Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

The headlines this week once again talked about Foodbanks. The recent dramatic rise in the number of them and the people using them has led the Trussell Trust (the organisation behind the largest group of them, including our own) to claim it is a “wake-up call to the nation”. They are concerned that much of this increase was before benefit changes in April which they fear could lead to more people using them than before. We have certainly seen an increase this month, although as yet it is hard to discern why that is.

Statistics released this week show a 170 per cent rise in numbers turning to church-led foodbanks in the last 12 months. The Trussell Trust report claims this is the biggest rise in numbers given emergency food since 2000. Almost 350,000 people have received at least three days emergency food from foodbanks during the last year, nearly 100,000 more than anticipated and close to triple the number helped in 2011-12. Broxbourne Foodbank has collected 16,847.2kg of food in total since it opened last summer, and has given away 10,535.5kg to 1,055 people (625 adults and 430 children). The majority of these are those struggling on low income or getting stuck in the benefit gap when there is a change in circumstances and the benefit system takes a number of weeks before it catches up.

Trussell Trust executive chairman Chris Mould says:

“The sheer volume of people who are turning to foodbanks because they can’t afford food is a wake-up call to the nation that we cannot ignore the hunger on our doorstep. Politicians across the political spectrum urgently need to recognise the real extent of UK food poverty and create fresh policies that better address its underlying causes. This is more important than ever as the impact of the biggest reforms to the welfare state since it began start to take effect. Since 1 April we have already seen increasing numbers of people in crisis being sent to foodbanks with nowhere else to go.”

Clearly all is not right here. Whilst it is exciting that the Foodbank is going well, the fact that we are so busy is concerning. Why is it that in our day and age so many people are struggling at such a basic level? Most are not ‘scroungers’ as some would have us believe, almost all struggle to overcome their embarrassment and come in for the first time. Inevitably the cry will go up, something must be done! To me, in the midst of this bad news story, there is good news. The good news is that it is the churches that have responded and have become a significant part of the answer at that point in need. Is the church irrelevant in today’s society? Many would say yes, but ask the thousand people we have fed in less than a year and I suspect they’ll have quite a different answer!

Church newsletter article, 28.04.13

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Review: Letters to a Future Church: Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals

Letters to a Future Church: Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals
Letters to a Future Church: Words of Encouragement and Prophetic Appeals by Chris Lewis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The concept of this book is a simple and potentially profound one. Based upon the seven letters from Christ to the Church in Revelation, the authors invited a range of people to write an ‘eighth letter’, what they prayerfully though God might be saying to the church today.

There is something very intimate about letter, especially a hand-written letter as opposed to a hastily typed email. The act of writing with a pen, personally, to someone you know and care about, is an act of self-giving, and the very existence of the letter communicates to the recipient that you communication with them was important enough for you to take the time to do it in this way. There is a level of vulnerability in writing a letter. In this age of electronic expression, it is rare to reveal our own handwriting to others.

I wanted to love this book. The idea behind it was one that intrigued me – in fact I’ve tried to encourage folk in our church to give it a go, aware that if a number of letters are received, it may be possible with care to discern trends in them through which God may be saying something to us. Of course all letters are written with a specific recipient in mind. What they have to say addresses them, speaks into their situation and into your relationship with them, whatever that might be. This is their power. It is also possibly for me the weakness of this book. These letters are addressed to the Church of North America. Whilst there are many similarities between England and the USA, both in general and in the church, there are also many differences. Inevitably these differences will lead to a different level of engagement between me and this letter and a North American Christian. On the whole, although I found many of the letters interesting, I didn’t find that they spoke directly to me or grabbed my imagination. I would love to know how my North American sisters and brothers find it.

This is not to say that there weren’t images and ideas here that challenged me. We have recently started a Foodbank and are providing those in crisis with food from our church. Peter Rollins’ letter (‘The Sin of Abstraction’) challenged me to not provide food for the hungry but to think about what I can do to change the situation so that people aren’t hungry in the first place. A number of letters, Shane Claiborne’s springs to mind (‘A Dozen (or So) Flags and Seven Piles of Poop’), reinforced the growing conviction that I have about the importance of developing relationships with the poor and needy, not just having a theology concerning their plight. Both Jesus’ teaching and lifestyle radically related to those in need and those who are rejected. It is very easy for us to acknowledge this from the pulpit, but another thing entirely to actually live it out. There were a few letters concerning the importance of embracing art and artists in the church. Too often we have preferred clear cut teaching to open ended imagination; a bizarre start of affairs when our founder spoke so playfully in parable, the prophets challenged in poetry and the heart of the Bible is a book of songs! I was reminded of a desire I have to allow creativity and art to be freed to express God and his Kingdom within and even without our church.

One final letter I want to mention, that by Nathan Colquhoun titled ‘On Self-Justification’. Like many other letters in this book, he talks about the gap between the life Jesus modelled and taught and the life that we lead and teach. He points out how we often attempt to close this gap through justifying the difference, explaining it away and finding approaches that can make us feel more at ease with it. He uses the example of Jesus instructing the Rich, Young, Ruler to go away and sell everything he has and give the money to the poor, and how we so frequently devise ways of working around this so that his instruction is not our command. Such self-justification enables us to live a lie without feeling guilty. Rather than using so much energy attempting to find peace through justifying our actions, Colquhoun suggests we would be far better off simply admitting and living with the difference between our beliefs and our actions. At first this sounds like an enormous cop out, but the truth is that we will never be able. Sure we should seek to, striving to be open to the Spirit’s guidance and enabling as we take on Jesus’ yoke (as in Aileen Van Ginkel’s letter ‘Real Rest’), but we will never be able to achieve this fully, just as we were unable to live out the Law of the Old Testament. That’s why Jesus had to come, as he and he alone could fulfil that Law, live out that life. The act of admitting that we are unable to, that we live a lie, leads in fact to liberation and a greater chance of being obedient, as being humble and admitting our frailty frees us to be open to the Spirit’s transforming power. In many way’s this letter is one of the most important in the book. Without it, such a collection could leave us feeling impotent and guilty. With it we are able to listen to the challenges contained within and aspire to them, without the worry of having to count our successes.

I’ve given this book 3 Stars (‘I liked it’ rating). I didn’t find it an unputdownable book (does such a word exist – it should do as such books certainly exist!) possibly as it doesn’t directly speak into my culture, both in general and in the church. That said, it was certainly worth reading and as my unusually long review demonstrates, it has provoked thought, helped and crystallised through writing this.

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Hunger Run – finished!

Just got back from finishing the Hunger Run! Managed with much encouragement, prayer and many cups of cold water, to get around all the churches, squeeze in numerous stops to speak and stills got back with a minute to go! Great to see so many people and to be reminded once again that despite our differences that we are one family. In case anyone is interested, the timings were:

10.30am – leave Wormley Free Church
St. Laurence CofE, Wormley – left 10.37am
URC, Broxbourne – left 10.53am
St Augustine’s CofE Broxbourne – left 10.56am
St Augustine’s RC, Hoddesdon – left 11.05am
St Catherine & St Paul’s CofE, Hoddesdon – left 11.11am
Hoddesdon Baptist – left 11.17am
Hoddesdon Methodist – left 11.18am
St. Cuthberts’s CofE, Hoddesdon – left 11.25am
Riverside Elim, Hoddesdon – left 11.32am
St. Augustine’s CofE, Broxbourne – passed by again at 11.49am!
Wormley Free Church  – 11.59am – finished with a minute to spare…

Now time for a long cold shower and a sit down.

It’s this Morning: The Hunger Run

Ok, so the morning of the run has come (see my last blog post for details). Woke nervous and excited! More churches have come forward asking if I can call in – it has become a real challenge to fit them all in and get back by 12 noon. Not sure if I can do it, but will give it my best shot. Clear blue skies; it’s going to be dry and hot. Definitely need to take plenty of water. Butterflies in the stomach as I type. Going to be a good day.

Broxbourne Foodbank

Our church is a committed member of the borough’s new foodbank, a scheme through which food is collected by the local community and given to those in need. Once we’ve collected 2 tonnes we shall start distributing from our church (it’s in the centre of the borough); hopefully early in autumn. To find out more head over to their new website: http://broxbourne.foodbank.org.uk/