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.

 

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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.

“When Words are Not Enough….”

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Well it’s months since my last post – both Advent and Christmas have passed without comment from these pages, and now we have entered the season of Lent. It is always a time for inner reflection and hopefully (though not always) of some revelation too. In my Pioneer Ministry (Share) we began the forty days with a short prayer time to mark Ash Wednesday; around five of us shared a short liturgy, received and offered ash crosses on our foreheads, and spent time at various prayer stations.

Lent this year has also coincided with the first real steps towards trying to secure funding from Sheffield Methodist Circuit and elsewhere for the continuation of my ministry and other work beyond the end of 2018. This process itself has forced me to re-examine what I do, how and why and do it, and how I work alongside others (in Church and beyond). Needless to say this has brought both positive, and more challenging emotions to the fore; much has been done in so many ways since I began here in 2010. People have come and gone, faces and roles have changed and the world moves on – however it is to this place I still feel called and the ministry I attempt to fulfill that I still feel called to.

Hopefully I will find more words in the coming weeks as I continue to reflect and discern the new paths …. meanwhile I sit and contemplate the prayer poem featured at the top of this post written the other week by my friend Laura.

When words are not enough,

Let us hold the silence.

When prayers are not enough, 

Let us act out our love.

When life turns us about,

Let us find our way.

When all is darkness,

Fill us with hope and love.

When we are weary,

Let us rest.

When we are full of fear,

Send us a bird singing sweetly, a rainbow.

Lift our spirits and remind us of the beauty in this world.

When we are ready to follow you once more;

We will walk your path,

Sing your song,

Dance with the seasons,

Weave the threads,

Mould the clay.

As the tears fall,

We have joy in our hearts,

To be part of your creation.

(Laura Hill 2018)

To be a pilgrim

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105885899Saturday 21st October 2017 witnessed the Annual Sheffield Church Action on Poverty Pilgrimage. Every year we use this occasion to visit faith based social action projects, in order to listen to their stories and the issues facing some of this city’s most vulnerable and in need citizens.

As I walked from my new home close to the city centre to begin the Pilgimage (and to lead prayers and reflections) , I myself reflected upon exactly what makes this annual event a “pilgrimage”. In the end, I think, it’s something about an intentional searching for the sacred amongst the day to day life of our city – of witnessing to, and listening for, God in the city. The act of pilgrimage focuses our hearts and minds so that we can do what we should be doing every day, to see God in the people we meet, to hear God in the stories we listen to.

On my short ten minute walk into town it felt like my pilgrimage had already began, as I began to observe the lives around me that are each and every day lived out in our city. On Devonshire Green I saw a man (who I later saw entering the Archer Project at the Cathedral) wrapped in his sleeping bag and holding a coffee after what had been a cold autumnal night. He was watching as the sun rose up over the buildings around, welcoming, dreading or merely witnessing the the arrival of another new day. As I turned the corner, a man on his mobile phone passed me in tears, deep in conversation with someone on the other end of the call about some obvious hurt with a real impact on his and possibly other lives, but that will forever remain unknown to me. People were already busily rushing from bus and tram stops to their places of work, and meanwhile signs of the previous nights activities lay discarded on the pavement, empty cans and polythene packets with pictures that suggested they had contained some or other “recreational” drug. Finally as I waited for the other “pilgrims” to arrive I spent some time talking to the Big Issue seller at the end of Chapel Walk, our conversation was nothing particular of note, we spoke of the weather and Storm Brian, about the inherent unfairness of food banks, and about video games, big business, consumerism and why we are too often moved to buy things we don’t really need.

It is important to remind ourselves that cities are not just buildings and roads, they are not simply economic centres; the city is home to a myriad of lives, all interwined and somehow interdependent for their well being. The places and projects we visit each year are witness to just that, this year we visited (and re-visited):

  • Victoria Hall Methodist Church, where we heard about the work amongst refugees and asylum seekers, as well as other visitors from overseas. We we also introduced to the idea of  The Sheffield Box which the church is looking to roll out as a way of welcoming new families to our city.
  • At the Salvation Army on Duke Street, we heard about their efforts to make real on a  day to day basis the outworking of the love of Jesus in peoples lives. We were told of the food bank and emergency support, as well as numerous other local intiatives.
  • The Emmaus Project in Sheffield offers both accomodation and employment to vulnerable people who would otherwise be homeless. We heard how “companions” live and work alongside each other in a community of mutual support.
  • Finally, at the Cathedral Archer Project (amidst a busy lunchtime session) we heard of the work done there to support homeless people, from subsidised meals and advice with benefits and the like, through to visiting dentistry and chiropody services.

Every year we hear about inspiring and challenging work amongst the citys vulnerable and economically poorest and this year, once again we were inspired and challenged in equal measure. Inspired by the hard work of staff and volunteers, inspired also by  people who are finding ways through the complexities of the hardship they themselves face. But also challenged; challenged to further highlight the way policy and economic structures have worsened the lives and prospects of many of the most vulnerable in our society, challenged to listen more, to do more, to say more when required.