these things that built an honest and real relationship. It was not by giving him easy cash or colluding with a victim mentality which justifies destructive behaviour.

The growing homelessness in our country is deeply wrong and social injustice and economic inequality are the primary cause. We should be campaigning for more affordable housing and against austerity.

But once someone is in the grip of an addiction, the underlying politics of what has created their situation counts for little.  We cannot just use homeless people, as Matt Broomfield is doing, as illustrations of political failure. True compassion means being focused on what actually helps them take steps of recovery and come off the streets.

This is because, like my cousin James, each person sleeping rough or gripped by addiction is a precious human being of infinite worth. We need to ensure the focus is on their true needs, not our emotional need to respond. If we are to truly help them we must have the courage and confidence to do the right thing, rather than the easy thing.

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged | 13 Comments

Seeking Francis and finding renewal in Assisi – by Danny Daly

Last month I was fortunate enough to be part of a group undertaking an Ignatian Pilgrimage of Rome.

Before joining them, however, I had decided to spend a couple of days by myself in Assisi.

‘Francis effect’

I have been influenced by a Francis effect, generated by the Pope choosing to take Francis as his papal name. He had been prompted to do so by Cardinal Hummes, who upon his election in the conclave, embraced him and said “Don’t forget the poor!”

So in preparation for my trip, I immersed myself in a number of books such as Eager To Love by Richard Rohr and St Francis – A Model For Human Liberation by Leonardo Boff, as well as a good straightforward biography, St Francis and St Clare of Assisi by Sr Clare Agnes OSC.

Tourist chatter

Arriving at Assisi I was immediately struck by its beauty and how compact everything was within its walls. I visited the impressive Basilicas at both ends of the town – one dedicated to St Francis and the other to St Clare.

Although it was mid-October, there were still a large number of tourists visiting, and both places were crowded and somewhat noisy, full of tourist chatter. It seemed as though photos were the main priority, and praying was a somewhat distant second.

I was somewhat disappointed that this personal attempt to try to disconnect and engage in contemplation was quite difficult to achieve. As a London Jesuit Volunteer, we aim to be “contemplatives in action.” I am relatively fine on the latter, but struggle with the former! So I knew I needed to make time to get away from the crowds and find space to contemplate.

Isolated places

The following morning, I set off early to Eremo delle Carceri (“Hermitage of the Prisons” or “Isolated Places” ). It is now a monastery located three miles outside Assisi, up in the forests of Mt Subasio. It is where Francis would often come to withdraw and pray and contemplate.

You can go by taxi, but I opted to walk, and was glad that I did. It allowed me to take in the sights and sounds of the beautiful Umbrian countryside, and prepared me mentally for the visit.

After seeing the caves where Francis and his followers prayed and slept, I headed to the chapel. It was a perfect place to initially just sit and gather my thoughts, before undertaking some contemplative prayer. It was a true oasis, away from the hustle and bustle of Assisi’s main tourist attractions.

San Damiano

I walked back to Assisi (much easier going downhill!), and headed outside the walls again to San Damiano. This is the place which was in a state of abandon during Francis’s time and where he heard God tell him: “Go Francis and repair my house, which as you can see is falling into ruin”.

Francis took these words literally and did rebuild San Damiano. But he then realised that God was referring to the task of rebuilding the Church generally.

San Damiano has so much history relating to Francis and Clare, and I make my way around slowly, taking it all in. It was noticeable how there was always a respectful silence maintained throughout by the visitors. The Friars who live at San Damiano maintain and animate the place with liturgical prayer and with spiritual hospitality to pilgrims. It meant that I could find the space to truly pray.

‘The edge of the inside’

When I left Assisi to get the train to Rome, I reflected on my visit.

The places that I had felt closest to the charism of Francis and Clare, had been outside of Assisi itself – Eromo delle Carceri and San Damiano. I think the fact that there are resident communities in both places helps facilitate a sense of reverence and contemplation that I had found lacking in the large Basilicas within Assisi itself.

This should not have come as a complete surprise, I thought. Francis and Clare had to go outside the walls in order, as Richard Rohr puts it “to live on the edge of the inside of both church and society”.  Renewal does not come from the centre, but from the margins.

If you are able to, then I would strongly encourage a visit to Assisi. If you do, take the time to go outside the town itself to gain an inner contemplative experience that takes you closer to Francis, Clare and God Himself.

Danny Daly is a London Jesuit volunteer and works for a charity helping homeless people 

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Why Remembrance Day makes me uneasy – by Jeremy O’Hare

When Remembrance Day comes around every year, I feel uneasy. There’s something about this national ritual that doesn’t sit well with me.

How we commemorate wars and the fallen can be misused. Especially when my Christian faith leads me to question why we go to war at all. Because for me it’s personal.

Heavy burden

Back in New Zealand, when I was very small, a very old man lived next door. His name was Mr. Carter. I remember him well; quietly spoken and always holding his pipe. But within him, he carried a heavy burden.

Mr. Carter, I later learned was a Gallipoli veteran, and he fought that battle all his life. The odd habits my Mum would recall now made sense; how he always left his bedroom light on at night, no doubt because the memories of his experience would return as nightmares when asleep. Better a little light than total dark.

Today we call it post-traumatic stress disorder. He would’ve just known it as his own personal hell.

State-approved violence

War is obscene. It’s consequences incalculable. It is organised, state-approved violence serving a political end. It grieves me deeply and as a Christian, I can only name it for what it is; sin.

Given its manifest evil today and yesterday, Christians should ask what the root cause is and how we can take realistic steps to avoid it from happening again and again.

War, is the collective failure of nations, and of us all.

As we continue to commemorate 100 years since the First World War, we should recall it was meant to be the ‘war to end all wars’.

Destructive ideologies

And the more I discover about that conflict, the more I understand the colossal impact it had on future generations. It influenced the 20th Century immeasurably. The Second World War would never have happened, nor the Cold War. The destructive, overtly anti-Christian political ideologies that dominated last century arose from the ashes of the First. Communism and Fascism all fed off the national traumas of 1914-1918.

But there’s something else we should be aware of, and this may come as a surprise. Some historians argue  and I agree, that the Great War ended Christendom in Europe. Christianity took a fateful turn early last century and we have pertinent lessons to learn from it today. (see The Great and Holy War: How World War I Changed Religion For Ever, by Philip Jenkins.)

Nationalism and empire

We must realise that religious motivation became tragically mixed with nationalism and empire. And this was something all sides were guilty of. They had appropriated God and their own Christian traditions in the service of imperial ambition.

The scandal is that all the state churches approved and encouraged the war. After all, who could question ’God’s will’ and the monarch?

And this is where it also gets personal.

Jingoism

My Grandfather, Thomas O’Hare, fought in the First World War in the Royal Navy as a mine-sweeper and later signalman. He served the mighty sea power that allowed Britain to rule the waves (and the world).

His experience of conflict impacted him greatly. The jingoism of dying for King and country sickened him. He emigrated to New Zealand and became a committed socialist, of the George Bernard Shaw kind (whom he later met).

Grandad also left the church and lived his political convictions in small but poignant ways. When the national anthem was played at public events, he refused to stand.

Knowing of the massacres that occurred in the name of Empire, ‘God save the King’ was emptied of any just cause. And that’s why I find services of Remembrance, as they are, so difficult.

Honouring sacrifice

Because national identities, flags, and anthems were what caused the whole damn thing in the first place. An innocent affection of one’s country can easily be exploited to become nationalism, that turns to an idolatry of the war-making kind.

So in memory of my Grandfather and the stance he took, I will not be attending a formal service of remembrance.

But I will remember them. In a way that still honours their sacrifice.

I will pray. Pray for reconciliation.

Christian hope

Europe is fragile once more and the cracks are showing. Nationalism is on the rise yet again. As Christians, we have a moral duty to resist and speak against this evil in whatever form it takes.  But I also continue to hold the great Christian hope, that the day of renewal will one day come.

That the ‘glorious dead’ really will become glorious. Those who gave their lives in a struggle so misguided will be risen and united. Brothers and sisters in Christ as his body and his bride. Just as it was always meant to be, on earth as it is in heaven:

‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ Revelation 21:4.

So in the pain of remembrance, to make any sense of it, there must be born renewal.

God, let your Kingdom come, not ours.

Jeremy O’Hare is a blogger for Not Only Sundays and finalist for “Up and Coming Blogger” at this year’s Premier Digital Awards. You can read more of his blogs about bible wisdom for every day, @notonlysundays or facebook.com/notonlysundays

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Justice, mercy and humility: a weekend retreat in the Yorkshire Dales

The Chapel at Scargill House, Skipton, Yorkshire

From the 10th-12th November, I am facilitating a weekend away at the beautiful Scargill House in the Yorkshire Dales.

Today, the richest 1% of people own more than the rest of the world combined. We see refugee crises across the globe and growing homelessness, poverty and debt in the UK.

How do we confront inequality and injustice and express Christ’s hope and compassion towards those affected by poverty? And how can our social activism remain connected to our faith?

This is a weekend for Christian activists to be refreshed, encouraged and inspired.  It is fantastic place to get away and be resource for your work and ministry. We will reflect on what it looks like to respond to Micah’s call for God’s people to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8).

I know its late notice but there are still some places so if you are free and are interested then see here for more details, cost and booking information

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No one can take steps for others on the hard road of recovery

My daughter and I have just got back from WLM’s Sleep Out held last night in the grounds of St James’ Church, Piccadilly.

It was an uplifting evening. 82 supporters gave up their bed for the night to sleep out and (so far) we have raised £35,000 for our work to bring rough sleepers in from the cold.

A platform for change

Michael was one of our formerly homeless clients who spoke to everyone last night at the start of the evening. He talked about how WLM gave homeless people ‘a platform to help people like him come off the streets’.

A platform to help. It’s a good phrase to describe our work.

Charities like WLM provide support, stability, consistency and resources for people in need. And these are vital ingredients that help homeless people make the steps they need to make.

But it’s wrong to think that any person or agency can sort someone else out. No one can take the steps of change on behalf of someone else – there is always a journey that is needed to be taken by the individual concerned. However much social injustice has led to someone’s homelessness, their steps of transformation will always be irreducibly personal.

Sad and sobering

As I left the church this morning after the sleep out, I got chatting with a homeless man who asked me for change as I walked along Piccadilly to the tube.  As we spoke, I thought I recognised him and we worked out that he had lived in the emergency shelter I managed back in 1999/2000 when I worked for the youth homeless charity Centrepoint.

Eighteen years later and he was still on the street.

We shared the names of many other residents we both remembered from that hostel. It was sad and sobering to realise how many had since died, almost all due to addictions.  As I traveled home it was a sad reminder of the stark reality of street life.

Hard road of recovery

This week at WLM’s centre for rough sleepers on Seymour Place, my friend Chris Ward came to speak to the Spirituality Group which meets every Tuesday lunchtime.  I have known Chris for around 6 years since we met at the Greenbelt festival (see this post for more). Later we would go on to co-write a booklet ‘Homelessness: grace, truth and transformation’ together.

Chris was on the streets for over 3 years and almost died due to his addictions to drugs and alcohol.  He spoke powerfully about the hard road of recovery that he has gone on since his days on the street.

Over the last year, Chris has been in intensive therapy after finally getting a proper diagnosis for his mental health issues. Through having good quality support, he has found the resources and courage to face up the reality of what he has been through and the trauma that he suffered when young. Importantly, it has also helped him be honest about the pain he has caused to others too. I am so proud of the progress he has made.

Grace to embrace truth

Belief in God and direct spiritual experiences have been at the core of Chris’ recovery journey. Instead of being an escape from reality, faith has helped him engage with reality and to be truly honest with himself. Grace has enabled him to accept truth.

Chris spoke with a power and directness that only addicts can. He challenged everyone to be honest and take the steps that only they could take. And he inspired us with stories and pictures from his recent pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Portugal and Spain.  His talk was a great example of how pilgrimage is both an outward, physical journey but also an inward, spiritual one.

Hope and reality

Chris and Michael’s stories are ones of hope. They have both been able to use the platforms available to walk the hard road of recovery. But we need to be real about the damage that homelessness, addictions and trauma have on people and lose any romantic notions we may have about homelessness.

Its never too late for someone to change and to turn their life around. And, whilst we cannot change anyone else, we can be resolute to be there for those in need, offering the platform and the opportunity for change.


If anyone wants to donate to Jenna and Jon’s Sleep Out, then please see our Just Giving pageAll the funds go directly towards the costs of WLM’s emergency centre for rough sleepers in central London.

 

You can listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Beyond Belief’ on Begging, featuring myself and Chris Ward. (Chris’s section is at 12.42)

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Foodbanks have saved Harvest celebrations from nostalgic irrelevance – by Simon Cansdale

I’ve been doing Harvest assemblies and celebrations for 22 years. I think they’re much richer and more authentic now, and Foodbanks are partly responsible.

Nostalgia and guilt

Harvest celebrations used to be overshadowed by nostalgia and a vague guilt that we were losing connection to the land.

People used to turn up at urban and suburban churches with boxes full of seasonal veg, some homegrown, some from the supermarket. Church looked great on Harvest Sunday but quite a lot went in the bin or in the vicar’s  and churchwarden’s kitchen ‘for soup’.

Schools used to send students out with a bag of tins and an oversized marrow to surrounding streets, ‘to give it to some old people’. Some were grateful for the visit, some had rather nice cars parked in the drive, more were bemused. Now the whole exercise would be a safeguarding horror story.

Competitive parenting

And thank goodness the days of competitive parenting at Harvest is over.

I used to sit through harvest assemblies with children processing to the front with their Harvest Gift. Each one more beautifully and exotically wrapped, with yards of cellophane and ribbon, pots of deli ragu and out-of-date water biscuits. The gifts were essentially useless with children learning only that my box needs to be bigger and shinier than my friend’s. Vulgar, horrible, good riddance.

It is partly Foodbanks that have made Harvest better.

Many schools local to me now give directly to Chiltern Foodbank at Harvest time. I’ve been down to food bank on the High Street several times this week, and each time it was merry mayhem with boxes everywhere.

Renewed confidence

This growing connection with, and honouring of, food banks is so much richer than a nostalgic return to a mystical 18th century we all live on the land scenario. Food banks have brought a renewed confidence that Harvest gifts actually go where they are needed: into the hands of those in real need. The guesswork is gone.

We are almost over our nostalgic reluctance to bring only autumn vegetables and fruit to church and school at Harvest time. Thank goodness. Here in Chesham one wonderful person organised for apples to be pressed and bottled with all proceeds to the Foodbank, including the apple juice.

We all realise that if we fell on hard times (and in Chesham alone the community is supporting about 50 people a week, so it’s possible), we wouldn’t want a tired carrot and a couple of courgettes, we’d want toothpaste, soap and food we can store and cook.

Talking about poverty

Foodbanks have made local poverty and its causes a talking point and brought it out into the open. We should all be grateful that we see our own community a little more clearly because of foodbanks.

For us in the Chilterns, it’s largely families who are supported, and some of them have one or both parents at work. Our schools and churches are better places for us knowing this and resolving to organise things better, and challenge the causes of local poverty.

Food banks help create links that can last throughout the year, rather than random one-off guilt gifts in October. The same people who send tins of food and nappies to school at Harvest also put an extra few things in the box at the supermarket, knowing that it will be used wisely and locally by our incredible array of volunteers.

Most people who are involved in foodbanks wish that foodbanks didn’t need to exist, though we are massively committed to making them welcoming and generous. But to the long list of brilliant things that food banks are achieving we should add this – they are making Harvest better, brighter, truer.

Simon Cansdale is Team Rector at St Mary’s Church, Chesham

Posted in Ethics & Christian living, Poverty | Leave a comment

Unity in action: Movement Day is a glimpse of the future for the UK Church – by Matthew Rhodes

This weekend I spent at a conference in Westminster run by the British incarnation of the worldwide group Movement Day.

Movement Day UK describes itself as a unity movement with “a passion to see our places transformed in every area of culture; transformation being characterised by spiritual, cultural and social change –[because] people and places matter to God.”

More broadly it describes its values in 5 statements:

  1. Relationship Matters
  2. Places Matter
  3. Holistic Transformation
  4. Passion for Unity
  5. Prioritising Prayer

Truly cross-denominational, it seeks to influence all the streams of the UK church.

Different spheres & the kingdom

The conference gathered 1000 leaders from across the church and included multiple seminars and practitioner facilitated tracks, including Business, Politics, the Arts, Social Tranformation and cross-cultural mission.

The movement is inspired by kingdom theology and Bible passages such as Colossians 1: 15-20. This was summed up by the Dutch Reformed pastor and former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper, when he said:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

Unity as whitewash?

For me, the stand out session was a discussion entitled “Is your unity movement a whitewash?” Addressing the issue of relationships between local churches from different ethnic backgrounds, it assessed both the opportunities and challenges this presents.

The “elephant in the room” is how we begin to understand the vital importance of building multi-ethnic churches, as expressions of what Ephesians 2:13 describes as the “manifold” (or in the Greek literally “multi-coloured”) wisdom of God.

Relationships built between, for example “black churches” and pre-dominantly “white churches” are vitally important, however that will only take us so far as the Body of Christ.

Painful journey

I am a leader in a church in Lambeth which comprises over 70 nationalities and is roughly 50% white and 50% non-white. In the last 10 years we have journeyed, sometimes painfully, from an unrepresentative demographic to something more reflective of our locality. We now regularly say from the platform “if you’re looking for a black church, this isn’t the place for you; and if you’re looking for a white church, the same applies.”

For me, building a multi-ethnic congregation is a true expression of the kingdom of God – but it’s not easy. We have a long way to go because a diverse Sunday service isn’t enough – true integration demands that we are in each other’s lives, that we spend time with each other outside of church, eating and playing together, truly sharing our lives.

The power of unity

Other highlights included the contribution of Kevin Palau (son of the well-known evangelist Luis), who is based in one of the most “unchurched” cities in the US – Portland, Oregon. His description of what God has done when Christians in unity set aside their differences to truly live out the Gospel is extraordinary. Taking seriously Jesus’ command in John 13:35 to love one another, he testified to the power of unity across churched and significant theological divides, in catalysing social change in a pre-dominantly secular environment.

Finally, listening to the Chief Constable of a large police force and the individual who heads up the Government’s national, somewhat controversial, counter-extremism strategy – Prevent – was a reminder that God wants Christians to be involved across the whole of society, being salt and light and extending the kingdom of God.

The day ended with a powerful symbol, when the leaders of the Government & Politics seminars symbolically washed the feet of the leaders leading all the other “tracks”. It was a moving sight.

‘What’s next?’

It is difficult to hear all the inspirational stories and to go home unchanged. But, as ever, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating! The challenge now is for Christians in all denominations to take this call for unity seriously and to turn this energy into concrete action.

Two questions were posed: What are we going to do as individuals representing many different churches and expressions of the faith? And finally, as President Bartlet memorably repeats over and over again in The West Wing – “What’s next?” I’m not sure I know the answer but what is for sure is that this is the start of a journey for many churches and individuals. It will be both exciting and fascinating to see the results.

Matthew Rhodes is a lawyer & freelance public affairs consultant who has worked in politics for 12 years. He is also on the Leadership Team of Streatham Baptist Church.

This article originally was published on Premier Christianity

Posted in Theology & Church | 1 Comment