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Posts Tagged ‘Poverty’

Here’s a couple of photos I took last week – one with a sofa & an armchair out on the street (a la James Turner Street) and another as I went, rather surprisingly, for a run in our local park, where the bluebells were magnificently spread under trees as I plodded round on my Couch to 5K route.

People move house a lot round here, so we often see mattresses or other furniture out, as things are left in the hope of collection. Many don’t have cars to take stuff to the dump so it just sits there until – until I’m not sure what – they get a friend to take it away perhaps? Recently we’ve been wondering where some lovely kids who were regulars in church and in our Kids Club have got to. Sadly it looks like they moved after Easter some time. We didn’t get to say goodbye, which makes us sad. We’re praying they’ve ended up in a place where they’ll find a welcoming church to join.

Some of the things we see on our streets are reminders of the brokenness of our area – the poverty and the mobility which breaks community. But the bluebells helped me remember the Lord’s kindness and generosity. There was no need for him to make bluebells so shockingly beautiful. But he did, and they have been gladdening my heart since I saw them.

 

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So, this week

  • The Queen started secondary school. We are all quite enjoying the early mornings but are considering investing in coffee producers and matchstick makers. She is having fun meeting lots of new people and being all grown up and responsible. She has not missed the bus nor lost her phone. Yet.
  • A house for sale about 100yds from our front door was raided by the police. They found it full of cannabis plants. The police took the plants and left the pots outside the house. Might see if we could use some!
  • Our new Ministry Trainees, Radiohead and Sweet Tooth moved in. They have survived so far – even with the children bouncing around all over their attic home. We are very much looking forward to getting to know them as they serve in the church and experience Vicarage life close up.
  • The Vicar spent a long time at a Deanery Standing Committee and nearly everyone on Twitter suggested that those meetings would be a lot better (ie shorter) if the committee did stand and not sit.
  • The Queen has been asked to give a short speech at the local library when they officially celebrate their refurbishment. The mayor will be there and everything. We are just waiting for permission from the school to come through.
  • We played tennis at the local courts. All the courts were being used, something I have never seen before. It was the last day of the holidays, and sunny, but I also suspect an Olympic/Paralympic effect. Good for Lord Coe.
  • Our friend Nick Barr-Hamilton was featured in a post on Archbishop Cranmer’s blog. You should read it.
  • Gone has not been seen here for nearly two weeks now. So we have thrown away the mouldy and smelly blankets he was using to keep himself warm when he slept under our hedge. I expect he’s either in prison or has managed to find some housing (a housing person came to the door and spoke to Rocky a few weeks ago, looking for Gone, but we don’t know anything more than that). It’s rather strange to have someone so much in your life, but no real means of finding out what has happened when they go. Do pray for him.

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At Cake and Chat, our weekly social group of school parents, church folk and random parishioners, we were talking about Iain Duncan Smith’s proposals to change the government’s definition of child poverty. Our parish ranks in the bottom 2.5% of parishes in the country for deprivation, so we are all familiar with poverty and its effects.

The general consensus was that poverty is not absolute – the amount of money someone has does not define how poor their life is, and especially how poor their children’s lives are. We see many parents with little money whose children are doing brilliantly – growing up with aspirations and discipline. And we know others whose children are not doing so well. Some of this is related to the amount of money available, but mostly it is to do with how that money is directed, and many other factors to do with the ability of parents to raise their children to escape poverty.

Jesus said

The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. Matthew 26v11

Poverty is in many ways an attitude of mind, but there will always be those who cannot escape it.  As Christians we follow the God who chose poverty so that we might become rich, and that is why we choose to live in the inner city – so we can offer the riches of Christ to those who know the reality of poverty.

Yesterday I listened to Mez McConnell’s story of grace (I’m going to be ordering his book too). He grew up in the most heart wrenching poverty – not just financially, but in almost every way you could think. What transformed him and turned his life around was not a government scheme or piles of cash. It was the gospel.

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In today’s Independent, Mary Ann Sieghart, who is not a Christian believer, eloquently defends the Church of England against recent attacks from Richard Dawkins, who appears to think that the church is a worthless and even malign institution.

One of Ms Sieghart’s reasons for that defence chimed strongly with me:

Social workers, teachers and doctors may commute into impoverished areas, but the vicar is often the only professional still living in the parish he or she serves. You don’t get more in touch than that.

Inner city vicars see it all

I am sometimes intensely frustrated as local friends deal with professionals who come into our parish to run things and advise people on their lives. Once you live outside an area it is very difficult to truly know the people who live there. The parish system of the Church of England is one of its true strengths.

Vicars know their parishes better than many social workers, councillors and politicians know their patch. Their houses are not open to callers, they are not mingling with local folk at multiple weekly events attended by the young, the old and the needy. Knowing people is about more than hearing their problems at a surgery or dealing with them in a professional capacity. It’s about being with them, drinking coffee and eating cake, weeping with them and just hanging out.

Christians in churches other than the CofE are also serving in the inner city and deprived urban areas – for example, Mez McConnell is pastor of a church on a housing scheme in Niddrie, the most deprived housing estate in Edinburgh.

I wonder how many of Richard Dawkins’ atheist pals have chosen to live in an inner city area to make a difference? How many of them are visiting the elderly and running youth clubs? God’s love motivates us to serve the folk in our parish and to live in an area that most people would be unlikely to choose as ‘desirable’. What motivates Richard Dawkins I wonder?

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This weekend the Engineer’s godmother, Song, told me that our tow-un had been mentioned on Radio 4’s Food Programme. But not in a good way. It was in a programme looking at the effects and prevalence of trans-fats – factory produced fats which are used in cheap foods and which are linked to obesity and other health problems. Some national companies like McDonalds and KFC have signed up to a pledge to remove all trans-fats from their food by the end of this year. But small independent companies, like most of the ones in our high street, have generally not signed up.

The Food Programme’s presenter, Sheila Dillon, visited our high street (at around 15 minutes into the programme) with Sandwell’s Director of Public Health, Dr John Middleton. Dr Middleton says that Sandwell has been described as ‘fat central’ and that the quality of food that can be bought in the area is a factor in the obesity issues here.

And last week our local paper posted an article about how the high street here is one of the worst in the UK. The rental prices for retail property in the town have plummeted because the profits that can be made are so low that retailers are reluctant to operate here. So nearly all the shops sell cheap or heavily discounted products, which brings us trans-fats in the cut-price food and then the associated health problems.

So here, unlike Bristol, here we’re waiting for Tesco to save and regenerate our high street, as their new superstore is built. Saving and regenerating the town’s people, however, is something only God can do.

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Just to put the pinnacle on a super-busy week, the Vicar is off on a conference this afternoon. Only 24 hours, but it means I have some interesting travelling arrangements to make to ensure that the rest of us get home safely from the Boys Brigade awards evening, as I’m going to be carless.

I’ve mentioned it a bit late for you to book up too, but the website has some helpful stuff on inner city ministry and I’m hoping talks will be available online at a later date. Despite the hassle, I’m glad the Vicar is going – it’s a conference he needs to be at (and I rather wish I was too), especially after the experiences of the last couple of weeks.

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As regular readers will know, on this blog I refer to my 8 year old daughter as the Queen. This originated when she played the Red Queen in a school performance of Alice in Wonderland. She was particularly good at shouting:

Off with her head!

She also has bossy tendencies. Can’t think where she got those from.

Anyway, the Queen’s organising and enterprising streak appeared in force a couple of weekends ago when she and four friends appeared in a ‘fashion show’ at the end of our monthly church coffee morning. The Queen and her pals have spent the last few months dressing up every time they get together.

The Queen, the Joker and friends looking fashionable

After reading a Christian kids’ book called ‘The Back Leg of a Goat‘ by Penny Reeve, where the heroine puts on a fashion show to raise money to buy a goat for a family in Africa, the Queen decided that she and her friends would do the same. So they put together their dressing clothes and also an old duvet and some other old outfits, liberally snipped about. The Joker was recruited to play some ‘jazz’ (actually some mellow acid jazz cds from the Vicarage collection).

They recruited kind neighbour Beauty, who knows everything about makeup and nails. Beauty came and preened them all up and the event was ready. We arranged for them to put on the show at the end of the monthly church coffee morning, so they had a captive audience. The Queen had worked hard at getting her Kids Klub leaders and other adult friends to come along. They’d made posters and flyers which they’d handed out.

The Queen and her friends enjoyed themselves  enormously as they paraded around the hall, although I don’t think I’d say that the fashion was ready for showing alongside the next Valentino collection. And with the help of the coffee morning bric-a-brac stall they cajoled over £60 from their audience. We are going to send off the money to the Barnabas Fund, for their education fund. The Queen and her friends wanted the money to go towards educating ‘poor children’.

I just hope that I can now throw out all the snipped up clothing and retrieve a small part of our very messy Vicarage…

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