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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

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

Invisible Divides

The compassion in these neighbourhood pantries is fantastic!

Making the Economy work for Everyone

SPARK newsletter summer 2022

Cost of living crisis: 6 useful church responses

Church at the Edge: Young, woke and Christian

Vacancy: Events and Digital Communications Facilitator

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

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

What is the Right To Food?

Hope story: a united stand against hunger

How we ensure struggles are not ignored

What does the cost of living crisis mean for people in poverty?

Holding the church to account

On the road: recalling the time we took a bus all round Britain

SPARK newsletter winter 2021–22

6 ways we can build dignity, agency & power amid the cost of living crisis

Hope story 1: tenacity and change in Salford

12 stories of hope for 2022 – and immediate actions you can take

How Thrive took control of the agenda in 2021

Annual review 2020–21

Church at the Edge: Young, woke and Christian

Vacancy: Events and Digital Communications Facilitator

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

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

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

Invisible Divides

The compassion in these neighbourhood pantries is fantastic!

Making the Economy work for Everyone

SPARK newsletter summer 2022

Cost of living crisis: 6 useful church responses

Church at the Edge: Young, woke and Christian

Vacancy: Events and Digital Communications Facilitator

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis

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

What is the Right To Food?

Hope story: a united stand against hunger

How we ensure struggles are not ignored

What does the cost of living crisis mean for people in poverty?

Holding the church to account

On the road: recalling the time we took a bus all round Britain

SPARK newsletter winter 2021–22

6 ways we can build dignity, agency & power amid the cost of living crisis

Hope story 1: tenacity and change in Salford

12 stories of hope for 2022 – and immediate actions you can take

How Thrive took control of the agenda in 2021

Annual review 2020–21

Church at the Edge: Young, woke and Christian

Vacancy: Events and Digital Communications Facilitator

“When do we riot?” The impact of the cost of living crisis