An ideal to pursue

Church Action on Poverty 25th Anniversary address by CAP's Chairperson Lewis Rose, Manchester Cathedral, 13 July 2007

Since time began poverty and the poor have always been with us and society has been looking at ways to support the poor and get rid of poverty but sadly these two things are still around.

Little did those who started Church Action on Poverty ever dream that she would still be around today giving those in poverty a voice and knocking at the doors of the powerful challenging them to do something about it.

The writers of our two readings (Deuteronomy 15: 1-11 and James 2: 1-9) are from different eras but their message is similar, get rid of debt, care for the poor, and it may be that sometime in the distant future that someone picks the CAP News or reads the internet which is more likely and will realise that what we are saying and doing today in 2007 is no different from what these two people were writing about thousands of years ago.��

James for instance was no urbane man of letters, this man was a simple, homespun preacher perturb at people who were not living right, he was like an Old Testament Prophet a Christian Amos, he went straight to the point, wouldn���t miss you and hit the wall and I am sure we can think of some of the people we have met who are like that.

James is not writing about how to become a Christian, but rather how to act like one. Having the correct beliefs about God will hardly suffice: even demons believe in God. Real, life-giving faith should produce motion, and James minces no words in describing the specific spiritual actions expected of Christians and I would say these would be the same for those of other faiths; he calls on people to be doers.

Which I think describes Church Action on Poverty well, always doing something, not sitting back on her laurels and expecting to have her ego massaged. In preparing to celebrate our twenty five years the archives have been trawled and it was great to have a look at some of them, one that jumped out at me was of our predecessors advocating for a minimum wage all these years ago, and there many others that we don���t have time to hear about, these men and women were the prophets of their day.

Are we the prophets of today?

Many people would say yes to that, as an organisation many people would have us in the terms of the football leagues in the lower divisions but in actual fact we are in the premier league up there with the Man United���s and Barcelona���s of this world and we are appreciated for that as we go about our business in a quiet and masterful way.

Which has been seen over the years in some of the campaigns we have been involved in, one that springs to mind is ���Debt on our Doorstep���. As I said at the beginning poverty and the poor have always been with us and it is this group in society who are more vulnerable for getting into debt, as we are well aware it is not only illegal money lenders but the legal providers of services who also charge some of the highest rates of interest. Would it not be good if what Deuteronomy advocates that every seven years all debts could be cancelled. But to be bluntly realistic in today���s world this will never happen because debt is a big business.

Here we are in this Cathedral sitting in the middle of one of the most exclusive shopping centres in Manchester, where some of the stores offer�� their own cards which charge extortionate rates of interest, I also�� heard recently that credit card companies have now reduced the minimum payment from 10% down to 5% which means that it will take longer to pay of your account and the credit company will get more in interest payments, once again it is the people who can only afford the minimum payment that will suffer.

It is one thing making a law enforcing the cancellation of debts at a specific time; it is quite impossible t to force our richer citizens to become members of organisations such as Credit Unions so the most vulnerable in our society can get loans and save some money, butt here are many people who do. As we note in this passage from Deuteronomy is a plea for generosity. And the basis for this is the covenant; the covenant which bound the Israelites together as the people of God. The Israelites therefore had moral obligations towards each other; and if additionally as a nation they fulfilled their obligations towards God, then they believed his blessing would eliminate poverty.

The elimination of poverty is of course an ideal and the point is that it is an ideal worth pursuing.

I recently overheard someone say that Church Action on Poverty was like a ship that sometimes sails on calm seas and at others is buffeted by the storms of life which reminded me of an experience that I had when I was at sea. Just imagine yourself standing on the deck of an ocean tug on a bleak, stormy night waiting to put to sea to carry out some trails work for the navy, when word comes down from the bridge to off load the trials gear and personnel as a salvage job had come in and make best possible speed to somewhere between Iceland and the Faroe Islands where a fleet tanker had lost her rudder and was at the mercy of the wind and waves.

We battered our way down the river Clyde, turned the corner and heading out and up the west coast of Scotland in storm force winds. Eventually we arrived at the position of the ship and I reckon the�� crew were glad to see us, our crew set to right away and attempted to get a line up working in seawater up to their waists, which they accomplished and�� we got under way heading for Rosyth�� with the ship in tow. Two other tugs had been deployed to assist us but they both ran into trouble due to the weather conditions and so we were left on our own.��

The drama wasn���t finished yet as we made our way down to Rosyth the ship that we were towing overtook us which made the whole operation extremely dangerous for everyone. But our skipper with good seamanship eventually got everything back in their rightful place with us once again doing the towing and arriving in Rosyth safe and sound. What this story demonstrates that to succeed and achieve a positive result is that teamwork is important, everyone of the tug from the junior seaman to the skipper played their part to get that ship and crew safely back to port and there were many others on shore who also played an important part in the task.

Therefore if we are to achieve our ideal of the elimination of poverty then we must work as a team and encourage more people to join us and as the Presiding Officer quoted the words of the author William Mcilvany ���We all move forward together or we don���t move forward at all��� That���s the future and the vision ����� A society where there is no poverty.

Lewis Rose, Church Action on Poverty Chair of Trustees

Church Action On Poverty, Unit 28 Sandpiper Court, Water’s Edge Business Park, Modwen Road, Salford M5 3EZ

Telephone 0161 872 9294 or email info@church-poverty.org.uk

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