Category Archives: Just Money

Praying and working for justice

Yesterday, some of the churches who are taking part in our ‘Money Talks’ process, or doing the longer ‘Seeing Change’ course this Lent, gathered under the Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral – where this important work was held in prayer at the 6pm Eucharist.

We reproduce Canon Michael Hampel’s sermon below (the readings were Isaiah 43: 16-21 and John 12: 1-8)

The Fifth Sunday of Lent marks a gear change in our observance of Lent. The pace of our journey to the cross, following in the footsteps of Christ, quickens as we focus on Jerusalem and the final events of Christ’s earthly ministry. Today, in the Church’s calendar, Passiontide begins.

The word ‘passion’ may seem a strange word to use to describe the darkest part of the Gospel story. We often use the word today to describe emotional excitement but, at root, the word means ‘suffering’ – this case, Christ’s suffering in betrayal and death.

The word, then, has a sense about it of both the agony and the ecstasy: the agony being the very real experience of so many of the world’s people and the ecstasy being those moments when we try to stand outside of ourselves and look at how the world could really be if only we could rebuild the city and truly be the people whom God intends us to be.

On this gear-changing moment in Lent, then, perhaps we should try to stand outside of ourselves and consider – both in prayer to God and in collaboration with each other – how to redeem the agony and ensure that every human life is transformed from the darkness of Good Friday into the new life of Easter Day.

Those of you who are following the Lent course developed by the Contextual Theology Centre know about the importance of listening to people’s stories and about working together in order to respond to people’s needs. And both halves of that equation are crucial. It’s no good just criticising the Government for trying to resolve an economic crisis to which most of us have contributed without also proposing alternative solutions to the problems of recession. We must listen to people’s stories and, together, work out how to respond.

Perhaps something along those lines is going on in this evening’s Gospel lesson. The problem of the poor is placed on the table by Judas – not, we’re told, for particularly charitable reasons – but the solution to the problem is far more valuable and effective than a quick bit of fund-raising and the solution to the problem is sitting at the table. It is Jesus.

Why? Because Jesus both in his life and in his death turned upside down all conventional theories about leadership, politics, economics, law and order, relationship, community – well, and everything in fact – by coming among us as one who serves and by dispensing grace, mercy and truth as gifts from God.

It sounds very simple but it is vastly more effective than raising three hundred denarii by selling a jar of costly perfume because our discipleship of Christ obliges us as faithful people to make ourselves responsible for the plight of our neighbour and by not resting – even if it kills us – until our neighbour has his equal share of the grace, mercy and truth which flow from the generous God who made heaven and earth and who came among us as one who serves.

As one former Bishop of Durham has said, “You may not feel up to it but God is certainly down to it!”

Prayers for Day 33 of Lent

Please pray for ‘Seeing Change’,  the programme of Bible study, prayer and training developed by CTC and the Church Urban Fund to equip churches to engage their neighbours in ‘Money Talks’ – exploring the impact of the financial crisis on their lives. and identifying practical action that can be taken together to respond to the needs and injustices it is creating.

Around 16 churches have done Money Talks this Lent, with many more coming in the months ahead.  Tonight, they will be holding this work in prayer at St Paul’s Cathedral’s 6pm Eucharist.  Whether or not you can join them in persin, please do uphold this work in prayer.

CTC resource endorsed by leading campaigner Ann Pettifor

Economist, campaigner and founder of Jubilee 2000 Ann Pettifor blogs on why she’s supporting the ‘Seeing Change’ course CTC has developed to help churches talk about money issues. (This course can be used in Lent, or at any time of year).
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“We read the gospel as if we had no money,” laments Jesuit theologian John Haughey, “and we spend our money as if we know nothing of the gospel.”

It continues to puzzle me that the Church – in the broadest sense of the word – finds it so hard to talk about money and economics. The Jubilee 2000 campaign revealed how much the British people valued and wanted to participate in a public conversation about the global financial system and the structural injustice of third world debt.  It also highlighted the relevance of Christian and other faith organisations to that conversation. Christian values – particularly the Judaeo- Christian and Islamic abhorrence of debt bondage or usury – proved highly relevant to the injustice of the global financial system.

Today the Church focuses much energy on matters like gay marriage and sex, and very seldom intervenes in debates about money and economics. But money and economics are big public, political and social justice issues – addressed throughout the gospel, which the Church is pre-eminently suited to talk about. This is particularly the case today, when money and economic systems, designed by our politicians and central bankers in the interests of wealthy elites, impose grave suffering, unemployment, debt bondage, homelessness, hunger and poverty on our loved ones and communities. They also embed the structural injustice of inequality within and between individuals, families and communities – local, national or global.

As American theologian Ched Myers* argued: “Any theology that refuses to reckon with these realities is both cruel and irrelevant. We Christians must talk about economics, and talk about it in light of the gospel.” Throughout the Old and New Testaments we are instructed to dismantle what Myers calls “patterns and structures of stratified wealth and power, so that there is “enough for everyone. The Bible understands that dominant civilizations exert centripetal force, drawing labor, resources, and wealth into greater and greater concentrations of idolatrous power (the archetypal biblical description of this is found in the story of the Tower of Babel, Genesis 11:1-9). So Israel is enjoined to keep wealth circulating through strategies of redistribution, not concentrating through strategies of accumulation.”

That is why I welcome this Lenten course. Christians are going to be talking about money – and also I hope, economics – and drawing on the many references to money and economic injustice in the Bible. I hope this will help us all think more clearly about what is happening all around us – so that we can act upon the principles of the gospel.

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Churches who’ve been taking part in the Seeing Change course will be partaking in the 6pm Eucharist at St Paul’s Cathedral this Sunday, 17th March. Everyone is welcome to come and take part in the service where we will pray for the success of this initiative and the wider work of the Church in economic justice.

*CHED MYERS is a writer, teacher, and activist based in Los Angeles, and author of The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics.

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Money’s too tight not to mention – ‘Seeing Change’ Lent course released

We live in tough times. As queues at Food Banks grow and benefits are cut, more and more people in Britain are finding that there’s ‘far too much month left at the end of their money’. At the same time gambling shops are sucking £5bn a year from poor communities, over a million Britons are without access to basic banking services, and payday lenders are raking in enormous profits by trapping people in spirals of debt. With Lent nearly upon us, CTC is calling on churches to become pro-active in combating these depressing signs of our unjust economic system.

Pounds

If the Church wants to offer hope to those around, it needs to find ways to talk about these issues. That’s why the Contextual Theology Centre has partnered with the Church Urban Fund to produce a five-week Lent Course to help churches explore the deep Biblical tradition on money and connect it to the experiences of ordinary people today. The course is called Seeing Change and combines studies of the story of Nehemiah with an event called a Money Talk which is designed to help gather evidence of local people’s experiences of the economic situation and what they’d like to see the Church do about it.

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Go to www.theology-centre.org/ to download the Leader’s Guide and a Guide to Holding a Money Talk. If you have any questions about the course and how your Church might use it, please get in touch with David Barclay, the Faith in Public Life Officer at the Contextual Theology Centre, at davidb@theology-centre.org or on 07791633117.

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Why sticking plasters are good, but not enough…

The Centre’s Communications Officer, Andy Walton, writes in response to the increasing focus on foodbanks and other ‘sticking plaster’ solutions to poverty.

The explosion in the number of foodbanks opening up across the UK has been greeted with several different responses. Today at Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, Labour Leader Ed Miliband suggestion it was a clear sign that things were “getting worse” that “more working people are relying of foodbanks.” Prime Minister David Cameron responded that the provision of this emergency provision was a sign of the ‘Big Society’ in action.

The Christian charity which helps local communities set up foodbanks, The Trussell Trust, now says that up to three such centres are opening per week across the country. A record number of people are thought to have come into contact with a foodbank in the past year. This number is expected to increase again in the coming year with the impeding changes to benefits and further cuts to the public purse.

Here at the Contextual Theology Centre, we are proud of the role we have played in helping to set up Hackney foodbank. It has been a remarkable success since setting up and has seen a number of local churches, schools and other institutions coming together to serve the whole community regardless of the faith position of those in need.

However, we are also concerned that so called ‘sticking plaster’ solutions such as foodbank are not the only response that the church has to the increasingly desperate plight of our poorer communities. Foodbanks, soup runs, night shelters and other emergency provision are absolutely vital to those who face crisis situations. Many of them also do a superb job in guiding clients onto other groups and services which can provide them with the means to escape poverty in the medium term.

However, we also recognise that there is a prophetic role for Christians to play in tackling the root causes of injustice, rather than just its consequences. In ancient Israel, gleaning the fields was allowed to provide for those who needed something to eat. But this was recognised as a temporary solution. The real solution to poverty was the radical redistribution of wealth promised in the Jubilee, the recognition that ultimately everything belonged to God and that to acquire and keep more than your family’s ‘fair share’ was only an ephemeral state of affairs.

For this reason, sticking plasters (or so-called ‘mercy ministries’) will always be an important part of our work, but never the full story. A second component of our social justice effort is focused on ‘justice work.’

As veteran civil rights campaigner Dr John Perkins puts it, “You’ve all heard it said that if you give a man a fish you feed him for a day. That if you teach a man to fish you feed him for a lifetime. But I say that if we are to be truly successful in making this a viable community…we must own the pond the fish live in. He who owns the pond decides who gets to fish.”

To this end, we are involved in a number of campaigns which seek to redress the economic balance of our country and our world. From tax justice to the Living Wage, we want structural change which makes a difference for the local communities we work in, across east London and beyond.

The latest example of this fight for justice comes in the form of our recent appointment of David Barclay. The former President of Oxford University Student Union is an alumnus of our Jellicoe Internship and has recently been appointed to lead our work against the deeply worrying increase in exploitative lending by companies such as Wonga. Keep up to date with this campaign by following this blog and the centre on Twitter (@theologycentre)

Looking forward

News of materials for Epiphany and Lent… and reflections on this Sunday’s readings

The second day of Advent may seem a little early to be looking forward to Lent, but many churches will now be deciding on their Lenten courses and activities!  So we thought it was a good time to highlight the fact that CTC is working with the Church Urban Fund on a Lent course on how churches can make sense of – and respond faithfully to – the continuing economic crisis.

We’re also producing some materials for the Feast of the Epiphany (Twelfth Night), a feast often overshadowed by Christmas holidays, but an important reminder of the cost as well as the joy of the Incarnation.  The visit of the Wise Men led on to Herod’s slaughter of the innocents, and the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt.  CTC and The Children’s Society will be releasing some materials to help churches reflect on issues of asylum and migration around that feast, and the associated Lectionary readings.

Reflections on the readings for Sunday 9 December

More immediately, though – here are our regular reflections on this Sunday’s Gospel – Luke 3.1-6

‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…56 All flesh shall see the salvation of God.’

The Gospel readings in these three Sundays before Christmas show us the impact of God on three lives – John the Baptist, Elizabeth and the Virgin Mary.   Their hearts and lives are well-prepared for Christ, and in different ways they show us how we can use this as a season of preparation.

John’s message is deeply challenging ,  but it begins with a word of hope.  God is active, and has power to deliver.  His salvation will be seen in the flesh, and those who groan under the weight of injustice and sin will find their freedom.

John’s ministry emerges out of time set aside for prayer – an encounter with God in the wilderness.  That’s what makes him so sensitive to God’s will.

John’s example is a challenge to us – a challenge facing anyone involved in Christian social action.  When we work together for change, we need to have John’s courage – discovering our potential to speak and act in public, in ways that move us beyond our comfort zones!  But we also need to be humble; to realize that true leadership involves helping others to grow, not dominating them and keeping them in the shade.

Getting that balance right requires time for reflection, repentance and learning.   And above all it requires us to focus on Christ and not on our own ego – so that, like John the Baptist, we recognise the time to speak out and the time to stand back and let others take the centre stage.

Prayer Intentions

Pray for all those preparing devotional materials for use in the year ahead – that they may help Christians to ground social action – as John the Baptist did – in the grace revealed to us in Jesus Christ, not in our own energies and ideas.

Money talks – the Church at its best

Whatever your theology, we can probably all agree that this week has not seen the Church of England covering itself in media glory. So it is ironic that on Wednesday evening a Newsnight report proved that the Church is at the cutting edge of an increasingly visible issue – exploitative lending.

On Wednesday the Office for Fair Trading released a report slamming Wonga and other payday loan companies for “aggressive” and “misleading” practices in collecting their debts. This was picked up by several newspapers and followed by a special report describing payday loan rates as “exorbitant” and “often agony to repay”.

The Contextual Theology Centre is working with London Citizens on a campaign called ‘Just Money’ which is seeking to help ordinary people take back control over money. We’ve produced an essay collection called ‘Crunch Time’ which gives a theological grounding for the campaign. And with a new series of ‘Money Talks’ opening up discussions about people’s experiences of money, momentum is gathering at exactly the right time. Money Talks are beginning to happen across east London.

The stories coming out of the Money Talks are powerful and depressing in equal measure.  One woman explained how she’d taken out a loan for £1,000 in 1999 which she continues to pay off to this day. Another had to bail out her granddaughter for £3,000-worth of debts racked up with Wonga. “I won’t be allowing her no more Wonga-ing” she declared valiantly.

Church of England Priest Revd William Taylor explained why he’d felt it was important to get involved:

“Many of our parishioners are poor yet resourceful. They manage on low incomes, juggling jobs and family commitments. Yet there are patterns of struggle. In particular a number of them get into severe debt problems through being unable to meet interest repayments on short term loans. It is terrifying to see how quickly their lives can become chaotic and out of control.

Parishioners like ours are organising themselves to take more control over their lives. An important first step is talking to each other and bringing the pain and fear and the particular problems into the light.”

From these Money Talks a palpable anger and appetite to see change happen is emerging. Soon the Churches who have pioneered the Money Talks will join forces and take part in a ‘Money Walk’ of their local high street to assess the situation on the ground. If it’s anything like my local high street – Bethnal Green Road – they will be shocked by what they find. One credit union is up against five pawn shops and four payday lenders in the battle to offer much-needed credit as times get hard.

Where the campaign goes from here is up to the people involved. One thing is for certain though – if I was a payday lender charging 4000% interest or a Government minister claiming that we can’t cap the cost of credit, I’d be getting pretty worried. When the local church really gets its teeth into an issue that its members are passionate about, it can be a powerful force for positive change.

Please email David at davidb@theology-centre.org for more information about the Just Money Campaign and how you and your organisation could get involved.

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