Last night I watched a Panorama programme about food banks in the UK. These have grown enormously over the last few years and have been greeted with a strange mixture of gratitude and fear by the government. Gratitude, because this is exactly the sort of voluntary community action that the government wants. Fear, because it is appalling that one of the richest countries in the world has rising numbers of people that can’t afford to eat.
There were two things that really struck me.
First, was the appalling way that we treat people at the bottom of the pile. One of the shocking aspects of the programme was that it was the poor administration of the benefits system that left many people in food poverty. Mistakes in calculating and paying benefits pushes people on the edge over the cliff. Equally shocking were the attempts by some interviewees to create categories of ‘deserving poor’ and ‘undeserving poor’. Yes, it is foolish to buy cigarettes rather than food, but are we simply going to let those people starve until they learn their lesson? Are we going to let their children starve? More specifically as a Christian there is simply no such thing as deserving and undeserving poor or people. ‘We all have sinned and fallen short’. Some peoples ‘falling short’ is out in full view, others hide their failings and problems. The same grace is offered to all. Remember the parable where the the workers were paid the same regardless of when they started working. The Christian response is always to say how can I help you go forward and never to condemn people for the place they are in or how they got there.
Which brings me to the second thing that struck me. Overwhelmingly it is people of faith who are feeding the hungry. The programme didn’t make a massive deal of it but the examples were from churches and Christian organisations. I was proud to be part of the community that is serving those in need.
Over the last couple of years Cinnamon Network, which I chair, has helped over 300 local churches to start community service projects. Many of those have been food banks. This year we are organising thirty Regional Events hosted by local churches to inspire and resource church based community transformation.
As the social needs in our communities continue to increase and local councils are being forced to re-imagine welfare, the Church faces an unprecedented opportunity to serve.
The Cinnamon Network is trying to make it as easy as possible for local churches to serve the people who are most at need in their communities.
We want to invite you to attend one of these events to:
- Introduce you to a menu of church-based community projects which you can draw from to help solve social needs.
- Explore which best-practice projects are most appropriate for your community and church.
- Explore how to start a new church based community project by using the ReadySteadyGo pathway.
- Take away new resources to inspire more of your congregation to volunteer for community projects.
- Understand how other churches are finding new ways to work with one another, the local council, the police and other statutory agencies.
- Look behind the scenes of how community projects work by meeting the project leader, volunteers and beneficiaries.
- Find out how easily you can access Micro-Grant of £1,500-£2,000 to start a new church-based community project.
Last nights BBC programme showed how servant-hearted, well thought out, motivated by compassion churches can make love real to people at their point of need. We need to do so much more.