I’ve been working with Church Action on Poverty on behalf of the Diocese of Lichfield, looking for firm partnerships between churches in areas of deprivation and churches in areas of greater affluence. It is based around listening, within churches, between churches, and within communities. On the basis of this listening, the need for action emerges, and stories are gathered which can be shared at a poverty hearing.
But I’ve been asking the question, for whose benefit are we actually doing this? Last year, as we prepared for our participatory budgeting event to distribute the Bishop’s Lent Appeal, I had laid the foundations for our Close the Gap project. I approached the leaders of eight ‘core’ churches in areas of deprivation, with four of them agreeing to participate. I had to approach 14 churches in areas of comparative affluence to find four ‘partner’ churches, even though many of the 10 who declined had previously expressed an interest. Several of you may not be surprised to learn that half of the core churches are Forward in Faith, and all of the partner churches have women vicars!
We are now working towards a ‘For Richer, for Poorer’ hearing on 14 June.
For some, the benefit is already occurring through the internal listening that is taking place within their congregations; for others, the benefit is already being seen in engaging with those of contrary churchmanship.
With less than four months to our public meeting, will the pressure to produce material suitable for presentation compromise the natural development of trust? Will the expectation that partners will have identified issues to address force choices to be made prematurely?
I believe that the discipline of our public commitment to present challenging stories of ordinary people struggling in times of austerity will encourage participants, their churches and communities, as well as similar churches and communities. Such stories will challenge those from more affluent churches and communities, and those in positions of power and influence.
Pray God that the encouragement and the challenge may lead to transformative action.