I love to watch Breakfast News as I get ready first thing in the morning. This week I was struck by a story reflecting on how the poorest in our society pay more for basic services than the rest of us. This is the ‘Poverty Premium’. This is not a new story but it always seems to get swept out of sight.
The ‘Poverty Premium’ means that because your income is possibly insecure (zero hours contracts, working for cash payments, moving from one job to another) and it is not always possible to have a bank account or credit then paying bills by direct debit (and getting the savings) is also not possible. Electric and gas cost more on a pre-payment card. Mobile phone contracts are unavailable so it costs more to be in touch. No internet means less opportunity. I wonder why nothing seems to happen about this situation? Perhaps some feel people are poor because they have brought it on themselves?
In Matthew 26:11 Jesus says, “you will always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” I wonder if we are comforted by his words and feel that if this is the case there’s nothing to be done? On the contrary. Without Jesus’ physical presence we are to be his hands, his feet and his voice. The Body of Christ (the church) has to speak out against the unjust structures of society. Poverty cripples people. It weighs them down. They have no energy to become the people God intended them to be. As his disciples, shouldn’t we be working to understand and speak out against poverty more fully so our brothers and sisters can have that opportunity?
The Revd Ruth Fitter, vicar of St Paul and St Stephen’s, Gloucester
Since a child I have believed that we each have a guardian angel watching over us and protecting us. Learning prayers to my guardian angel from a beautifully illustrated children’s prayer book is something that has stayed with me.
Over recent days there has been much debate about whether the BBC were right to broadcast Songs of Praise from a migrant camp in Calais. Around five thousand people are in this camp, after being displaced from countries including Syria, Libya and Eritrea. Around a hundred of them attend Sunday services at a makeshift church, built from canvas, sheets of corrugated iron, plastic bags, and bearing crosses at its highest points. The migrants have named their church and offer prayers to St Michael as he is a guardian angel who is “there to protect us all”.
Psalm 91:10 says: “No evil shall befall you, nor shall affliction come near your tent, for to His Angels God has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways. Upon their hands they will bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” For me, the use of the word tent in this verse has much more of a 21st century feel about it!
I imagine the debate about the appropriateness of this particular programme will continue for a little while. Many have expressed their support for the BBC and how the programme has humanised those people who find themselves at such camps. Many have felt grateful for being able to witness the power and diversity of the Christian faith. One resident from Kent crosses the Channel to distribute food and when asked why she does this, simply replied: “That’s what the church is for.”
Julie Ridgway, Head of Finance
This question is what people often ask me as the Diocesan Environmental Adviser, perhaps because they feel overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of our responsibility to care for creation. My reply is that even small actions done prayerfully can add up to something worthwhile. Take for example my own efforts yesterday…
It started with a trip down the motorway to Bristol for a committee meeting with colleagues from five other dioceses in the South West. Sometimes as a face-to-face meeting is needed to maintain good working relationships and ensure that we make the right decisions. The good news is that for the third year running there will be a Carbon Fast in Lent 2016 which is a great opportunity for everyone to get engaged in practical actions.
Later in the day I joined a team of volunteers in St James Church at Colesbourne to clean and tidy up the churchyard. It turned out to be a good way of meeting parishoners and I enjoyed trimming back the rose bushes, which were completely overgrown. We ended up sitting in the church porch sharing beer and sandwiches.
My final challenge was to overcome one of the things that deter people from going to church – the lack of toilet facilities. This problem recently turned into a crisis when five pregnant ladies from London arrived for a wedding at St Giles Church at Coberley but had to drive away again in search of public conveniences! Therefore, a car full of us from St John’s Church in Elkstone paid a visit to Coln St Aldwyns and found the design of their green oak shelter would be ideal for our purposes at Elkstone.
We strolled along the riverbank back to the car and admired the trout that could be seen where sunshine poured through gaps in the trees. It was like having a glimpse of heaven and a reminder that even small actions done prayerfully can help to save the planet for future generations.
The Revd Arthur Champion, Diocesan Environmental Advisor
I’ve been making jam – tons of the stuff – and chutney too. Like most gardeners and allotment holders, I am blessed at this time of year with one or two bumper crops and this year its redcurrants and gooseberries. Looking at the prices of a punnet of gooseberries in the shops, I reckon I must have had about fifty quid’s worth just from one bush. Trouble is, they all come at once…but what a gift.
Depending on whether you are a ‘glass half empty or glass half full’ kind of person, you might look at the dilemma either as a gift to be joyfully accepted or a problem to be solved. God’s love is a bit like that.
Some people try to make the argument that God is a ‘problem’ and spend a great deal of time and effort trying to explain God away logically and rationally. Some view God as someone to blame for all of our problems both globally and personally. How to deal with violent extremism is one such example, i.e. ‘if we didn’t have religion, we wouldn’t have the problem’. Some are so busy trying to solve problems in their own life they don’t know how to ask God for help.
Is God’s abundant love for each and every one of us, a gift to be accepted or a problem to be solved? Even Christian people of faith who most of the time are able to see God’s gift of love in their lives might occasionally have a bit of a wobble – that’s OK, because our faith has to be tested from time to time for us to be sure of it. But of this we can be assured – God’s love is so plentiful we can’t even begin to harvest the whole crop on our own. So isn’t sharing it with others, in whatever ways are presented to us, the obvious thing to do?
‘Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.’ (Malachi 3:10)
Julie Fay, link officer for the Diocese of El Camino Real