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Advent/Christmas Letter 2014 from Bishop Christopher

posted 3 Dec 2014, 15:11 by Camberwell Deanery   [ updated 3 Dec 2014, 15:12 ]

Bishop Christopher writes…

On November 19th I chaired the launch of the report ‘Emergency Use Only’ which examines the remarkable growth of food banks across the Diocese in very recent times as well as in many other towns, cities and rural areas.  The report highlights the key contribution of many local churches leading the way with armies of committed volunteers. The report attributes this to the fruits of being rooted in local communities and a desire to respond to a very pressing human need, offering support to those who are caught in the trap of an acute income crisis and have nowhere else to turn. The evidence of the report makes it very clear that users coming to a food bank do so as a last resort when all other options have failed. How good that hospitality and a loving response to the needs of our neighbours has characterised the generous response in this Diocese and beyond; but what a scandal that a single food bank is necessary in our affluent nation.

The launch of the report coincided with Diocesan celebrations of the work of Welcare over 120 years. At the Cathedral service of Thanksgiving I suggested that in reflecting on those early days yesterday’s poverty is today’s austerity.

The problems of poverty in the late 19th Century were obvious and many individuals and families lived in squalor with the threat of the Workhouse looming over those who had fallen on hard times. Welcare and its pioneering social ‘outdoor’ workers reached out to children and young people exposed to the threat of sexual violence and other perils so we must not be tempted to romanticise life in late Victorian Britain particularly amidst the deprivations and extreme poverty of inner urban South London. The Police had to protect the pioneer missionary social workers, on one occasion helping to evacuate a Welcare worker from her flat near the Elephant and Castle where she was under siege.

In 2014 poverty is more complex, often more hidden, with a different scale of deprivations for children and young families in need, especially those caught in the trap of having to rely on benefits and handouts. The average food bank user is someone who lacks the necessary money to feed his or her family through no fault of their own and certainly not a skiver.

Christian volunteers are reflecting the call of Jesus in Matthew 25:35, "when I was hungry you gave me food." The spirit of goodwill and voluntary endeavour which characterise the growing number of food banks are a sign of care, compassion and love in Christ being extended to those who are making themselves even more vulnerable by turning to their fellow neighbours for help in their hour of need. The challenge for all of us is to work for the day when food banks will no longer be a part of the landscape of so many communities. In the days of Advent that lead to the celebration of the birth of Christ, let us work for the kingdom of God in our midst, a kingdom of justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, giving thanks when we are given the opportunity to live out the Incarnation in the love we show our neighbours.

May God bless you this Christmas and always.

+Christopher Southwark