Complex yet very simple

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This may well be one on the shortest blog pieces I’ve ever written, the words below are the ones I typed on Twitter and Facebook

“The Government says: “the reasons why people use food banks is complex, so it’s wrong to link a rise to any one cause.”
So let’s be clear, all kinds of people use our foodbank service including:
People in work
People out of work
People with learning disabilities
People with mental illness
People who are sick
People who are well
People with addictions
People in recovery
People with debts
People who are owed money
People who have children
People who are over 50
People who are over 60
People who are under 30
So yes it’s “complex” but its also very simple – all these people have one thing in common, each of them is struggling to manage on the money they have and feel that through the charity of the foodbank they might have one less thing to worry about for at least a day or two.”

The response from Government, politicians and policy makers also needs to be simple, it requires a firm committment to doing away with the need for charity food aid in communities throughout the UK. It requires ploicies that yes “make work pay” and at realistic levels to support families. It also requires another long hard look at how we support those in our society who do not work for whatever reasons, how humanity and compassion can be returned to a system based upon “social security” and sustainable lifestyles.

The response from Churches, and everyone who has ever donated and supported a foodbank in many ways is also clear, please tell your MP, your Councillors, and anyone else you can think of that foodbanks and food charity is not how we will solve the “complex” issues that bring people to foodbanks for support, but that we will not rest until there is no longer a need for any citizen in the UK to need such support, in one of the worlds richest nations (as we are) there are better and fairer ways of supporting the most vulnerable in our communities. And for those of us who pray, we could do worse than to start with the words from the prophet Amos:

“… let justice roll down like waters,
    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

(Amos 5.24)

 

For more about PXI (Projects) foodbank:

https://www.facebook.com/pxiprojects/

https://pxiprojects.wordpress.com/?fbclid=IwAR2xrpcw7SWlUAzvF-CnJKt2As07zKA_ln5wUUxSXUSIitGVjMXMHJrLAZc

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“The God Plot”

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Growing spaces have been a characteristic of both Parson Cross Initiative and the pioneer ministry (Share Ministries) that have run through and alongside each other in one form or another since 2010, and it remains a core element of both to this day.

Currently the charity* operates three separate growing spaces:

  • A community “quiet garden” in partnership with Cross at Yew Lane**
  • A community orchard and growing space at Mount Tabor Methodist Church
  • And a community allotment (Plot76) at Norwood Allotments

Each space is different, and each has its own character, even though a number of those involved are common to at least more than one space. Of the three, it is Plot76 that is the major focus for Share Ministries, a fact that has earned it the unsolicited nickname amongst other allotmenteers as “The God Plot”. So what you might ask marks out this plot to earn it such a title?

I guess one easy answer is that I’m there – people know who and what I am, that is a Pioneer Minister in the Methodist Church. Sure they don’t always understand the “pioneer” bit, and I get quite often the “wrong” denominational title; “Father”, “Pastor”, “Vicar” and the like, but essentially, and intentionally people recognise what I am. However, I think (and I suppose hope) there’s a bit more to it than that.

From the charitys perspective Plot76 is all about social inclusion, this offers one big advantage to me in how I operate in the space in that it isn’t at any level simply about growing food. The plot is a place of community, of belonging – a space where people can come as just “be”, obviously we do grow things, we dig, we plant and sow and come the time we harvest and enjoy the fruits of the season, but primarily it’s about involvement. From the perspective of my ministry on the site, I aim to help create a sense of a Special and Sacred space.

The shelter that has been built is known as (and has a sign to prove it) Sanctuary; a place of refuge. It offers both personal space, but also a “chapel” space particularly when we hold our seasonal gatherings; when we mix music and poetry and reflection, with food and drink (non alcoholic of course being a good Methodist***). It is without doubt (because people have told me) also used during the week at times I’m not there as a place for quiet chats, personal time outs and contemplation.To use quasi monastic terms, the space provides a number of sacred spaces at different times:

  • Cell – as a place of personal, solitarity space
  • Chapel – for community celebration and “confession”
  • Cloister – as a gathering and meeting place
  • Refectory – where hospitality is offered and shared
  • Infirmary – as a place of healing and well being

My regular slot there is on a Thursday morning, when my role becomes that of host – I light the storm kettle and ensure a steady flow of tea and coffee, as well as being a listening ear, and ocassional gardener. Over the years the space has been used for conversations covering a wide range including; addictions and mental health issues, dealing with the loss of  loved ones, the difficulties with coping with deteriorating health, family breakdown, and the nature of Jesus.

Why and how do these conversations happen here? Well I suppose one reason is that I allow them to, encourage them to happen. Allow them to by offering space that is not judgemental and that allows a genuine flow between the secular and sacred, the spectacular and mundane and does not mark the difference, a space that doesn’t seek to provide answers, but allows chance to challenge and encounter. Encouraging them to by being responsive to the relationship that are there, acknowledging the difficulties (where they are present, and they are as in most places) and by sharing myself, my time, my life, my own vulnerabilities – I am not there as expert (gardening or otherwise), I’m not there to be “in control”****,  I’m there simply as companion, as friend, as partner in a shared journey.

 

Is it Church? Not in its entireity, although for some of us there it performs much of the role of church, what it is  is just what it is …. and I’m only too happy to know that to others and to me it’s simply “The God Plot”.

 


* The “charity” being Parson Cross Initiative (Projects) it was given charitable status in 2017 with the registered charity number 1172288
** The Cross at Yew Lane is also home to Creswick Greave Methodist Church
*** The alcohol ban also serves an important purpose as some of those attending activities on the plot have had issues with alcohol and addiction in the past
**** The issue of how we choose to hold power and authority and how we choose to exercise it is an important issue, and especially important I think in pioneer ecclesiology

 

 

Brussels, London or the Kingdom of God

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It’s likely to be yet another tumultuous week in UK politics as yet another Brexit deadline looms. Far from the divisions that surfaced during the referendum of 2016 healing, the split with the nation seems as wide as ever, with people still encamped and identified as “Brexiteer” or “Remainer” years on from the vote. Both sides unable it seems to envisage any compromise. These lines seem fixed around identity, either those who yearn for, and identify as “English” “British” and “Nationalist”, and those who identify as “European”. Obviously I have my own views, I voted to remain in 2016, and there is too much in my upbringing and heritage that will ever allow myself to through myself behind a nationalist agenda (especially one dominated by the likes of Rees-Mogg, Johnson, Farage & Yaxley-Lennon), however I fear that we need to move on beyond the arguments of the day that still feel overly concerned with economics and trade. So how, I ask myself, might my faith help inform the current division?

This week I have led a couple of explorations and reflections around the Temptations of Jesus, it’s a story that is contained in three of the four Gospels (Mark, Matthew & Luke) with the latter two covering it in considerable more detail. The story is placed after Jesus baptism in the Jordan, but before his ministry and the calling of the first disciples. It could be said to represent the struggle Jesus goes through to get his head straight and achieve clarity about the style and approach he will take in his challenge to the powers and principalities of this world.

One of the temptations in particular seems most relevant to our current musings over Brexit and the future of the UK, in Matthews Gospel it reads like this:

“….the devil took Jesus up on a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms on earth and their power.  The devil said to him, “I will give all this to you, if you will bow down and worship me.”

 Jesus answered, “Go away Satan! The Scriptures say:

‘Worship the Lord your God
    and serve only him.’”

Then the devil left Jesus, and angels came to help him.” (Matthew 4. 8-11)

Now it seems to me that what Jesus in rejecting here (at least in part) is the temptation to look for power through earthly kingdoms, rejecting the route chosen certainly by some others, to take up arms or to replace one Empire and / or dynasty with his own. Such a route would no doubt have been available, as plenty of evidence shows the Jewish people of the period were only too ready to rise against the false gods and Empire that was Rome, but this was not the route chosen by Jesus. Not only does Jesus reject the violence of such an approach, but I suggest he also rejects the narrow cultural sectarianism of this approach.

Jesus time and again speaks out against Empire, he longs for community that reaches out through love and compassion, forgiveness and healing – not conflict and victory, and power over others. Jesus, through the call to the Kingdom of God continues the rejection he gave the devils temptation. The Brexit debate (I fear) still remains one that in most minds is focussed on siding with one “Empire” or another, that of either Brussels or London …. Jesus asks us to in effect reject both, to understand that actually the struggle that matters is the struggle for the hearts, minds and souls of all people (including our own). So rather than focussing our hearts on which Empire we side with, maybe we need to instead focus on the values we want to see across the communities we are part of – those same Kingdom values of:

  • Love
  • Compassion
  • Forgiveness
  • Healing

These are the things I shall try to look for, try to speak out for, and try to exhibit myself this week and in the weeks to come, as we continue to put faith in the Kingdom that cam overcome all Empires.

 

POSTSCRIPT 9th April 2019

Today is the anniversary of the execution of Deitrich Bonhoeffer by the Nazis in 1945 – amongst all the tributes and quotes that people have posted today on various social media etc I came across this one which felt a highly apt addition to this article: “The person who loves their dream of community will destroy community, but the person who loves those around them will create community.” (Life Together)

 

 

(The artwork in the photo is mine from the Prayer & Paint session held at Cross at Yew Lane – Sheffield this week)

 

 

Universal Realities

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It’s been another crazily busy week at our foodbank session – in one afternoon we’ve fed 72 households, that is 112 adults and 55 children …. since January 2019 we’ve seen almost a week on week increase and levels are now at over 70% higher than before the Universal Credit roll out in Sheffield.

One household we spoke with today had made three (YES THREE) Universal Credit claims since December:

  • First claim after he lost his job in December – He waited the five weeks standard delay for first payment, but didnt recieve any money. He contacted DWP to be told he’d failed to reply to, an email (he hadn’t seen it) and so his claim was cancelled by DWP. So he submitted a new claim – another five week wait for his first payment.
  • Fortunately in this period he found a job. The wages weren’t great, but with the hours he put in and his partners part time wages, they earned enough in that month to take them over the threshold for Universal Credit, so his claim was cancelled by DWP.
  • Sadly a couple of weeks later he was laid off. He has now had to submit a new claim for Universal Credit and is subject to a five week wait for his first payment.

Stories like these are sadly too familiar, as people are left with little or no monies whilst waiting for claims to to be processed. Add this to the frequent amount of debt that people are carrying, rents and mortgages owed and the negative impact on peoples mental health can hardly be overstated. I wonder sometimes how people who find themselves in these kinds of situation cope, but of course most of the time they do, the bonds of family and community remain stronger than some might imagine, especially perhaps in places like Parson Cross and similar neighbourhoods elsewhere.

Into this situation we throw our volunteers and helpers, without which there would be no service, no food bank ….. week on week they too have to cope, not just with the pressure of giving out food parcels to around 70 households in four hours (thats roughly one every three and half minutes) but they also find time to listen to the stories (the lives) of those who attend. Stories of relationship breakdowns, of ill health, and addictions; of jobs lost, and dashed hopes, of choices made between fuel or food, of Mums not eating a meal so their child can do….. and all this shared and received with compassion, and often a smile.

Today our voluntary team stayed on an extra hour in order to make sure everyone who came had been given a food parcel – it’s never enough, but it’s all we can do, and we’re glad that we can even though we are sad that we have to. We don’t ask for gratitude and thanks ….. but every now and again we are blown away by the grace we are shown by people who come to us, today we were given a donation of £1 from a young woman who has come to food bank a number of times over the last few months, with it this letter (see photo above):

“TO EVERYONE,

Thank you so very much for all you do. Your kindness is like looking up into the sky and seeing stars, which I do feeling I am not alone.”

To be honest – I have nothing more to say

 

 

 

Breaking Bread with Phillip

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In Sheffield Methodist Circuit we are exploring a two year series of Holy Habits, this month and next we are focussed upon Breaking Bread it felt only right to offer this story as part of this season.

Every Wednesady at Yew Lane (in Parson Cross, Sheffield) a small group meet together to take part in various activities including; creative writing, music and art – we also make soup which we share together around the table at the end of the session.

Now one of our regular visitors is Phillip, he may be also know to other Churches in Sheffield as he loves to go from Church to Church enjoying the company and the food on offer. Phillip always arrives just in time for lunch, sometimes on his bike sometimes on foot – he may spend a few minutes drumming or chatting as he drinks his dark black coffee. He then lays the table, without any encouragement or invitation and settles down ready for the soup. But Phillip has also turned this simple meal into something of a celebration of common union (Communion), a Eurcharistic feast if you will ….

…. every week Phillip brings the bread to be shared at the table; sometimes the bread is “posh” with seeds and grains, sometimes it’s plain and white, and on other occasions it make be squashed and crushed beyond recognition at the bottom of his bag, but always Phillip brings it. Even on one week when he himself couldn’t come he turned up earlier that morning (or perhaps the night before) and left the bread at the door of the church ready for me to pick up when I arrived.

The bread he brings is itself brought from one of the other Church meals he attends, collecting the freely given bread offered through their particular ministry and bringing it to share with us openly and without question at our table – it is as if he carries the symbolic body of Christ – in his backpack.

As we reflect further on our Breading Bread theme, Phillips actions show us that our Eucharist feast, our act of Communion is indeed about sharing in the body of Christ – it is an offer of a “Common Union” for all humanity, offered openly and without preference or judgement, a place where none should be excluded, where God dines with saints and with sinners alike without distinction in the form of Jesus.

Foodbanks and the politics of salvation

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I am getting increasingly concerned and frustrated by food banks, in Sheffield and elsewhere, that think their work is “apolitical” ….  I’ve even discussed the difference between “apolitical” and non party political on social media sites belonging to such foodbanks and I have had my comments deleted.

Such voluntary silencing of the role of and reasons behind the growing use of food banks and other charity food relief is itself inevitably political. Important voices from the past remind us:

“Not to speak, is to speak. Not to act, is to act” Deitrich Bonhoeffer

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” Desmond Tutu

Foodbanks only exist because of a failure in civic and political policy and the way society supports citizens when we become vulnerable within our society. That vulnerability immediately effects our access to the “marketplace” and the accepted ways of providing for ourselves. In the post war welfare settlement, that vulnerability was mitigated by a system of Social Security payments and services that “cushioned” us in such times.. It provided payments to cover the basic needs, rent rebates, free school meals, home help services, meals on wheels etc. That settlement has been under attack for many years in this country and elsewhere as a new “Neo liberal” approach has been pursued by governments of different shades, and has resulted in a much more individualised, privatised, corporatised and charity based approach. Foodbanks have become a key element within that – and although many of us involved in them have struggled to see what alternatives we have, other than to leave people in need, we have played our part. That is why those of us involved in foodbanks (as well as those who support us with donations and the like) cannot simply remain silent as we pass out an ever increasing number of food parcels, and receive praise for the “good work” we do. Either we speak out about the unacceptable nature of what we are a part of or, by our silence, play a part in allowing it to go unchallenged.

It may be that foodbanks, especially those in large franchises (in the UK the Trussell Trust) stay quiet because of fear of upsetting their donor base, be that the corporate support of the likes of Tesco, Asda and others, or the grant funding from the Lottery and elsewhere. Maybe they feel that the general public would not be as generous  if they challenged the very response they are offering as really no solution at all, or maybe they self censor fearing what they may overstep some Charity Commission ruling on “political” commentary, forgetting that most of this revolves (rightly) around party political partisanship – also (it seems) too easily forgotten when MPs of various parties parade themselves in front of the cameras for publicity shots at nationally co-ordinated food drives in supermarkets up and down the country, Whatever the reasons for any self  imposed “political” silence  the facts remain -the solutions we require to do away with the need for foodbanks will need to be political and require both civic and policy changes – the very stuff of politics.

For many church based foodbanks, I fear that the issue is also tied (conciously or not) to their own theology of salvation. They see people as needing to be “saved” and the Church (and God hopefully at least) as being the means of their salvation, foodbanks too neatly fit this narrative. Foodbanks also allow some churches to feel they are doing “good work” in feeding the “poor” and “needy” – and I’m not belittling the sense of value that is genuinely felt when we help and support others – the important question to keep returning to is what am I actually doing, and why am I doing this. Are my actions in foodbank simply an act of personal and collective generosity in that I love giving away food to people when I can – or am I actually making choices;

  • Who decides who gets the food?
  • Who decides who gets referred and why?
  • What do we ask of those who want / need the food?
  • What price are we exacting? (One man at our foodbank recently said ” .. if I could afford to buy a burger at McDonalds it would cost me 99p – here its supposed to be free but every time I come I’m saying I’m an addict – I can’t cope”)

Lets be clear when Jesus speaks out in Matthews gospel and says:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
– Matthew 25:35-36

Jesus is not talking about foodbanks and charity, he is talking about justice and the full provision expected within the Kingdom of God, personally and collective responsibility to one another.

 

 

 

Lest we forget ….

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This week marks 100 years since the end of the First World War, the two photos above are of my Grandfathers (Clarence Waterfield – right, and John William Parkinson – left) both fought throughout the First World War and both survived, I am forever blessed they did.

I am grateful they survived, without them I would not be here. I am even more grateful that I am the first generation in over 100 years that has not been called upon to fight in such a wide ranging conflict, nor have to face conscription,  but as we approach the 100 years since the 1918 Armistice it’s worth further reflection about what we are being asked to remember and the lessons we still must learn.

Although I never knew either of my Grandfathers (Clarence dying in an accident just a few short years after the war, and John William just before I was born) I know from other family members that neither shared stories of the war they had fought in. Between them they had seen battle at the Somme, at Ypres and at Passchendaele and elsewhere. John William in particular had suffered from “Shell shock” (PTSD) after that first horrific day at the Somme where thousands died, including many of those he’d joined up with and trained with in the Leeds Pals.

Sadly, and just twenty one years later, my own Dad (Kenneth Waterfield) joined the Royal Artillery to fight in the Second World War 1939-1945, and once again thankfully he survived. Dad mostly served in India and Burma, again being involved in battles such as Meiktila and others. As with my grandfathers he spoke little about the war, but as he grew older (he died in 2015 aged 94) he shared the tiniest of glimpses about those years.

He told me about the morning he’d watched the sunrise over the Himalayas, and about the pet monkey who kept him company as he moved from camp to camp. He spoke of the twenty-first birthday cake sent via the Red Cross by his Mum at home all the way to Burma. He laughed (and cried) at the stupidity of the training on Salisbury Plain, with officers pointing pistols and shouting “bang” to signify that someone had been shot; stories of him being “busted” back to private (before being promoted to Bombadier again) when he answered another officers questions about the shells his artillery group had:

“How many shells have you got there Waterfield?”

This many” answered my Dad pointing at the crates

“But you don’t know exactly how many you’ve got”

No but I’ll know when we’ve run out!”

My Dads viewed arrogance as the utmost stupidity whether it was from individuals or from nations.

My Dad also told me (but far less)about some of the awful things he’d seen; like the “enemy” Japanese soldiers who  had all been killed and / or killed themselves, rather than being captured by the British army – their bodies face down in muddy puddles as my Dad unit occupied the village they’d been defending. He told of how he’d been ordered to shoot down an American plane who had obviously been given the wrong co-ordinates and was bombing and strafing the British lines – no doubt what is now called “a friendly fire incident”. He spoke of how he always kept a bullet in reserve just in case he felt the need (like those Japanese soldiers) to take his own life rather than being captured. These are the stories he told. there were (he said) many, many more that would remain untold, too painful to awful to recall.

War, he always told me, was not something to glorify, it is the very worst of humanity, the sacrifices called upon to be mourned not celebrated.

We will remember them.