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.

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“We have failed ….” Reflections on Food Banks & Universal Credit

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This Saturday (20th October 2018) I’ll be leading worship at the start of the annual Pilgrimage organised by Sheffield Church Action on Poverty. As I prepare it’s has reminded me of a previous event organised by the group, and the words I spoke then.

It was a conference held in Sheffield on 30th November 2014, and I spoke about how we as a society would have “failed” if food banks were still with us and were needed in five years time. That date is nearly on us, and presently there are no signs of the need for, and reliance upon food banks lessening, either by the people who use them, or by the state and welfare agencies (who now seem to have them written into their plans and strategies).

The “failure” of food banks now seems both inevitable and clear, even before the deadline I spoke of has been reached.  Now I am called into meetings and briefings about the roll out of Universal Credit in my city of Sheffield; and am told by council staff and others that food banks are part of the infrastructure that will help my neighbours and fellow citizens cope with the new system of welfare. I am asked how might local government and other agencies help support food banks in order that they might better meet the likely increased demand for them following the roll out of Universal Credit (other areas have seen increases of 52% in food bank use following the introduction of the new system).

Lets be clear;  the crisis facing food banks is not one of somehow better ensuring supply meets demand – the problem facing food banks is more fundamental, how do they escape from helping perpetuate a base injustice that is becoming enshrined by the dismantling of the post war consensus around social security, and the return of pre war models of  the “deserving and undeserving poor relief”. Food banks with their “quasi systems” of referrals, and time limits on the like are simply reinforcing the hoop jumping  exercises already faced by people and families on low incomes who rely on the state and other agencies to help maintain a decent standard of life. Austerity is not just a set of political choices made by the current Conservative Government but is also a political culture and tone that has established itself in the aftermath of the global financial crash, and the crisis of neo-liberalism. Sadly its is one that despite our talk of solidarity, despite our best intentions, food banks have not overturned, and in fact may have (without ever intending to) in fact helped perpetuate.

Where does this leave us? I don’t now but here’s some thoughts.

I am grateful for those around me who are helping to unpick and challenge what the next steps might be. Politically we need to find new models of community based support that meet the needs of those struggling on low incomes (and temporarily no income) but that do so with dignity, compassion and inclusion, at the same time we need to find ways of going upstream to the heart of the problem. Some politicians are now too happy to avoid the issue of poverty and food bank use by arguing that the issue is “complex” – yes it is and therefore it needs sound public policy responses not simplistic solutions. Poverty comes in many forms and with many complexities:

  • Poverty and poor mental health
  • Poverty and low wages
  • Poverty and disability
  • Poverty and isolation
  • Poverty and debt
  • Poverty and addiction
  • Poverty and deskilling
  • Poverty and ill health

This list of course could go on, which is of course why food banks aren’t the answer – and neither is any simplistic approach like “the best route out of poverty is through work” – but there are people not able to work, or not able to get secure work, or work with a level of decent wages (and I don’t simply mean paying the “national minimum wage”) sadly their are plenty of people working who are still experiencing hardship, and yes even visits to food banks!

But for many of us the problems are not just political but also theological – so much of the food bank response has been through churches and other faith based organisations, we must also challenge ourselves about what we are doing. Yes we are responding to a call (as phrased within my own Christian tradition) to “feed the hungry” and provide for those in need; but lets examine our deeper motivations too. Are we sometimes only too glad to have found a new “centre stage” for our civic presence? Are we sometimes guilty of stepping into “saviour” mode?

Many of us involved in food banks know that we cannot simply continue as we are – we are at something of a crossroads, the next few years will likely see a number of things, and these will set the pattern for our future.

  1. We are likely to see an increase in the “corporatisation” of some food banks. Franchised food banks, securing local (and possibly even central) government funding, national deals with supermarkets (and other companies) and increased pressure for the need for “robust” referral systems to ensure public accountability.
  2. The closure of many smaller, “independent” food banks as they struggle to cope with the increased needs and demands upon them.
  3. The emergence of new models (which will no doubt throw up their own problems and questions) of community support.

I’ll finish this blog reflection with the words I have chosen to start the pilgrimage this Saturday with – they seem fitting for the times we are in:

Today we set off on a journey together; 

a journey of discovery, 

a journey of understanding,                                    

a journey of emotions,                                            

a journey of prayer.

One step at a time,                     

we journey onwards with God.                         

This is pilgrimage.

Changing Seasons

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This weekend saw the Autumn Equinox and at Share Ministries we marked it with an evening of folk music from local friends and an open mic session for others to share songs and poems.

Autumn Equinox (also known within Pagan community as Mabon) is celebrated when day and night are of equal duration before the descent into increasing darkness and is the final festival of the season of harvest. It is also a time to recoginse that the balance of the year has changed, the wheel has turned and summer is now over.

Recognising and marking seasonal change is important, it’s important to do so within the context of creation (the natural world around us) but its also important to do so in our own lives (we are of course also part of that same creation). Seasonal change in our lives can take many forms; we move from childhood to teens  and early adulthood through our middle years and into our old age. But of course other changes of season may also take place; our health may change, relationships come and go, hopefully we learn to love and also inevitably to cope with the loss of people we love. In all these changes in our life seasons God travels with us, offering light even in the dark times, providing us a sense of balance in our lives that holds us firm in good times and bad.

My ministry seems to be in something of a season of change – decisions about new priorities and partnerships are underway, as well as new challenges faced by those I work alongside and those we seek to serve as friends in community. Universal Credit casts a dark shadow over the coming season as the roll out hits Sheffield around November / December this year, its total effects are still of course unknown but the experience of many in places it is already in operation show it has caused more problems than solutions, deepened peoples experiences of poverty rather than lifting them from it. In the past six months alone our food bank service has seen a further 26% growth in those seeking help – if Universal Credit increases these figures we will find it increasing hard to cope with demand in the same way, thankfully our supporters are still generous and we will continue to look for the best ways to exhibit our key values of Love, Hope, Grace and Advocacy despite the increasing challenges.

Our Equinox Blessing

Blessings for the bounty of your Summer harvest.

Blessings for balance in our life as we attune with the power of equal night and day.

Blessings for that which falls away, that which needs to be released with faith and trust into the mystery.

Blessings for gathering and storing the light & warmth of the Summer sun as we head through this transition season towards the dark of Winter when the earth goes to her womb-place and takes that which has fallen away and uses it to create new life that comes in the rebirth of Spring.

May we all harvest well so the light within can carry us through the time of least “outer” light.

 

(Photo by Katie York – Sunshine & Poppies)

This Class Gives

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Apparently people were “queuing round the block” to donate food for a Sheffield food bank in return for a limited edition Peter McKee can ….. Now good people across this country give to food banks including the one I’m involved in at Parson Cross Initiative each and every week with no expectation of reward; I’m glad this stunt is bringing more food, I’m hoping it will prompt debate, I’m worried people will still not question why some are still needing support from food banks in UK 2018.

As a nation we must quickly come to understand the “cost” of allowing the current state of affairs to continue:

  • The “demonisation” of those not working – or indeed those “under employed” to use the latest government jargon
  • The distrust of those claiming disability or sickness benefits, this is true across the board, but is often even more so in relation to “unseen disabilities” and mental health issues
  • The ignorance and assumptions of those who “have” about those who don’t. Allied to this many of us seem to forget that our economic grasp of life is relatively fragile. Only this week we were giving a food parcel to a man who less than 12 months ago had been doing fine employed full time as a driver.

All these attitudes, underpinned of course government policies deliberately designed to create another “hostile environment” around benefits and social security payments, have a cost on all of us. Not simply a financial and economic cost but a moral, and indeed a spiritual one.

We are called to respond – as Christians we are called to respond with love and grace, with an eye on justice and the values of the Kingdom of God so often spoken about by Jesus. As humans we are also called, the cost of excessive inequality, and a lack of compassion leads us towards a kind of barbarism that devalues the humanity of each one of us.

 

Grace, Love, Hope, Advocacy & Action

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About a month ago  I (along with Charlotte a volunteer with PXI Projects) attended a conference at Bishopthorpe Palace, the home of the Archbishop of York, for advocates working with the Acts435 charity, it was there that we were both struck by some words from Rev Alison White – Bishop of Hull. She spoke of “Grace, hope, love and advocacy in action” words which we at PXI Projects have rapidly adopted as a phrase which underpins everything we attempt to do in our work.

To help us keep focused on these words we asked Laura (one of our artistically gifted volunteers and supporters) to do us a painting that we could hang on the wall to inspire us and remind us ….. the picture above shows the painting (almost complete).

Sorry!

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There are undoubtedly times in all our lives when it is right for us to say sorry. Sorry for things we have said, or indeed things we didn’t say but should have, sorry for our actions and the hurt they have caused others. Recently I’ve needed to say sorry at work to people who have felt hurt by the actions of another group, there’s a real chance that had I spoken up and passed on information earlier this hurt could have been avoided (or at least reduced); and although saying the words and feeling regret (and “wishing you’d have said something earlier”) are all relatively straightforward things to say and feel, re-building relationships are often much harder.

Often apologies are between individuals, they are personal and private – but sometimes they require more of a “corporate” apology. The Church (as an institution) has many things it has need to “apologise” for …. from modern revelations about abuse, to the wholescale persecution of other faiths and different denominations, or it’s theological justification of false ideologies and oppressive practices such as slavery and colonialism.

My own latest encounters with “sorry” have made me think about why and how we say sorry, and what purpose it can serve.

  1. We say sorry because we are. It might seem obvious but there needs to be a genuineness in our apologies, sorry isn’t about minimising the damage to us, or just because we’ve been “caught out”. We should understand what pain has been caused to the other person, and what we’ve done that has caused or played its part in that pain. The psalmist says a “a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.” (Psalm 51.17 KJV) suggesting perhaps that our sorry should take on, absorb and carry something of the pain we have caused. “Don’t say sorry if you’re not…” I have heard myself say to my children and grand children when they think it’s the code word to get them out of trouble for a particular thing they’ve done wrong “…go and think about why you are sorry, and what you are sorry for” It seems good advice at any age perhaps.
  2. We say sorry not because we expect forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift, not a right, whether from God or from another individual. When we have wronged someone we have no right to expect forgiveness, but simply to hope that it might be given. Now obviously I could write a whole blog peice on how and why we should choose to forgive, and why God also chooses to forgive (and maybe I will) but thats not for here and now.
  3. We say sorry with the hope of healing. The act of apology has the potential to heal. That is not the same as expecting “everything to be as it was before”,  it is to say the word “sorry” acknowledges and takes “responsibility for the wrong done. Sorry says “it is not your fault, you are not the one who did wrong, that was me/us”. In saying this it offers the chance for those wronged to move on to a place of healing from the hurt caused, in the knowledge that the “wrong” has been understood and acknowledged. It should also provide the opportunity for those apologising to look again at what they did wrong, and to learn from it – hopefully choosing to avoid simply actions in the future. As such, saying sorry can become at least a start of a healing process for both parties.

 

 

Holy Week (2) – Good Friday Lament – What’s wrong with the world?

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This Good Friday the two local Methodist Pioneer Ministries (Share & Open House) took the opportunity to worship together. A drum beat led us before we nailed to the cross, where we held a prayerful lament based around words suggested and collected from people attending food bank sessions over the last couple of weeks. People then named and added additional “wrongs”.

In the evening the cross was taken to Judiths Open House where it remained until Easter Sunday.