Different light: a sermon for Church Action on Poverty Sunday

Church Action on Poverty Sunday 2019 logo
Our Director Niall Cooper recently shared this sermon on a visit to a church in Birmingham. We invite you to draw from it if you are preaching on Church Action on Poverty Sunday, 3 March 2019.

The message of the gospel is this:  All people are of intrinsic worth. In God’s sight all people are of equal value; in fact the Bible is even stronger: all people are made in the image and likeness of God.
God’s vision is for a world in which…
All people are able to share in the abundance of creation.
All people are able to exercise their God given talents.
All people are able to enjoy life in all its fullness.
Not just the wealthy; not just the middle classes; not just those with university degrees or good jobs; not just those with good pensions, not just those who have ‘done well.’
God’s vision is much more radical than this.
In the words of Jesus’ Nazareth manifesto  as told in Luke 4:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed me
To  preach the gospel to the poor;  He has sent Me to heal the broken hearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.

And woe betide anyone who would seek to spiritualise this message.
As Martin Luther King once said:

“The gospel at its best deals with the whole person, not only their soul but also their body, not only their spiritual well-being, but also their material well-being. Any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of people and is not concerned about the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.”

At Church Action on Poverty this is our driving  vision.
To uphold the human dignity of all people.
To work towards a society in which all people are treated with decency and the same level of respect, whether they are the chief executive, the office cleaner or the homeless person sleeping in the office doorway.
To realise a vision of a UK in which everyone has access to good food and no one need go to bed hungry.
Everyone is equal in the sight of God. Yet we live in a country where poverty and hunger persists.
The growth of poverty and hunger in the UK is a scandal. In the sixth richest country in the world it need not be like this. It robs people of their dignity.  Together we have the power to transform this situation.
Churches have been tremendous at stepping up to the plate in recent years.  Opening foodbanks and community kitchens, donating surplus food, providing volunteers.  According to a recent survey, more than four out of five churches have supported food banks in one way or another.
Food banks are a crisis response, but not a long-term solution.

“Food handouts must not be a long-term response to the problem of food poverty and hunger in the sixth wealthiest nation on the planet. Even in the so-called ‘developing world’, mass feeding programmes and food aid are only ever seen as a short-term emergency response. The test of the Government is not whether it is effective at enabling its citizens to be fed with surplus food handouts, but whether it has reduced the need for people to turn to food handouts in the first place.”
Right Revd Tim Thornton, Bishop at Lambeth

Building a society in which everyone has access to good food and no one needs to go to bed hungry is not just the responsibility of Government. It is ours too.
Together we must forge a powerful movement to bring this vision into being.
Our voices and actions are stronger together. And with your help, we can make an even bigger difference.

Ending UK hunger together

In recent years we have made some progress.  Through the End Hunger UK campaign we are now working with more than 20 other national churches and charities, to start to forge a powerful collective voice.  And there is so much more still to do.
Over the next five years, with our supporters and partners we aim:
Firstly, to develop a network of at least 50 member-run Local Pantries, to enable people in communities across the UK to access good quality affordable food on a regular basis and to reduce people’s reliance on food banks.
Whereas foodbanks offer a handout, local pantries offer something much more dignified.
As one member of a Pantry in Stockport said earlier in the year:

“With the food bank I feel like I’m lowing myself. I’d rather go without food. And it’s local, so people I know are there… The Pantry feels different because you have paid and you are making a choice on the food you take home.”

I’d like to share stories of two Pantry members to illustrate the difference being a member of a Local Pantry can make:

Kevin’s story

Kevin joined the Pantry a year ago, and he says it has transformed his life.
Before joining, Kevin, aged 25, was living off ready meals, “no fruit, no veg, nothing like that”.
He was sometimes only eating one meal a day. Suffering from depression, Kevin spent most of his day indoors on his computer.
Since joining, Kevin says he has become healthier. He is eating a wider variety of food including protein, fruit and vegetables. Kevin now eats three meals a day. He also makes his own food, including soups and smoothies.
On Employment Support Allowance, Kevin’s finances are tight. However, since joining the Pantry he now has more money to spend on other necessities, such as clothes. He is also now able to save.
Being a member of the Pantry has had unexpected benefits. At the Pantry, Kevin has made new friends, across the generations. He now feels part of a community. Kevin met another member who has depression. Sharing their stories encouraged Kevin to tackle his illness and get out of the house. Alongside his weekly Pantry visits Kevin now spends time at the gym – attributing his new-found confidence to becoming a member of the Pantry.
Then there’s Audrey’s story
Audrey is 64 and lives alone. Before receiving state pension, she was struggling on Jobseeker’s Allowance. Before joining her local Pantry, Audrey would often have only one full, hot meal per week. Audrey was reliant on weekly visits to her daughter’s house “to feed me up; and it got to a point where I thought ‘I can’t carry on like this.”
Becoming a member enabled Audrey to have “at least two or three proper hot, nourishing meals” a week. Being a member of the Pantry has also impacted Audrey’s social life. She has made new friends and now feels part of an “amazing community” who look out for each other – walking each other to their gates on winter nights.
Audrey describes the Pantry as the “heart of the community”; for her “it is more than a full tummy, it’s a massive link in the community.”
And secondly over the next few years we aim to build a powerful national campaign to call on Government to ‘step up to the plate’ and play its role in Ending Hunger in the UK.
The new Universal Credit is now being rolled out to millions across the UK. Unemployed people. Families with children. People working on low incomes. People who are unable to work due to a disability or illness. There are many concerns about this new reform to the benefits system – particularly the six-week wait before you can access your first payment.
As Adam who has used the Salford Foodbank told Church Action on Poverty:
“Before Universal Credit, I just owed a few people, but nothing much. Then Universal Credit came in and changed it. There are a lot of people suffering. On my estate, there are a lot of people really struggling. Everybody is in some bother, it’s hard work..”
Thousands are at genuine risk of hunger and destitution, and the crunch will come for many people over the coming months as the Government plans to shift tens of thousands of people onto Universal Credit every month.
As part of the End Hunger UK coalition, Church Action on Poverty has joined other voices from all sections of society in calling for action to tackle the root causes of hunger, and more specifically, action by Government to ‘fix’ Universal Credit.
If you share our vision of a UK where everybody has access to good food and nobody has to go to bed hungry, you can make a difference.
Your support can help to build the movement that is needed to end hunger in the UK.