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Our Director Niall Cooper reflects on a year spent listening to and celebrating forgotten places and people.

In 2022 we wanted to contribute to the task of community renewal as we start to move beyond the impacts of Covid-19, and to celebrate Church Action on Poverty’s 40th anniversary. We spent listening to and amplifying the truths revealed by people and communities on the margins of British society, sharing their vision of the kind of future they want to see for themselves and the neighbourhoods, and standing in solidarity with them in speaking truth to power about the wider changes that are needed to help bring this about.

The Pilgrimage on the Margins sought to reimagine what pilgrimage means in 2022. For most people pilgrimage is associated with remote, rural, ancient or ‘thin’ places (Iona, Lindisfarne, etc). Whilst these very much have their place, they do not help with the task of discovering holiness, transformation or encountering God in more modern, urban, everyday environments. If we journey to and with forgotten or economically marginalised communities, can they also become sites of pilgrimage, encounter, hope and transformation? 

In total, eight Pilgrimage events took place, including six events in forgotten or marginalised communities in different locations across the UK.  These included Wythenshawe (Greater Manchester), Peckham (London), Lewes (East Sussex), Newquay (Cornwall), Sheffield, and Edinburgh. Each visit was hosted by a local partner church or community organisation.  In addition, a group of 20 people participated in a Pilgrimage on the Margins week at Iona Abbey in July, and a variation of the Pilgrimage took place as part of the Greenbelt Festival in August.

In each Pilgrimage, local people, community, faith and civic leaders, Church Action on Poverty partners and supporters spent time together, listening and reflecting together on their stories, truths, dreams and aspirations. Across the year, over 200 people have spent time listening to and building relationships in places and with people with whom they would not normally spend time.

Whilst it is impossible to recreate the unique experience of each local Pilgrimage, we have collected some of the wisdom generated, through words, poetry, paint, photography and video, to share these more widely, as part of Church Action on Poverty’s wider national communications to mark the Pilgrimage throughout the year.

Along the way, we have had some wonderful moments and conversations, as people have listened to and amplified the truths revealed by people and communities on the margins of British society.

Keeping hope local

People have been sharing their visions of the kind of future they want for themselves and their neighbourhoods, and describing the changes needed to help bring this about. Together, we have been exploring the question: “What can we do together to help bring these dreams into reality?”

At all the locations, people have written their hopes on paper leaves and hung them on trees, and laid down stones representing burdens.  A short video giving the flavour of the event in Wythenshawe is here:

Revd Kate Gray, from the Dandelion Community who hosted the Wythenshawe Pilgrimage, said:

“There are big powers, big ideas and big things to resist, but the ways to act on hope are local.”

Bringing hope back into the food system

In Peckham, we visited three churches in the community, meeting different people and reflecting on the stations of the cross, and also visited the Local Pantry, to learn how its members are strengthening community and bringing dignity and hope back into the food system.

In Lewes, we joined a meeting of the Emergency Food Network discussing many of the challenges food banks are facing, but also the enthusiasm the local community has to get involved. Watch a short video here:

In Cornwall, people visited Newquay Community Orchard, which brings people together and is a hub for community, friendship, opportunities and access to good food:

Exploring dignity, agency and power through words, poetry, painting and music

The programme on Iona explored the themes of dignity, agency and power, through storytelling, space for reflection together in small groups, and through creativity, writing, prayers and poetry.  These themes have emerged from Church Action on Poverty’s work with people struggling against poverty over many years. 

Wayne Green, a long-standing Church Action on Poverty activist for more than 25 years, who spoke at our first National Poverty Hearing in 1996, performed this remarkable saxophone solo meditation on his years of activism in Iona Abbey:

The poems below are based entirely on participants’ own words recorded on Iona and at other Pilgrimage on the Margins events during the year.

Dignity is…

Dignity is…
Hospitality
Welcome
Acceptance
Empowerment
Equality
Community and belonging
Feeling part of something
Crossing over borders

Dignity is…

Most of the time I have been tret with respect – I only become aware of it when I wasn’t tret well.

As a white middle-class man I can’t think of a time when I was not treated with respect.

Someone finding a room in a hostel and making sure you’re OK

Dignity is…  moving into a new sheltered flat, people were very caring about what I wanted – far beyond what I was expecting. I didn’t have to ask twice.

Dignity is being with other marginalised people, support in our estate – you can go to someone’s house with no food and you’ll leave with the food.

Dignity is…
Time
Empathy
Solidarity
Mutual blessing
Being with people in their lives
Conversations
Listening

Feeling listened to and respected within our church community.

Dignity is… Since I arrived here on Iona: the fellowship and friendship.  I know I’ll get the love and support.  It’s a long time since I’ve felt that and such a contrast with how things are at home.

Dignity is…

Being listened to
Being accepted
Being treated well even when they don’t know who you are.

A safe place – to be OK.

Lack of respect

Lack of respect is…. 

Arrogance
Fear
Surveillance
Authority figures
Financial exile
Uncaring
Othering
Abuse of power

Lack of respect is…. 

Disrespectful GP not looking at me, looking at the screen.
People demanding things their way, with control and power
Not having issues you raise taken seriously
Criminal justice system – corruption

Lack of respect is…. 

Misguided Christianity
Traditional churches’ judgement – ‘you are a sinner’
‘You will go to hell’

Lack of respect is…. 

Not made welcome in a meeting
Wording in forms
Being asked inappropriate questions or intrusive questions
No one ultimately taking responsibility for giving a proper answer.

Being laughed at
Being hated as a woman
My experience of racism from an early age.

Lack of respect is…. 

Lack of manners
Not asking
Done to you not with or for you
Hierarchy
The class system
When standing up and trying to make change – facing resistance

Lack of respect is…. 

When children aren’t treated with dignity and respect it kills you as a parent. No nine-year-old should have to get her sister breakfast because I’m too ill with stress as a result of the situation.

No safety net for those in poverty;
Being tret like a number.
Being told employment will be terminated at one week’s notice by your new boss. This is the work experience of so many.

The amount of times I’ve been told it was my fault.

You fall and you fall hard. 

A vision of dignity for all

Dignity for all is…

More listening than speaking and being present
Safe to share stories, seek help and make mistakes
People don’t have to be perfect
People know that they are working for each other
We need one another

Dignity for all is…

Knowing and acknowledging our vulnerabilities
Where everyone moves towards the fullness of life.
Where everyone experiences acceptance and fulfilment
Where everyone’s potential is recognised and valued for the common good .. for all

Dignity for all is…

Universal basic income
Decent housing, fair rent
Acceptance of diversity
No judgement

Dignity for all is…

Everyone can live rather than just survive
Everyone is treated fairly and equally, has differences valued
Everyone can contribute to and benefit from community
Given the opportunity to play a part

Dignity for all is…

Self-worth and a sense of purpose
People who are chronically ill have their contribution recognised
Being seen for who you are, how it affects me as an individual, not a number.
Challenging our understanding of who is powerful

Dignity for all is…

Learning from the wisdom of previous generation and the insights of scripture.
Life experience is valued, not just education
Living with friction, it’s not necessarily lacking in conflict.
A willingness to learn and to let go of our own visions
A willingness to acknowledge, to have self-awareness, give and create space.
Everyone has a say, respects each other, has enough

Dignity for all is…

Glory to God in the High Street

Dignity for all is…

Amazing

Agency

Agency is…

Freedom
Aspiration
Trust
Risk

Agency is…

Pushing the envelope
Imagination of possibilities
Opening and broadening opportunities
Opening a space for agency to take place
Degrees of…

Agency is… Hosting a Ukranian family
Agency is… Peace building
Agency is… Retiring 18 months ago
Agency is… Making a difference on the helpline that I work on and deciding not to retire
Agency is… Leaving a job that doesn’t care

In my personal life I’ve always had agency: have never had a problem doing what I felt I needed to

Some people struggle to obtain agency for themselves
When you are poor you can’t afford to take risks and taking risks involves stepping outside your own understanding
Difficulty ending an abusive relationship
Mislead and betrayed
Crossing thresholds is quite hard
No one likes being told what to do

Agency is…  Being able to see physical signs of something good happening

Agency is…  what I do for Christians Against Poverty; in sharing my story to the media; in being tough with them where necessary

Agency is… Sharing my story with the Big Issue, in wanting to give something back, to keep my voice as loud as I can.

Agency is… If I can just change one person’s life through what I say, I will have made the difference I need to make.

A child was murdered in our area and we started a listening project; everybody baked and ate cake, laughed, knitted, sewed because it was too awful outside

Agency is… In providing loving non-judgemental help with money, debt, life skills

Volunteering, work, uni, family – I could choose, I’m going to do what I like, going to choose something I enjoy, fulfilling my need and their need

Agency is…

Just starting something from scratch
Realising you have options you never thought about
Taking risks and when it is safe – going to church took me 10 years to join
Being able to listen to others who need to be heard
Working out what you want and not just waiting to be told

Agency is…

Just starting something from scratch
Through community
Different churches working together, social improvements
Not trying to be the Messiah/Knight in shining armour
Sometimes you ‘happen to be’ in the right place at the right time

Agency is…

Working out what the real priorities are
Working out what would make life better and asking for it
Using knowledge and experience for positive change

Agency is…

Trust in the Lord and go for it.

When we come together

When we come together we are able to…

Challenge authority
Challenge injustice
Challenge power structures
Create a space for dialogue, where everyone’s voice is heard

Make real changes for the benefit of all
Gain understanding and clarity
Pool resources to make a difference
Some people are big names, others are more effective
Get people to listen who wouldn’t listen to us alone
Do God’s work: Where two or more come together…

When we come together we are able to…

Make a difference
Lift a heavy burden
Achieve our goals
Have a knock-on effect

Challenge a culture of greed
Change politics and policies
Change the political system

Stop the traffic
Stop wearing out the planet
Finish a jigsaw

We can change the world… even if it takes a lifetime – and longer
It takes many people’s lifetimes

In a world of hi-tech we can make change quicker
Mobilise the power of social media to mobilise different people
Ensure the little person is not overlooked
Realise we’re not alone 

When we come together we are able to…

Build our own strengths, in order to help others
Practice trust, then encourage others

Listen without judgement
Learn something we didn’t know
Change our minds

Comfort one another
Celebrate one another
Encourage one another
Believe in each other
Realise we’re loud!

Say enough is enough

A prayer for hope

Hope is…
Compassion
Fairness
Trust

Hope is… working together for a positive outcome for everyone and a fairer world

Hope is… sharing what we have gives hope.

My hope is for equality. Equality of resources, of education, of opportunity and equality of wealth.

I hope we can begin to break down the barriers between communities here in Lewes – that this can be a conversation which involves everyone, not just those with power and influence

Newquay Community Orchard gives me hope!  Trees rather than Tesco!
People of Peckham bring me hope and inspiration
Everyone’s commitment, love and dedication gives me hope

My hope is found in the individuals that tirelessly volunteer and serve those that are struggling.

My hope lies in the building of communities who help each other in times of need and join in the celebrating and the mourning and that peace shall reign and fear is no more.

My hope is in the alternative kingdom/world that Jesus shows is possible

I hope that the church rediscovers its place in society as the place of welcome, hospitality, care and inclusion.

Hope is… Where race, gender and current divides are removed and we all live in equality

Hope is… for a Government that cares.

Hope is… The youth challenging the current system through social movements

Hope is… I just want everyone to have the ability to be happy!

Hope is… Community coming together in times of crisis

Hope is… Events like today, meeting good people who care.

I dream of a country where everyone has a right to a dignified life and enough money to live on!

The Food Strategy for Cornwall gives me hope!

Hope is… Many opportunities to serve, show kindness and hope

Hope is… sharing skills, knowledge and understanding of the world from different perspectives.

Hope is… Sharing stories. Shared hope, spreading more love.

Hope is… Sharing food and stories, laughter and hope. 

Hope is… Making connection.

Hope is… No more visits from the bailiffs! A real, practical difference.

Hope is… Good news to the poor, sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed, love, laughter and light.

I hope there will come a time that people will have enough that food banks will not be needed and that ‘greed’ will be a thing of the past.

Father God, you reign over all and hear the prayers of your children. May you cover us in peace, bring us to a place where we can stand and lead the fight against injustice that all may dwell in security, joy and peace.

Amen

We want the power

Power is …
Being able to make a difference
Being listened to and heard
Working together
Gaining support
Responsibility
Care and protection of others

Power is…
Virtue, solidarity, persistence
Advocacy, knowledge, resistance
Challenging injustice
Feeling uncomfortable

Power is…
In relationships
Its easier to feel powerful when working with others
Being involved in little changes
Not just sitting on your hands and not using the power you have
Making yourself redundant

Power is…
Debilitating, diminishing, stuck and inadequate
Corruption, oppression, debt and war
Being victims of… Media, money, institutions
Being forced out of a job
Being caught in the system
Following their system and their ways
Time you waste, thoughts you waste
Knowing where your breaking point is

Its OK to be angry, and to want power
There should be a solution to this
With great power comes great responsibility
We are scared of being responsible and accountable
We’re afraid of it because we might abuse it

What would Jesus do?

You have the power
Share the power
It’s OK to make mistakes
Nothing about us without us is for us

We want the power to…
Reveal the truth
Enable parents to be fulfilled and protect their children
End child poverty in Guildford
End poverty
Fight valiantly under the banner of Christ, against sin, the world and the devil
Fight those who deny the right to food, the right to life
Bring about changes at local level
Disarm the unreasonable with reason
Get a foot in the door
Win the battles we choose to fight

We want the power to…
Modernise politics, decentralise power and the media
Rejuvenate the Palace of Westminster
Move Parliament to Manchester/Birmingham
Make sure benefits are reviewed on today’s inflation, not last year’s inflation

We want the power to…
Challenge shareholders getting huge dividends
Cut the costs of utilities
Prevent the cost of living crisis pushing people further into debt, hardship and suicidal thoughts
Access and talk to a human being who can actually help

We want the power to…
Give it away

Be part of a movement that’s reclaiming dignity, agency and power

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

Transforming the Jericho Road

Partner focus: Meet Community One Stop in Edinburgh

Thank you Pat! 40 years of compassionate action

Halifax voices: on housing, hope and scandalous costs

The UK doesn’t want demonising rhetoric – it wants to end poverty

Come together with us to strengthen the movement to end UK poverty. An event led by the real experts – people with experience of poverty.

Saturday 10 June 2023
10am-4pm
Gateway Church, central Leeds

At this day-long conference, we’ll come together to build new relationships, listen and learn from each other about how we can end poverty in the UK. Then, we’ll plan how we can take action together to reclaim dignity, agency and power.

Our aim is to particularly build links between activists who are based in churches and other organisations and campaigners with lived experience of poverty. By working together, we can do so much more to move towards a UK where everyone can thrive.

Join us for panel discussions, workshops and networking. The conference is being planned and promoted by the APLE CollectiveChurch Action on Poverty, and the Joint Public Issues Team. Many other partners will present workshops and lead discussions.

Draft programme (details to be confirmed)

10am Refreshments, arrivals

10:30 Icebreakers

10:45 Opening presentation: Why dignity matters

11:45 Themed panel discussions:

    • food & dignity
    • agency & participation
    • power & making change

12:45 Lunch

13:45 Workshops and discussion groups

14:45 Closing presentation: taking action and growing a movement 

16:00 Finish

Book your place below – free spaces are available, just select the appropriate option when booking.

Be part of a movement that’s reclaiming dignity, agency and power

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

Transforming the Jericho Road

Partner focus: Meet Community One Stop in Edinburgh

Thank you Pat! 40 years of compassionate action

Halifax voices: on housing, hope and scandalous costs

The UK doesn’t want demonising rhetoric – it wants to end poverty

Dignity Agency Power

A reflection on Isaiah 1:12-20 by Hazel Palmer

Dignity Agency Power

What does the Bible have to say about the value of people – especially when they’re in poverty? Those who are poor and vulnerable are routinely dismissed by our media and politicians as worthless. So how does the Bible speak into a world like this?

Isaiah’s words show us. In his time, obviously our economic and benefit systems didn’t exist. But we can learn from what he says because God’s nature is still the same. And so, sadly, is ours. And one of the results is the gap between rich and poor.

These verses start by describing how the people in Judah and Jerusalem were keeping the religious services, following the prescribed pattern. They felt they were offering God what he was worth.  It seemed fine to them, so it must have been fine with him, right?

Wrong. The Lord’s verdict shocked them. To him, their worship was meaningless and detestable – the word evil is even used. We, too, may be shocked by God’s response, but let’s remember it was not a final condemnation. He was only taking them to task so they would change things for the better.

You could assume the problem with their worship was insincerity, but the passage doesn’t point to this. In Isaiah for Everyone, John Goldingay, an Old Testament commentator, says the believers looked “as if they meant every hallelujah”.  So what was it that God objected to so much?

It was their behaviour outside the services. They had not righted a great wrong (verse 15) and therefore had blood on their hands. The blood of the poor.

The Message version of the Bible expresses God’s anger like this (verse 17):

“Meetings for this, meetings for that. I hate them! You’ve worn me out! I’m sick of your religion, religion, religion, while you go right on sinning.”

We’re told the problem was about justice (verse 17). John Goldingay defines this Old Testament word as authorities (governments) “taking decisions … on behalf of people in need and of people wronged by others.” At the time, people in power had thrown many poor widows off land they were entitled to. Instead, they awarded it to others who “joined field to field” (5:8): enlarging their property by snatching what belonged to the poor. They treated widows and their children as if they were worthless; in effect, starving them.

God calls this by its name: oppression (1:17).

So rich people were robbing the poor and vulnerable, while those who weren’t affected did nothing. Sound familiar? God’s worshippers needed to see that justice was done.

Note that charity was not in the picture.

Elsewhere in the Bible – for example, Deuteronomy 15:7,8 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 – God commands charitable giving. But not in Isaiah 1. That’s because what was needed was to solve the problem at root: the authorities’ decisions going against the poor. In our day, food banks are sadly necessary and everyone is grateful to staff and donors. But do they put right the basic issue?

No – charity only deals with the effects of injustice. It’s also often piecemeal and can be reduced or withdrawn. Instead, vulnerable people need a reliable system with justice and dignity.

This passage seems like bad news for Christian worshippers. It says if we aren’t calling for justice for poor people, we can recite the prayer book till we’re hoarse; God doesn’t listen.  And if we don’t work to stop oppression, we can sing praise till the roof comes off.  Even though we mean it, it’s unacceptable to God.

Thankfully, God is gracious: he shows us undeserved favour.  Isaiah told the people of Jerusalem to, “learn to do right” (verse 17). If they did, God would forgive their collective failure to love those in need (verse 18): “…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…”  Scarlet dye was otherwise permanent.

And they didn’t need to fear being in want. Perhaps they were afraid of precisely this. If believers pursued justice for the poor, they were reassured that, “…you will eat the best from the land” (verse 19b). Everyone would prosper together.

This means a letter to your MP about UK hungry children or a decision to join an anti-poverty campaign could be a spiritual game-changer.

So to answer our original question: what are human beings in poverty worth? The answer is that their importance could hardly be greater. God himself stands alongside the poor who suffer oppression.  If we insult them by denying them justice, it amounts to insulting God by offering him worship he can’t accept.

That’s how much a person in poverty is worth.

(Bible quotations are from the New International Version, unless stated otherwise.)


You can find more prayers and reflections by Hazel and over 40 other authors in the anthology Dignity, Agency, Power, published by Wild Goose Publications to mark 40 years of Church Action on Poverty.

Be part of a movement that’s reclaiming dignity, agency and power

Merseyside Pantries reach big milestone

Transforming the Jericho Road

Partner focus: Meet Community One Stop in Edinburgh

Thank you Pat! 40 years of compassionate action

Halifax voices: on housing, hope and scandalous costs

The UK doesn’t want demonising rhetoric – it wants to end poverty

Sheffield Civic Breakfast: leaders told about mounting pressures of poverty

Artists perform for change in Manchester

Church Action on Poverty in Sheffield: annual report 2023-24

SPARK newsletter summer 2024

Church on the Margins reports

Church Action on Poverty North East annual report 2022-24

A report from the conference and pilgrimage organised by our local group in Sheffield in October 2022

The event combined the group’s annual Pilgrimage with a conference and other activities to mark Church Action on Poverty’s 40th anniversary.

Church on the Margins reports

Church Action on Poverty North East annual report 2022-24

A sermon for Church Action on Poverty Sunday