‘Partners to Close the Gap’, our partner church project with the diocese of Lichfield, held a poverty hearing event to mark the end of their first year. David Primrose, the diocese’s Director of Transforming Communities, shares some reflections on the event.
‘If people are in poverty, then it’s their own fault’ is the common generalisation that we were challenging with our ‘For Richer, For Poorer’ hearing earlier this month. The Bishop of Lichfield, who opened the event, said,
“We’ve had to try and fight against that poisonous, sterile philosophy”.
And we did so, through listening to stories of ordinary people living in these times of austerity in the Potteries and the Black Country. The video below captures the power of the event:
Church Action of Poverty have been providing consultancy for this programme as part of the partner church work within the Close the Gap campaign. The emphasis was on listening with the intentional intensity of appreciative inquiry.
The ‘For Richer, For Poorer’ project began last year, by the twinning of four parishes in areas of significant deprivation with four parishes in more affluent localities. All those involved commented on the difficulty of really listening to their own neighbours, let alone those from other parishes. At the hearing, Theresa and David from Ashmore Park described their experience of struggling to meet basic living needs when thrown into poverty as ill health forced them to stop working. Karen Stanton, vicar of another partnering parish, leafy rural Kinver, brought home the reality that anyone can experience sudden poverty, with a tale of a well-to-do man who found himself on the street after a relationship breakdown. From Stoke-on-Trent, we heard how people seeking asylum can be left in absolute destitution through loopholes in provision.
Ruth Clay is our part-time project worker. She says:
“The important thing is to get beyond just talking about this. The church knows that it needs to love its neighbour but doesn’t always know how to do it; knows there’s loads of needs, perhaps even knows there’s lots of ways we can respond but doesn’t see the priority of it. But when the church gets involved with the poor, it changes them. It changes the way they relate to each other, it changes the way they relate to their neighbours and it changes the impact we have on society. People start to listen to the Good News because we are BEING good news, not just saying it.”
During the day, artist Oliver Pengilley took the stories and themes that came out and produced a painting in response. Auctioned at the end of the day, the winner immediately invited their partner parish to be the first to hang it in their church as a time-share and talking point about their experiences and new friendships through the project:
The four existing partnerships are continuing their relationship, with the possibility of including a trip to link churches in South Africa next spring. They have extended an invitation to other churches to join the project, and will be holding an induction day in early September.
For further details, contact David Primrose.