In this guest blog, ACE - our partners running the first Your Local Pantry in Wales - reflect on how the pandemic and lockdown require us to do things differently.

‘How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?’
Psalm 137:4

We have been exiled from our beloved Dusty Forge and find ourselves in a new and strange ‘land’!  The roar of laughter from the weekly Retreat group is absent, the punchline undelivered.  The Dusty garden is ripe with veg but the harvest is indefinitely delayed, a feast unshared.  The Repair Café has ceased, everyday items lying unfixed and unusable.  The artists’ paintings sit unfinished, visions cut short before their potential is fulfilled.  Birthdays have passed with no cakes and no candles burning for another year lived, and no singing.

ACE Staff making up food bags and parcels
ACE Staff making up food bags and parcels

We were singing a song of sorts. A polyphony of diverse voices, sometimes a little out of tune, but with a unique beauty all of its own. We were finding ways of including new people in this quirky choir, many of whom had never been told they can sing and assumed they had no voice. There were busy days in the Dusty Forge when the cacophony was glorious and it felt like we’d welcomed a little bit of heaven on earth. We hadn’t finished our ‘song’, and I still find myself humming the chorus in the quiet of my own home… It’s not the same. It’s too quiet now, and these kind of songs are meant to be sung together.

Meanwhile our community faces a whole new set of challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic which are nevertheless familiar because they feed parasitically on inequalities and injustices which we already know. Incomes are dropping. Work is even more insecure and pay is too low. Folk can’t afford food. Isolated people are struggling to meet their own basic needs. Individuals’ already fragile mental health is crumbling further. Families already struggling with multiple pressures now find themselves together 24/7 without the support of extended family and friends, juggling work and home-schooling.

The ACE ‘family’ has responded quickly. We have repurposed our ‘Your Local Pantry’ project, allowing us to deliver food to those who need it whilst keeping local ownership through membership alive. Our debt and benefit advice and support is offered via a phone service, and is being well used. We continue to offer 1-2-1 mental health support. We have moved quickly to prepare safe procedures that can support volunteering and have tapped into renewed enthusiasm for mutual aid by recruiting new volunteers. They are now busy with staff picking up and delivering prescriptions, preparing wellbeing packs for local carers, and offering ‘phone a friend’ services. Creative resources are being provided for home use with bored children. We’re even planning a community-wide back garden archaeology dig through our brilliant CAER Heritage Project. And like lots of other folk, we have stuck a rocket under our social media use!

ACE Coronavirus response
ACE Coronavirus response

If you spend a lot of time singing with others then you can learn to improvise together.  Our improvisational skills have enabled flexibility in responding to the crisis in multiple ways.  ACE is committed to a set of values and ways of working that provide a context for creativity.  We believe everyone has something to contribute and that everyone’s contribution should be valued equally.  We see and talk about our community not as a problem that needs solving by others, but as a network of people, places, buildings, knowledge, skills and creativity that too often go unnoticed, unacknowledged and untapped.  We seek to identify and to nurture these ‘assets’ through communal relationships, by listening to each other and those around us in our community, and by seeking collective ownership of, and responsibility for, the spaces and resources around us.  All this is energised by a large dose of experimentation.  We have hoped to create a culture that grows these skills and attitudes in us all so that when change happens, or crisis emerges, we are fit to the task of responding creatively, flexibly and with hope.  If the notion of ‘community resilience’ means anything to us then it looks something like this.  The coming months are as good a time as any to find out whether we have begun to be successful in achieving it.

Back when I studied Youth and Community Work we had a course tutor who, whenever we were struggling to make sense of an aspect of our practice, would tell us that we had to learn to ‘sit in the shit’.  It was very annoying at the time but the phrase has come back to me so many times since, and it seems particularly relevant now.  Its wisdom is in challenging us to fight the urge to leave the shit and walk away as quickly as possible.  The danger is to rush to old solutions in the context of new problems.  When all has changed, and the odour of a new strange world is overwhelming, there is necessary work in sitting in it long enough to understand it.  To get a feel for it.  To engage it with all our senses so we can start to improvise a way through.

‘French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil wrote about the claim of what is on our attention.  She writes, we do not have to love what happens to us, but we ought to pay attention to it, to come to know it and grasp what might be done for the good in response.  And we cannot really know what to do for the good if we do not grant events and people our deepest attention.  There is love to be had in creative human wrestling with what is, in that response, if not in the events themselves.’ – Anna Rowlands.

So some of our immediate tasks might be to wait, to listen, to watch and to reflect.  To remind ourselves that much of the value of community development is in the process itself, not in reaching some predetermined destination.  Our commitment to Asset Based Community Development, Coproduction and Community Organising, the interplay between the three, and the set of skills and techniques they provide, offer a useful toolbox for this work.  This can all go on alongside the absolutely vital work of meeting immediate need in our community.  But as we sit in this unique and very unpleasant Covid-19 shit, we may slowly start to spot new and different opportunities for song.

We will notice melodies being hummed by people who until now were strangers.  We will take up their tunes and bring them into harmony with some of our older ones (memory, and all that we’ve learned so far, will be important), we will discover new time signatures (maybe they’ll be slower and more reflective) and new key signatures (maybe they’ll be in a minor key for a good while yet, but that’s OK, a more celebratory day will come).  We may even find new and safe ways of combining our voices together in each other’s presence (without using Zoom!).  Eventually we will find ourselves singing a different but equally beautiful song in the new and strange land that we are entering.  The land will form the song, if we take notice of it well enough.  But the song will also help us make sense of, and live in, the new land.  Our vision, as ever, is not to be passive but to act together, and in acting together to find shared meaning, life and joy.


This blog first appeared on the website of Action in Caerau and Ely.

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Gathering on the Margins – 9 June

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield Update, June 2020

Viral Song

New wine, new wineskins: theological reflection on ‘building back better’

Gathering on the Margins – 2 June

Reflecting together, 28 May: Whom are we serving in our services?

You can’t eat the view

Reflecting together, 21 May: inhabiting the public realm in the midst of lockdown

Book review: Bread of Life in Broken Britain

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Church Action on Poverty supporter Liz Delafield shares how Dialstone Lane Methodist Church in Stockport used our 'Good Society' resources to spark conversations and action for change.

On Saturday we had a meeting with two local MPs, using the computer app, Zoom. It was called ‘A Good Society? Within and After the Covid Crisis’. A collection of people, mainly from our local area, joined us in a question/answer dialogue. It was the latest in a series of events that had been taking place at Dialstone Lane Methodist Church, and our first virtual meet-up. These meetings explore what it means to be a good society. They have included hustings events for local and general elections, an event prior to the referendum and several roundtable discussions.

I would encourage other churches and faith groups to hold a gathering like this. It is a great way to contribute to building and engaging with the community. I do not hold up the way we did things as a model you need to follow. There will be many other equally valid, or better, ways of holding good society gatherings. We made plenty of mistakes along the way. Here are a few ideas that may be of some use:

Getting started

The journey began in the run-up to the 2015 General Election. We met around tables with a good supply of cake and coffee. We used the questions and ideas in the Good Society toolkit. This is still available  although it might be time for an update! This led onto our second event, a more formal hustings.

Communications

We use traditional ways, such as church notices, newsletters and posters, and invited groups that may be interested (church/faith groups, community groups, sixth form colleges). We also made an event on Facebook via our church page, and shared this on local community groups.

Keeping going

Many churches held similar Good Society gatherings but few have kept it going, so why did that happen? Several people who had been to the first two meetings had got a taste for it and were asking, “When’s the next one?” Things just developed from there. We had ups and downs along the way. But building a good society, or what Christians call the Kingdom of God, was never going to be achieved in one election.

Share a vision and keep hold of your ideals

At the majority of our gatherings, we have looked back at the 2020 vision of a good society produced after the initial good society conversations.  We also decided that we wanted to add “A flourishing NHS that meets peoples’ needs.” We ask our contributors to express their ideas about a good society. This gives us a focus.

Keeping control whilst allowing expression

Whenever people with different opinions get together, things can get a bit fraught. We decided early on to establish ground rules. A well planned and chaired meeting helps to set things on the right foot. By and large the political candidates and other invited guests have been well behaved. People often come with lots to say. We try to find ways people can contribute, even if they don’t get to say it in the meeting. Our larger events have a ‘marketplace’ to give out leaflets and hold informal conversations. Sometimes people are invited to share ideas in other ways such as a ‘have your say’ board.

Teamwork

An event like this takes a lot of planning. I have relied a lot on a friend in my church who is an excellent organiser. We are also very lucky to have some members who bake delicious cakes.

Using Zoom

Owing to the restrictions on meeting during the Covid 19 epidemic, our latest meeting was on Zoom. We decided to keep it to one hour, as zooming for longer than this can be difficult. We put people on ‘mute’ on arrival to keep it from being chaotic, and lined up the questions beforehand. It was less fluid than our real-life meetings, but a useful alternative under the circumstances. One advantage is that we don’t have to clear up afterwards!

What next?

We are planning another Zoom meeting, this time with local councillors. Perhaps, as we emerge from this pandemic, this would be a perfect time for all of us to reflect and renew our vision. It’s time to build back better. What is our vision for a good society in 2025?

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Gathering on the Margins – 9 June

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Read the latest newsletter from our local group in Sheffield.

Poverty Update is a regular newsletter produced by Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield.

This latest issue includes reports from some of our national online gatherings, and details of how you can stay informed about the work of the local group.

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

A hymn by Church Action on Poverty supporter Nick Jowett.

(Tune: ‘To God be the glory’)

Unseen, undetected, a virus invades,
with hideous potential for suffering and pain.
From human to human the pest makes its raids:
will all be infected in Being’s great chain?
Hear our voice! Hear our cry! May the Lord hear our prayer.
Give us hope, steady hope, in the place of despair.
We cry out, O God, in our anguish and stress.
We seek understanding. We need you to bless.

Though many are fearful, yet some do not care:
they want to continue their life as before;
no evil can happen to them, they declare,
asserting their freedom, they’ll flout any law.
Hear our voice! Hear our cry! May the Lord hear our prayer.
Give us hope, steady hope, in the place of despair.
O Father, bring hope for the world in its sin:
may all see the signs of your kingdom begin.

Can this be the truth we’re unwilling to call:
the human, self-centred, refusing to share?
Is that the real virus, in one and in all,
which silently poisons what might have been fair?
Hear our voice! Hear our cry! May the Lord hear our prayer.
Give us hope, steady hope, in the place of despair.

How can we, O God, purge this ill from the earth?
How can we all flourish
without a new birth?
And yet, in a crisis of desperate need,
the summons goes out for each person to hear,
and many respond, help their neighbours with speed,
forgetting themselves, bringing practical cheer.
Hear our voice! Hear our cry! May the Lord hear our prayer.
Give us hope, steady hope, in the place of despair.
By actions of love, whether many or few,
your Spirit, O God, starts what Jesus would do.

In those who are willing to help with a smile,
defeating this sickness with boldness and grace,
and willing to travel an extra long mile,
the virus of evil’s pushed back in its place.
Hear our voice! Hear our cry! May the Lord hear our prayer.
Give us hope, steady hope in the place of despair.
We cried out, O God, in our anguish and stress,
And now you have shown us that you can still bless.

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Running a Good Society conversation

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

On 3 June, we gathered theologians, writers and ministers to reflect together on what the church's role should be in 'building back better' after the pandemic.

Opening poem and prayer by Marie Pattison of Katherine House

Click here to see Church Action on Poverty’s series of posts to prompt wider discussion on this topic.

Our ‘worship and theology collective’ had a fruitful discussion, and we hope some this thinking will influence how we work with churches in the coming months. Here are some brief notes and ideas from our discussions:

Trauma and dancing

  • We talked about Shelly Rambo’s theology of trauma and the importance of not rushing from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the importance of Holy Saturday – the need for a time to lament and acknowledge what has gone wrong before we build anew.
  • We looked at the three principles of Liberation Theology:
    • Solidarity – including grieving with people. There is a need for healing as well as prophetic voices. 
    • Mutual Aid – we cannot rely on the government. The phrase mutual aid has now become mainstream.
    • Dancing – need to find new ways to celebrate life beyond the pain.
  • It’s important not to be too positive about the pandemic as an opportunity for change, because so many people are losing loved ones – the pandemic is not a good thing.
  • The prophets, e.g. Deutero Isaiah, wrote out of disaster and exile, woe and hope mingled together. We are in an exile moment. The prophetic imagination of Isaiah might help us – images of the lion and the lamb laying down together, etc.
  • But the pandemic has magnified stress and anxiety that was already there. Some people have gone into survival mode. How do we connect with people who could not be further from ‘dancing’?

Voices and power

  • Who do we look to to take the lead as we move forward? Children will be among the most traumatised by this pandemic. The climate movement is being led by young people – whose voices do we pay most attention to? We talked about the story of Jesus placing a child in the centre.
  • In the story of the healing of the blind man (Mark 8), Jesus tells him not to go back to the village. Do not go back to the old way of life, we are going somewhere new now.
  • It has been interesting to see how different churches have responded – some have stepped up, but others haven’t. Is there something the whole church across the UK, across denominations, could be saying? Could the Church as a whole be acting as the conscience of the nation and holding the government to account?
  • Members talked about their denominations becoming  internally obsessed about losing money and congregation members because of the pandemic, and wanting to make a power grab.
    How can we encourage the Church to embrace this crisis by shutting up and listening to the people its not been listening to?

Judgement

  • This is a crisis – a judgement on our society; it will take a long time to see what that means.
  • Truth-telling is vital at this time. The church seems to be divided between those who want to speak out against the government, and those who criticise people speaking out.
  • Fake news or good news? The prevailing narrative is not necessarily the truth. Challenge the churches to listen better and think about whose voices they amplify.
  • Jesus gives the disciples the power to forgive sins and to retain them. How do we retain sins and say ‘I am still not OK with this?’
  • We shouldn’t be frightened of judgement. We believe in a God who judges.

Fear, Othering and Connection

  • Contrary to the stories of solidarity and connection, some members were concerned that we are becoming more fearful of one another and of the world outside.
  • One member shared the story of their autistic granddaughter who overcame her fear of stepping outside the front door when her family drew a hopscotch game on the street, making the outside space safe, and she witnessed strangers (including adults) using the hopscotch, being aware of other people inhabiting the same space and being safe.
  • We are not all in the same boat, but we are in the same storm. We shared this poem by Kathy Galloway:

Do not retreat into your private world,
That place of safety, sheltered from the storm,
Where you may tend your garden, seek your soul
And rest with loved ones where the fire burns warm.

To tend a garden is a precious thing,
But dearer still the one where all may roam,
The weeds of poison, poverty and war,
Demand your care, who call the earth your home.

To seek your soul it is a precious thing,
But you will never find it on your own,
Only among the clamour, threat and pain,
Of other people’s need will love be known.

To rest with loved ones is a precious thing,
But peace of mind exacts a higher cost,
Your children will not rest and play in quiet,
While they hear the crying of the lost.

Do not retreat into your private world,
There are more ways than firesides to keep warm;
There is no shelter from the rage of life,
So meet its eye, and dance within the storm.

Kathy Galloway (First published in Bread of Tomorrow, ed. Janet Morley, SPCK/Christian Aid, London 1992)

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

A report from our 28 May online discussions on what it means to be church on the margins during the pandemic.

Opening reflection from Revd Raj Bharath Patta, on ‘Reimagining Church Today’

How is church being missed today by the community around us?

  • Online church is reaching thousands more people than before.
  • Are we creating new communities – including people who were not church members before (people who were excluded or marginalised).
  • Some people really miss the regular church service.
  • God is present in unexpected places.
  • Worship, fellowship, communion.
  • What is the church for (beyond the church community/friendship)? If the church has no impact in the local community what is it for?
  • During C19 we have found God in the community, mutual aid, helping people.

What is our dream if the church has to be reborn? (How do we achieve this?)

  • What does ‘church membership’ mean? It does not have to be weekly attendance.
  • Church language can be off-putting for new people (e.g. ‘unchurched’).
  • Small dreams are important (as well as big dreams).
  • Be real, authentic. Walk alongside people. Show God’s love.
  • We need a liturgical revolution.
  • We need to dream big – a revolution for society.
  • Doughnut economics – an alternative to growth economics (see Ted Talk and book by Kate Raworth). People are stuck in the hole in middle, we need to reach out to them. 
  • Doughnut theology – we need the church to think in terms of people and need, not growth.
  • Participation in and with the community (e.g. SRGs, Messy Church). Do not separate the church and community into ‘projects’, see it as a whole.
  • Rethink the way we do ministry.
  • This could be a moment of transformation for the church and wider society.
  • Zoom church is more accessible for some people (e.g. families, people with disabilities).
  • We need safe spaces in the community for people of different faiths to come together.
  • Reflect on our activities annually and drop one to create energy for something new.
Research and Information Officer

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Cornwall is at its most beautiful right now. Wall to wall sunshine. Clear blue skies without endless plane trails. Uncrowded roads. To some that would be normally be the pinnacle of the dream and yet, right now, it really isn’t.

We are in a state of complete limbo. Despite the pockets of vast wealth that we have, areas of Cornwall remain in the top three poorest areas in Europe. What little economy we have is almost solely driven by the leisure industry, which traditionally starts up at Easter. Good weather means a bumper year – a plethora of hospitality-led zero-hours contracts, but at least it’s work? Yet this year we have nothing. Our sector is shut. Just this week, two of the biggest hotels in Newquay have closed their doors for good. There will be many more closures and much more unemployment to come.

Those who were already on benefits before this pandemic are probably coping better than most – being poor and going hungry was already their normal

It is true that those who were already on benefits before this pandemic are probably coping better than most – being poor and going hungry was already their normal. But right now they are being joined daily by a whole new section of people who have no idea how to cope.

People are being literally left to go hungry because they didn’t fit the furlough criteria, couldn’t get the self-employed help or simply couldn’t access the benefit system

Just last night on the regional news, the food bank at Camborne was featured. They painted an honest picture about the increase in demand. How people are being literally left to go hungry because they didn’t fit the furlough criteria, couldn’t get the self-employed help or simply couldn’t access the benefit system. This isn’t a new phenomenon. Cornwall very often doesn’t fit the national schemes. The food bank also highlighted the huge amount of people who thought they had a pretty good and safe income and are now stuck in a limbo land. No access to help, slow access to benefits (if at all) and facing the prospect of feeding their children from the food bank.

We are on the edge of a very, very big problem

We haven’t even got to the school summer holidays yet. We are on the edge of a very, very big problem.

I should also just touch on mental health. Whilst people with already diagnosed mental health conditions are largely coping OK (it was their normal anyway), huge numbers are being driven to turmoil by their sudden lack of employment, their total lack of opportunity and their near-complete lack of hope. The mental health services burst their banks long ago. GP surgeries can’t cope. The suicide rate is on an alarming rise. Yet it is the reliance on the charity sector that is fast becoming absolute. A whole other debate, but it ties in irrefutably and needs to be out there.

We don’t have any answers, but we do have amazing and resilient communities

So what are we doing? We have amazing schemes such as The Hive who are pioneering feeding people from literally nothing other than waste food. On just one afternoon last week they distributed 10,800 preprepared, packed and frozen meals to a charity in Newquay alone. This doesn’t even tie in with the food banks and their struggle to keep up supply.

Perhaps our biggest problem is that we don’t know what we are planning for, or when. The daily increase in demand is stressing our systems already and yet it keeps on growing. We don’t have any answers, but we do have amazing and resilient communities. However huge the problem, local mutual aid, kindness and support will get us through – but at what cost? Right now, no one can predict that.


Andrew Howell, End Hunger Cornwall
endhungercornwall@gmail.com

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Gathering on the Margins – 9 June

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield Update, June 2020

Viral Song

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

A report from our 21 May online discussions on what it means to be church on the margins during the pandemic.

Opening reflection by Anna Rowlands

What are we learning about what it means to be human (in all of its complexity)?

  • Coronavirus brought back commonality? How we experience the situation is different, but we have a shared public life again.
  • We already have being human in common, but we put other things in its place, e.g. TV, sport, etc.
  • We’re also learning what we don’t have in common, the level of privilege we bring into this situation.
  • How could the church misbehave well in public? To protest against unjust structures.  
  • How could church identify with those who have be made to feel lesser, not enough?
  • The lockdown situation has intensified emotions (up and down).
  • Missing human contact, being able to give someone a hug.
  • We take our freedom for granted. People in prisons are locked down permanently.
  • Some people feel cared for now (previously they felt forgotten). Some people are worried about being forgotten again once lockdown ends.

How do we create a genuinely shared world? (What is the Christian contribution to this?)

  • We will have to live in both spheres (in person and online).
  • Ideals and aspirations for going forward at the beginning of lockdown are already being lost.
  • We need to stay open to a multiplicity of voices within the church.
  • We must open our ears and hearts.
  • Church often acts like it has all the answers, we should humble ourselves.
  • We need to be alongside others beyond the walls of church. We can learn a lot from others / people on the margins.
  • We still need to help people to shield, people are already forgetting this as things begin to open up.
  • The origins of the word idiot – someone who thought they could survive on their own.
  • Churches asking ‘how do we survive this?’ – the wrong question to be asking.
  • The Church has to go public – faith in public life.
  • The model of church needs to change from having a ‘gatekeeper’ to ‘priesthood for all’.
  • Share our work and our journeys with each other, especially people doing the same work in different parts of the country.
  • Smaller churches have seemed better connected and equipped for true engagement and connection.
Research and Information Officer

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Nick Waterfield, who manages a food bank in Sheffield's Parson Cross, reviews this new book by Charles Roding Pemberton (published by SCM Press).

Having been involved in food banks in Sheffield for 10 years, I always approach each new book, article or blog about them with a mix of both excited anticipation and concern. Excitement that the book might just offer me a new and refreshed insight, a new way forward, or – better still – a way out. Concern because too many of the stories reopen shared frustrations, disappointments, trauma and sadness for the lives of all those caught up in the food bank tide.

Justice for those on the margins of the neoliberal global model requires a Christian response that includes our personal and collective responses to both civic society and to God

This book is firstly theological; it is also unashamedly political and personal, as it argues these elements cannot and should not be falsely separated. Justice for those on the margins of the neoliberal global model requires a Christian response that includes our personal and collective responses to both civic society and to God. Although the title suggests a ‘Broken Britain’, the book itself reflects more widely upon a ‘broken’ world, or more accurately global system, dominated by neoliberal cultural norms and policy – a world where the pursuit of a particular kind of capitalism has taken root and changed human relations to society, towards each other, to creation and arguably to God.

Pemberton shares those all-too-familiar stories of food bank Britain with an honesty and humanity, spoken from his experience of County Durham Foodbank, a Trussell Trust food bank where he has been a volunteer. They display the humanity and the contradictions that many of us who are involved in foodbanks will recognise only too easily.

There is certainly no shortage of food involved in the issue of food insecurity

The book ties the international growth in food banks to the spread of neoliberal economics and culture, but importantly it argues that food banks occupy “contradictory spaces” facing both into and away from neoliberal ideology. It points out the international growth in food banks since the 1980s and 90s; it also tracks the corporate links within that international trail, with the likes of Walmart, Kellogs, Unilever, Coca Cola and Pepsico all playing their part. The book looks at the food industry as a whole, from production (in fact overproduction) to retail and all points of food waste in between, and points out how there is certainly no shortage of food involved in the issue of food insecurity.

At heart the book is a thorough theological and political reflection of food banks and the reason for them, and it offers up some genuine and thoughtful challenges to all of us, but especially those involved in the issues of food insecurity, poverty and marginalisation. 

To what extent can food banks legitimately see themselves as eucharistic?

The book asks searching theological questions of the Christian community around food banks, questions that I know from personal experience many of us have been asking of ourselves for some time. Perhaps the biggest question it poses to Christians and churches involved in food banks is: to what extent can food banks legitimately see themselves as eucharistic?

The book invites us to each reassess how we see food, and to place it at the heart of our living faith

The book also invites us to each reassess how we see food, and to place it at the heart of our living faith. It challenges us to reconsider our consumption patterns around food, especially meat and dairy, and invites us to think about how through our actions we can make changes to our food production patterns to favour both planet and people. It offers for consideration policies such as UBI (Universal Basic Income) as a possible basis for a new Christian social justice policy approach, and suggests an alternative vision for reoccupying a space beyond neoliberalism, looking at land use, community allotments and growing spaces, and the development of a ‘land activist church’.

Pemberton has crafted a book that is scholarly but not dry and academic; it also feels deeply personal and heartfelt. As if to exemplify this, it contains small sketches (presumably by the author) which sometimes have little artistic merit or justification but offer, to me at least, a genuine sense of the personal reflection contained in the book. Each chapter is packed with references to other writings and pieces of research into food banks and the nature of poverty under neoliberal culture from the UK and overseas, as well as personal references to popular culture from The Life of Brian and the Terminator films to Bob Dylan.

If I were to find any faults in the book they would be minor. Pemberton’s experiences and examples of food banks are perhaps too tied to the Trussell Trust model of which he has been a part, with only passing reference to independent food bank responses that may (in some cases at least) present more of the qualities he rightly challenges for: open access without a ‘voucher system’ of referral, participation from those who also rely on food banks, and more. It also focuses on a very Anglican model of church, again this is to be understood as being from his own experience and tradition. Neither of these in my opinion detract from his central arguments, or in any way devalue the book.

If you’ve ever asked questions about what role the Church has within the food bank movement, this book is a good place to begin. On picking it up (as I said at the start) I’d hoped for refreshed insight, a new way forward or better still a way out. Maybe it’s unrealistic to expect one book to do all that – but at least this one is a start.

Parson Cross Initiative

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

Running a Good Society conversation

Something to wonder at and ponder on….

Gathering on the Margins – 23 June

1 city, 8 tales: sudden poverty & an outpouring of goodwill

Be in my Bubble

Gathering on the Margins – 16 June

Gathering on the Margins – 9 June

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield Update, June 2020

Viral Song

Dozens join e-choir for rendition of a Disney classic

New songs for a strange land

Way Maker

A report from End Hunger Cornwall

Report from a conference held in October 2019, highlighting the impact of food poverty and food insecurity throughout Cornwall. 

Running a Good Society conversation

Viral Song

You Can’t Eat the View