Another three weeks …



As readers of this blog will know, I normally tend to fill these pages with theological / political polemics rather than personal messages or reflections, but today it feels I just need to share my own short reflection and message as we enter into another three week period of lockdown in UK due to the covid19 pandemic. In those first three weeks we’ve all had to deal with a variety of concerns and challenges – for the very gravest as they have lost loved ones in the cruellest of circumstances often without even a real chance to say goodbye, for others this first three weeks of isolation “lockdown” have raised issues around childcare and “home schooling”, or food insecurity and shopping, or any other manner of issues. For me I’ve struggled most trying to explain to my 25 year old with learning disabilities and austism, that although his regular visits to see us aren’t now allowed – it doesn’t mean we don’t want to see him, and certainly isn’t that we don’t care. We’ve learned to replace physical contact with more use of Skype and Zoom, it’s all been very unfamiliar to so many of us.

Alongside those personal challenges at home, the “lockdown” has also had a significant effect on my work and ministry. For a month now the day to day activities, from community allotmenting to the social cafe organised through our PXI charity have been suspended. We’ve even had to combine our foodbank with another partner for the duration of the covid19 pandemic in order to try and ensure it can cope with the current circumstances. Those decisions have each been truly painful (especially after 10 years of building them up to what they have become), but especially painful as it has – alongside the social restrictions brought in by Government – greatly reduced the level of contact I have with the people my ministry serves. So tonight I felt the need to share this personal (perhaps you might say pastoral) message.

“Tonight we’ve had the announcement of another three weeks of lockdown ….. many of us out there are finding it hard; some have already lost friends and family members to the virus, others are worried for their own safety or that of others. A number of us are in self isolation because we feel ill, and others are isolated because they are being “shielded” from infection; each of us experiences this time from the perspective of our own context, needs and concerns.

There will, no doubt, be more upsets along the road – more people will become ill, sadly more people (perhaps even more of those we know) will die because of Covid19.

But it will all end one day – and we will once again be able to hold hands, hug one another and do those things we so desparately yearn for at this time.

Even now, we still celebrate, still mourn, still love …. but for now, for a time longer we must show our love from a distance, with no less passion or meaning than at any other time, but not in the way we might choose.

Stay safe, and may God bless us now and evermore.”



Feeding the Nation




Yesterday was tough ….. the coming days are likely to be tougher.

Yesterday our team of volunteer helpers spent the morning at Mount Tabor in Sheffield pcking approximately 100 emergency food parcels ready for distribution on Friday to those attending foodbank. We been providing a food bank service since the end of 2010 and numbers (as everywhere) have steadily grown, in recent months we’ve been supporting around 90-95 families every week. It’s been an increasingly difficut task; maintaining food levels through voluntary donations (both cash and food) from local Churches, community groups and individuals. It’s been hard supporting a team of volunteers (no one is  paid to run our foodbank) some of which are themselves vulnerable and in need of support. It’s been hard, but we’ve sustained it – as a community we’ve sustained it; and through it we’ve been able to offer support to large numbers of people in the communities we serve. We’ve  laughed and cried together, we’ve mourned and we’ve celebrated togather; we’ve walked with people through journeys of addiction and recovery, of mental health crises, and much more. But yesterday was tough.

We’d already noticed from last week that the over buying (panic buying) was reducing our ability to buy our usual top up items, and yesterday found ourselves limited to an order of four itemsof each. Even with three sepearte deliveries from three supermarkets, we were not able to buy in the amount we would normally get in one order. Then following Government guidelines, the Methodist Church closed the building we operate in to the public, a caveat was added that allowed for foodbank services to still operate, but that left our charity trustees with a dilemma. Do we ask our vulnerable volunteer helpers to still come and work in a space closed to the public, whilst workers are being advised to “work from home” wherever possible – the Government are in effect placing some of our most vulnerable people and their communities on the front line. We therefore took the sad decision to send our helpers home until further notice. Trustees of the charity and workers from the Methodist Church will still provide one final “grab and go” foodbank service on Friday, but after that we will be closing “public access” sessions. We hope that for as long as stock exists, and as long as we are able, we will continue to provide food to those in need – a contact number will be given out and deliveries to the door will be offered – we have no idea how long we can keep that support up.

The Government must have a duty to ALL citizens to ensure full access to the food, money and resources they need to sustain themselves and their families – for too many in this country this has not been the case for sometime, now the problem is spreading, so once again I want to say:

1. Foodbanks CANNOT, MUST NOT, SHOULD NOT be the frontline of the current emergency – it’s not what we were made for and we’re NOT suitable for that purpose
2. Access to food is hard right now – it’s hard for many of us, it’s hard for foodbanks, but it’s hardest for those with the lowest incomes – who cannot buy ahead always even for 14 days of family isolation
3. The need for foodbanks has NEVER been about food – they have always been about inequality of access to markets in a totally market based economy, they are about poverty and low income, they are about social exclusion.

The Government needs to get a grip now and look at how it will act to support the poorest and most vulnerable, it needs to implement a plan to feed every citizen ….. just as we are seeing in our health and social care services the chickens of austerity are sadly coming home to roost!




This Class Gives



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.


To be a pilgrim


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 Pilgrimage (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.


Strangers and Foreigners



Last weekend I was privileged to be invited by YMCA White Rose (through my friend Jonathan) to join him on a trip to Budapest where we met folk from KIE (the YMCA in Hungary) and explore possible link projects back to our shared North Sheffield base.

Amongst our many conversations, there was one theme I seemed to keep coming back to – it was the very one that Erzsebet (local KIE leader) had offered for discussion at the Saturday  night youth group – that of “Strangers and Foreigners”. It is perhaps not strange that many of the young people wanted to question, and indeed understand, why the UK had recently voted to leave the EU. It was indeed news to them that whilst England and Wales had both voted in favour of “leave”, the North of Ireland and Scotland had voted “remain”. Indeed that the margins of the result, the divisive nature of the campaign itself, had left many of us with a feeling of not being sure who “we” are and what the future for us holds. I also suggested that in my experience, that the vote was not just about “nationalism”, and indeed any nationalism demonstrated in the victorious Brexit campaign was some particular form of English Nationalism rather than a UK or British Nationalism (regardless of how this was being portrayed within or beyond our boundaries).

These conversations have led me to once again return to the idea of identity, national and other, and to try and understand what part place and space might play in my personal identity (as well as that of my friends and neighbours).

I openly admit I struggle (and always have) to have any sense of what it means to be “English” – I can cope with some sense of being British, in that it is the place where I have spent my life. I acknowledge that the relative wealth I enjoy as a part of this nation (still around the 5th richest in the world) the result of years of imperial power and our part in the slave trade, and because of our status as a successful trading nation. But I cannot identify with being English – I don’t know what it means, I don’t feel an ownership. I’m not being (no matter what politicians and others might hint) unpatriotic in saying this, it just doesn’t feature as part of my identity.

I can say “I’m a Yorkshireman” (and a Northerner) – to me these identify characteristics that I do own. I can feel a pride at times in my “call a spade a spade” bluntness, I feel attached to a history of industrial heritage, of mill towns, coal and steel that I feel a has provided a sense of gritty resilence to many of us living in this part of the world. Indeed I can own a sense of Britishness, born out of a history that I and my family through generations have been a part of (one of my ancestors even sailed with Captain Cook to plant the British flag on “undiscovered” parts of the globe) – and even when these exploits do not bring me a sense of pride (for example the wealth we gained as a nation through systems of slavery and oppression) I still acknowledge it is a part of me. But, I have no concept of Englishness, and when confronted with Little Englander nationalism the more I start to feel a stranger in my own land.

The Bible tells me (Galatians 3.28): “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” my discipleship calls me to identify in this way above the labels the world would set for me. Our UK Prime Minister famously, and recently, said: “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere…” but that makes me really ask myself what this daughter of an Anglican Vicar also makes of Phillipians 3.20 “…we are citizens of heaven…”

All I can say is this, as I was invited and welcomed into Erzsebets home, as I spent Saturday evening with this group of young people in a cellar in Budapest, and as I sat in St Stephens Basilica on Sunday morning attending a Catholic Mass, in Hungarian and Latin (of which I confess to knowing little of either) I didn’t feel like a stranger and foreigner. As we shared food, sang songs together, and as the faithful shook hands and shared the peace, I knew I was home – a citizen of heaven, belonging and beloved.





Our Fair City


ckcx7ylwgaar15uSome of you might remember the Sheffield Fairness Commission back in 2013 and its report on the inequalities highlighted within the City. Well three years on and the campaign seems to be getting a reworking, in the last fortnight I received an email           re-inviting me to be a “Fairness Champion” (how could I refuse?) and informing me:

“Over the next twelve months we are going to be working on ‘Making Sheffield Fairer’, focusing on four campaigns – Fairer Food, Fairer Money, Fairer Work and Fairer Futures – initiating as many actions and as much ‘doing’ as possible, in order to start making as many small changes as possible that will make a real difference in communities and neighbourhoods across Sheffield.”

Great – so after yet another Friday in our food bank in Parson Cross, another Friday where we’ve fed around forty people (over half of which are were children) – let’s talk about “Fairer Food”. First thing Friday morning I was contacted by a Social Worker who asked me if I could help support one of her clients, a single Mum with two children. The Social Worker said she knew that her client wasn’t actually living in our catchment area, she had a referral for a neighbouring food bank but had been told that morning that they couldn’t help as they’d run out of food (a situation many food banks including ours have come close to before).  We helped, of course we did, “Glad we can ….” as we often say “….but sad we have to”  but lets be clear none of this is fair – none of this is just.

I’ve said it before, as have many others, FOOD BANKS ARE NOT A SOLUTION to either poverty or food insecurity, they are simply a desperate defensive response, a field hospital if you will for some of the casualties of current policies.

When Health Visitors phone me up asking for formula milk for a young mum and her child it proves FOOD BANKS ARE NOT A SOLUTION.

When social workers, aware of the growing shortages, offer to set up workplace donation boxes to just “help out a little” it proves FOOD BANKS ARE NOT A SOLUTION.

And when food banks have to ration food, or turn people away because of the shortages on their shelves, it proves FOOD BANKS ARE NOT A SOLUTION.

We can’t go on like this!

I hear from friends who move in higher powered circles than me, valiantly banging their heads against walls that I would have long ago lost patience with. Telling me that those who walk the corridors of power still argue that the reasons behind why people turn to food banks are complex and cannot be put down solely to Government policy. Yes they are complex, we see people every week with a range of issues from mental health issues, benefit delays, debt, family breakdowns, homelessness, budgeting issues and many more. But the complexity of the problem does not mean the policy solution is to leave things to charity and voluntarism, these have a place but not for the general provision of basic welfare and social security, these are issues dealt with by a civic and civil society, fairness and justice don’t come through someone offering you free food.

So why do I continue to be involved and help run a food bank, when it seems that through our efforts all we are doing is giving government and those with power an excuse to continue to ignore the plight of those on the receiving end of “austerity” politics? In the end, for me its a question of faith and of solidarity with my brothers and sisters in need, as it says in the book of James:

“Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!” – if you don’t give them the necessities of life?”
(James 2:15-16)

That still doesn’t make food banks a solution,  it makes them a humanitarian response to a desperate human need.



Something Inside


Food bank choir 28.05.16There is very little in this blog piece I can take credit for, and yet so much to celebrate. Sometime ago, last year in fact at the Venture FX / Break Out gathering, my friend Lucy (a trainee Anglican priest) and myself reflected on our work in Sheffield and thought in particular about a drumming project we’d undertaken together in Parson Cross and the food bank work done there. In a mad moment we thought “I wonder ….if we could get a food bank choir to happen one day?”

Lucy picked up and ran her musical giftings all over the dream, she made contact with a number of food banks and other emergency food projects in Sheffield, including once again our own in Parson Cross. With months of prayer, rehearsals, nurturing and encouragement a choir was crafted from small groups from the various projects. Yesterday was the fulfillment of that dream, for the first time the full choir came together to perform songs as part of the annual Sheffield Food Festival. Their singing was a joy, and inspiration and a true message of hope.

After the event, one of the choir members wrote: “There are times when the food bank feels like wading through treacle. Today I feel like a bird set free.”


Here are the words of just one of the songs the choir sang (Something Inside):

The higher you build your barriers the taller I become
The farther you take my rights away the faster I will run
You can deny me, you can decide to turn your face away
No matter ’cause there’s

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
Though you’re doing me wrong so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh, no, something inside so
there’s something inside so strong

The more you refuse to hear my voice the louder I will sing
You hide behind walls of Jericho, your lies will come tumbling
Deny my place in time, you squander wealth that’s mine
My light will shine so brightly, it will blind you ’cause there’s

Something inside so strong
I know that I can make it
But you’re doing me wrong so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh, no, something inside so strong
theres something inside so strong

(chorus with a bit more umph)
Something inside so strong
And I know that I can make it
But you’re doing me wrong so wrong
You thought that my pride was gone
Oh, no, something inside so strong
theres something inside so strong

Brothers and sisters
When they insist we’re just not good enough
When we know better
Just look ’em in the eyes and say

I’m gonna do it anyway
I’m gonna do it anyway
I’m gonna do it anyway
I’m gonna do it anyway

Because there’s something inside so strong
And I know that I can make it
But you’re doing me so wrong
Oh, no, something inside so strong
there’s something inside so strong