Father Chris Hughes shares some thoughts from our gathering in Newcastle on 9 November 2019.

Church Action on Poverty is nationally facilitating a number of regional gatherings engaging with local groups to explore issues related to poverty with a particular focus on ‘Speaking Truth to Power’.

On 9 November, St Nicholas’s Anglican Cathedral was the venue for the regional gathering for the North East of England, hosted by Church Action on Poverty North East.

Niall Cooper, the Director of Church Action on Poverty nationally, introduced the theme of the day ‘Speaking Truth to Power’. He noted that ‘truth’ does not seem to be held in much esteem at the moment. Niall then facilitated a ‘fireside chat’ with three women living and working in disadvantaged communities in Tyneside [including Heather and Cath], who in different ways have attempted to speak truth to power. It was evident that one reason truth needs to speak to power is that many of our law-makers have no idea what it could be like to be living on zero-hours contracts or welfare payments. The word ‘ignorance’ came up a great deal in the discussion.

 

Three workshops then followed. Niall Cooper showed (but with little sound) a short film made with support from Church Action on Poverty called Edgelands. It portrays the life of young people in Lancashire, where there is little adult support as they seek to deal with caring for sick parents, little money, homelessness and drug culture. The film was very much in the style of Ken Loach, revealing the stark reality of so many young people on these ‘edgelands’.

Revd Tracey Hume, a Methodist Deacon from Blaydon, Gateshead, talked about the Gateshead Poverty Truth Commission, which is bringing together those in authority and power with those experiencing poverty, so that it is the experiences and reality of those in poverty which will inform policy.

Rev Chris Howson, the Anglican Chaplain at Sunderland University, led a reflection on Matthew’s Gospel parable of the talents. He gave an ‘alternative reading’ of the parable arguing that the hero of the parable is the man who buries his talent since he is the one speaking truth to power.

The final input of the event was led by Debbie Honeywood, who plays Abbie in the new Ken Loach film Sorry We Missed You. After showing the trailer, Debbie talked about the issues in the film and how she prepared for the role. She worked in a care home for four weeks and discovered what life was like for carers as they sought to balance their holding up of a creaking social care system while still seeking to be mothers to their own children even if it is on a phone. Debbie spoke very powerfully on how people portrayed in the film are in isolated vulnerable situations. Communities of support have disappeared.

 

In the ensuing discussion, Debbie responded to a criticism of many of Loach’s films and especially in I, Daniel Blake, that one is left with no sense of hope. Debbie’s response was to say that it was the family, the one place where people are not isolated, that was the source of hope. This point is made very clear in the film when policeman makes it clear to the son that in having a family that cares he has an advantage that sadly many do not have.

As I left the event, I reflected on the ‘them’ that have power. It is ‘big business’ and ‘big government’. I wondered on how we can build relationship with those in power so that people in run-down communities in Tyneside can speak truth to power. It also struck me that although ‘big business’  is not democratically accountable, ‘big government’ is supposed to be. We are at the start of an election campaign, so I do wonder if in a very limited extent, those who have power is not simply ‘them’ but in a restricted way it is ‘us’. When politicians want our vote, we have more power over them than once they are elected for up to five years. So perhaps at this stage of an election where the next one may not be till autumn 2024, speaking truth to power, could also involve the opportunity, or perhaps an obligation, we have to ask our politicians to make commitments on the issues that matter to us. I appreciate that people may be sceptical on promises made, but at least with promises on particular issues politicians will be accountable to the electorate for the commitments made. It would be regrettable if this opportunity to speak truth to power while those who seek power need our vote is wasted. So I am left wondering what commitments do I want those who want my vote to make. I sense the possibility of speaking truth to power will only increase if we all ask that question.


This article first appeared on the Independent Catholic News website.

There are more gatherings coming up, in Bristol, London and Birmingham – then in Glasgow and Cardiff in the new year. Click here to find out more and book a place!

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What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands

We came up with a number of different answers to this question when a group of us gathered together in Sheffield on a sunny and rainy day in May, in a church that’s on a bit of a border itself: it’s on a boundary between two parts of the city that are subtly yet significantly different in terms of the life chances of those who live there.

We were meeting as part of a reflection day for a new ecumenical network of people who are working in churches ‘on the margins’ in South Yorkshire, set up by Church Action on Poverty. We are people who want to challenge injustice, build solidarity between the church and people marginalised by society, and recognise the spirit at work all over our community!

 

So what does it mean to be a church on the margins? Maybe it means pushing back against institutional pressure to shut down buildings that have dwindling populations in poorer areas. Maybe it’s the thin places. Maybe church on the margins is just, well, church? My favourite suggestion was that we stop thinking about the margins and start talking about church on the fringe. Fringe festivals are exciting, edgy; experiments happens, and we take risks on people we don’t know anything about. Shouldn’t church be a bit like that?

Reflecting together

Our day together was a chance to reflect on our own discipleship and explore our vision for our own churches and communities. I’ll tell you what we got up to, in case it’s helpful for your church.

After introducing ourselves – sharing our name and our pronoun and a little about our communities – we kicked off by looking at different images of Jesus, and picking out one that spoke to us. We had loads of them; here are three. What reaction do you have to them?

 

We then did what’s known as a ‘living’ Bible study, looking at the story of Jesus healing a man with leprosy, written about in the Gospel of Mark. We read the story a few times out loud, and then everyone was given a role and had to imagine they were Jesus, the person with leprosy, one of the onlookers, one of Jesus’ disciples, or one of the religious leaders.

In the story, the crowd drew back when they heard the leper’s bell ringing in case they were defiled by coming into contact with him, but Jesus had been sent by God to proclaim good news to the poor and destitute. The disciples and everyone else witness something outrageous, when Jesus transforms both the man’s disease, and his banishment from society. Before that, he’d been seen as unclean physically and religiously, because he is excluded from the worshipping community. 

We started to ask who we exclude from our worshipping communities. Who do we not want to touch? 

Next we shared stories we’d thought about in advance, of where we’ve seen the Spirit at work in what might be called the ‘margins’ of our society. Geoff talked about the man who comes to a group he’s part of and how he says it’s the only place he’s not viewed only as an addict, but something more than that. Alex talked about how they got drawn back to church when they came across one that was campaigning on behalf of a gay person seeking sanctuary. We heard lots of exciting things.
(We are not using people’s real names.)

Over a hearty lunch, Lisa showed us the art project she’d run with a local church, and the beautiful drawings she’d co-created with people in the community that got them interested in church, and coming to the coffee mornings.

In the afternoon, we shared some quiet time. Some people sat and drew, or wrote. Some people went for a walk in the rain. We were thinking about various questions, like:

  • Who likes going to your church? Why do they like it?
  • Who don’t you see in your church usually? How well does your church community reflect the geographical community it’s in?
  • What do you think it would be like if you were to visit your church for the first time: if you were Deaf; if you were a newly-arrived person seeking sanctuary, with English as an additional language; if you used a wheelchair; if you were a trans woman; if you used a food bank run from that church (choosing one that didn’t apply to us).

After sharing our responses, we closed a day of meeting old and new friends with a blessing (thanks to jesuitresource.org):

May the God who created a world of diversity and vibrancy 
Go with us as we embrace life in all its fullness 

May the Son who teaches us to care for strangers and foreigners 
Go with us as we try to be good neighbours in our communities 

May the Spirit who breaks down our barriers and celebrates community 
Go with us as we find the courage to create a place of welcome for all

Resources

We gave people some useful resources to take away and mull over, like…

I hope they’ll be useful to you, too.

I hope we can work together as a group in the future. I think we need time together to fuel up for our work living church in this way. Watch this space.


​Hannah Brock Womack is working to support our ‘community of praxis’ in Sheffield.

Photos: Sarah Purcell

Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands

Why End UK Hunger?

Communities unite to say: Act now to end UK hunger

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Father Bill Rooke RIP

Learn how you can use our resources to put faith into action

Transforming unjust structures: how not to become stuck in the mud

SPARK newsletter autumn 2019

Forgotten People, Forgotten Places

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Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands

Watch this powerful short film online.

Edgelands is a short film that highlights how poverty can trap young people and restrict their choices.

It was made by the young people involved in the ‘Darwen Gets Hangry’ campaign, who have had Church Action on Poverty’s support for a couple of years now.  We were pleased to be able to provide a small grant through our ‘Speaking Truth to Power’ programme, which helped them to work with a young local film-maker and produce this powerful piece.

Please share the film online, and help us make sure many people see it.

We are working on supporting materials that will help you use Edgelands to spark debate in schools and churches – sign up for our email updates if you would like to be notified when they are ready.

Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands

Why End UK Hunger?

Communities unite to say: Act now to end UK hunger

Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands

Read our new report, laying out the evidence supporting our call for urgent action to End Hunger in the UK.

In 2018, Church Action on Poverty’s report for End Hunger UK Step Up to the Plate called for comprehensive government thinking on responding to hunger in the UK. Household food insecurity is now being measured in the UK – but comprehensive policy responses are still lacking.

Our new report Why End UK Hunger?, published in November 2019, emphasises again why action is so urgently needed.

 

We worked with the University of Sheffield, King’s College London and ENUF to produce the report. Edited by leading food poverty experts Dr Hannah Lambie-Mumford and Dr Rachel Loopstra, Why End UK Hunger? newly brings together leading thinkers to make renewed arguments for why it is so important to address the root causes of hunger on the basis of seven key ‘cases’:

  • the moral case;
  • the child’s case;
  • the health case;
  • the secure income case;
  • the human rights case;
  • the political case;
  • and the public opinion case.

This report supports End Hunger UK’s new goal: to persuade all UK political parties to develop serious action plans to halve household food insecurity by 2025, and to make good on our existing commitment within the Sustainable Development Goal to end hunger by 2030.

Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands

Why End UK Hunger?

Communities unite to say: Act now to end UK hunger

Second Class Citizens – powerful new book about disability and austerity

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield’s 11th annual Pilgrimage

What will it take to end hunger in the UK?

Speaking Truth to Power: reflections from our North East gathering

What does it mean to be a church on the margins?

Edgelands