To mark the conclusion of the End Hunger Fast, our local group in Sheffield held a vigil outside the constituency office of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. Group member David Price shared these reflections with us.
It is remarkable how the End Hunger Fast – the brainchild of a few church people in the East Midlands – took hold across the nation. The involvement of charities like the Trussell Trust, Church Action on Poverty and Oxfam of course helped. But beyond this, many people felt that it was right in 2014 to bring together two things – the Christian tradition of self-denial during Lent, and the widespread indignation that so many of our fellow citizens are suffering such food poverty that they have to resort to food banks.
In Sheffield, where we already have some 16 food banks, many involving church people, the idea was strongly taken up by some people in the local churches. At my own church, St Mark’s Broomhill, some 50 people participated in one way or another in the End Hunger Fast and we had a rota of ‘fasters’ that virtually covered the whole of Lent.
It was important to end the fast with a powerful message to Britain’s political class, and this was achieved. 47 Anglican bishops and 600 other clergy and lay leaders from a wide variety of churches signed a letter to David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Milliband demanding action on the growing food crisis. This was published on Wednesday 16 April.
We in Sheffield were asked to hold a vigil outside Nick Clegg’s constituency office on 16 April and to support a ‘40 day faster’ called Scott Albrecht who would actually deliver the letter. I volunteered to organise this and notified others in our Church Action on Poverty branch, plus people in various churches across the city. I also produced a press notice and sent it round local media.
16 April was a wonderfully sunny Spring day. At 12 noon, 10 of us from five different denominations gathered outside Nick Clegg’s modest constituency office, which is at the back of a plumber’s premises. Also present were a photographer from the Sheffield Star and a reporter from Radio 5 Live. Scott Albrecht arrived, having driven all the way from the Catholic Worker Farm in Hertfordshire – a place which houses homeless women and their children. He had fasted for 43 days, and, despite this – to me alarming – experience, was very genial and good-humoured. Ian Wallis, vicar of St Mark’s, handed round service sheets and we held a little service on the pavement to mark the end of the fast. We said a prayer by Janet Morley:
Righteous God, you plead the cause of the poor and unprotected. Fill us with holy rage when justice is delayed, and give us the persistence to require those rights that are denied. For your name’s sake, Amen
At the end of this service, Scott broke a bread roll and at long last broke his fast. The rest of us also ate some bread.
I then knocked on the door of the constituency office. Nick Clegg of course was not there but one of his staff came out. Scott presented him with the letter with its 600 signatures and was assured that it would be passed on to the Deputy Prime Minister himself.
I was interviewed by Radio 5 Live and later by BBC Radio Sheffield. So it was a media event as well as a religious and political event. Scott talked to us about his work with homeless people and then drove back to his farm. The rest of us reflected on what had been a strange but thoroughly worthwhile experience.