On 9th January this year the Prime Minister, Theresa May, launched her ambitious plan to create a ‘Shared Society’. She spoke of ‘fairness and solidarity’, ‘overcoming division’ and creating a ‘society that works for everyone.’ This isn’t a new concept however, back in 2010 David Cameron put forward the idea of a ‘Big Society’ and in 1997 Tony Blair spoke of wanting to create a ‘classless society.’ So why are we, seemingly constantly, struggling for a society which works better for the sake of it citizens but failing to bring it to fruition? As Theresa May so pointedly said in her speech on 9th January “There is more to life than individual self-interest.”
We live in a paradoxical time where many want the world to work for them, yet are not seemingly willing to work for the world. Society around us tells us we are worth it, we can have it now, or we can be whoever we want to be, not to mention the rhetoric which says ‘if it feels good do it’. With this being pushed at us every day shared society, a big society, a classless society might all seem to be pie in the sky thinking, but if we look back to how the early Christians came together to live we have an amazing example of how we can live to work for each other.
The book of Acts shows how a ‘shared society’ can work, “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common … There was not a needy person among them.” Acts 4:32-34 (look up the All Saints Acts 435 initiative)
This is a bold approach to life, and I am not suggesting such a drastic move in property ownership should be rolled out in 21st century Britain, but we need to switch our thinking from ‘What can I get out of it?’ to ‘What can I put into it?’ When we live in a world of ‘individual self-interest’, asking how society is going to work for us without considering how we are going to work for society, we run the risk of elevating oneself to more important than the next person.
Yet if we are to believe the words of Jesus, he came to save the world. Jesus loves you, whether you realise that yet or not, but he also loves the whole world too. He loves you and wants you to prosper (in the fullness that can be) but he also loves the person down the street, the person in the big house with the ‘important big job’ and the lady on the street asking for food.
As Paul the Apostle wrote “There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.” Jesus came to level the playing field, to create the ‘Shared Society’, ‘Big Society’, ‘Classless Society’ yet 2000 years on we have still not got it right. There is still division, there is still injustice, there are still poor on our streets and people fleeing from war, because still we look at what we can get from life, society, the world rather than what we can give to it.
Adapting the words of 35th President of the United States of America I would encourage you,
“My fellow citizens of this world, ask not what your country/society/world can do for you, but what you can do for your country/society/world.”
One day a wealthy father took his son on a trip to the country so that the son could see how the poor lived. They spent a day and a night at the farm of a very poor family. When they got back from their trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?" "Very good, Dad!" "Did you see how poor people can be?" "Yeah!" "And what did you learn?" The son answered, "I saw that we have a dog at home, and they have four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of the garden; they have a river that has no end. We have imported lamps in the house; they have the stars. Our patio reaches to the front drive; they have the whole horizon." When the little boy was finished, the father was speechless. His son then added, "Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are!"
Any conversation about poverty inevitably leads us to talk about wealth too. And both can make us feel deeply uncomfortable as we reflect on our own place. But it's not all about material things. Jesus’ words ‘blessed are the meek… the poor… and the broken-hearted’ were said for a very good reason, since humanity has always been very good at trying to fix the problems in the lives of others, whilst forgetting that all are in need of the riches of Christ’s kingdom. Maybe we should learn to see those in need through the lens of Christ’s own poverty, then we might finally see all people as brothers and sisters in God, instead of treating others as simply needing our generosity.
Realigning our own sense of perspective and seeing poverty as a spiritual issue is one thing, dealing with material poverty and the social injustices of our world is another. At All Saints we try our best to support organisations that directly tackle frontline issues of poverty such as the Cornwall Childrens Clothes Bank founded by Candy Coates; or the Truro Foodbank; Acts 435; or the Kernow Credit Union. Around this time of year we often think about Harvest and what we might offer in the way of gifts to those in need. As with previous years any food donations at our Harvest festival will go to the Foodbank; but maybe this year there is an opportunity to think about one of the other organisations running at the church too.
The Kernow Credit Union is set up primarily to help people avoid the growing number of short-term high interest money lenders, that cause people to end up in a crippling spiral of debt. A credit union is similar to a bank, but unlike a high street bank or payday lender it is run and owned by its members and serves the community rather than working purely for profit. Archbishop Justin Welby says “Our faith in Christ calls us to love the poor and vulnerable with our actions… We must help credit unions to become bigger, better known and easier to access if we want them to compete effectively with high interest lenders.”
Why not open a Credit Union account this Harvest? You can find out more information on their website www.kernowcreditunion.co.uk or come along to the access point at All Saints Church on Tuesday afternoons between 2pm and 4pm.
Blessings and peace to you all.
October starts with our Harvest Festival, a celebration of creation, abundance and blessing. Marking the Harvest goes back to the biblical idea of giving thanks for the first fruits of the land, and acknowledging them as the gifts of God. This idea was continued throughout the centuries and was formally marked on the 1st August as Lammas Day by the English in the Middle Ages. The practice disappeared after the Reformation and all that was left was the secular ‘harvest home’; a celebratory meal at the conclusion of the ingathering of the crops and the origin of our Harvest Supper (or lunch in this parish!). In 1843 the Revd R S Hawker revived the Lammas Tradition in his Cornish parish of Morwenstow but kept it on the first Sunday in October as it was closer to the usual time for the traditional ‘harvest home’. The idea proved popular and spread to many other parishes and in 1862 the Church of England made official provision for the harvest service.
I’m sure that you will agree that we are so privileged to live where and when we do. We live in a land of plenty. Our farmers work tirelessly to produce our food, a wonderful range of goods is imported from all four corners of the earth and the shelves of our supermarkets are always full. There is so much to be thankful for. Yet once again as we count our blessings we cannot ignore the harsh reality that tonight, as every night, millions will go to sleep hungry. And this year our harvest thanksgiving takes place against the backdrop of numerous conflicts, which have forced millions to flee their homes in the face of terrifying and unrelenting violence.
Isn’t it true that any conversation about poverty inevitably leads us to talk about wealth too? And both can make us feel deeply uncomfortable as we reflect on our own place. Jesus’ words ‘blessed are the meek… the poor… and the broken-hearted’ were said for a very good reason, since humanity has always been very good at trying to fix the problems of others, whilst forgetting that all are in need of the riches of Christ’s kingdom. Maybe we should learn to see those in need through the lens of Christ’s own poverty, and then we might finally see all people as brothers and sisters in Christ, instead of treating others as simply needing our generosity.
A record number of people received aid from UK foodbanks in the last year. The Trussell Trust said three days’ food was given out 1,084,604 times in the 2014/15 financial year. That roughly works out as 1 in every 200 people needing help in this way. Of course, the problem of poverty in this country is far more substantial and complex than a single statistic about food banks; but the need is there and food banks meet part of it. Did you know that we get the word bank from the old Italian word banca and the French word banque, and that both originally meant table? Maybe the term ‘food bank’ gives us the wrong idea of what is going on. Is it really a place where transactions occur? Where we pay in and let others pay out? No, food banks are more like food tables, places where we sit with others to eat. So how do we support the work of the food banks and how do we support those who use them?
The food offerings at our Harvest service this year will be given to Truro Foodbank and the Cornwall Women’s Refuge Trust, both serve people of this parish and Truro. Your food offering will mark the start of a relationship, of a meal with friends. So please give generously.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.