Gather for the Day: listen to the experience of poverty

Ash Barker and Rosie Hopley are two of the guest practitioners speaking at Gather for the Day in Bristol on 21 March

In the last few weeks I’ve tipped up in two different parts of the UK, one in central England, one in south Wales.

I’ve wandered around residential areas that many of you would recognise as a familiar context: areas of deprivation with a lack of community spaces and resources – no shops, no play park, no cafe or pub or restaurant, nowhere safe to walk, away from traffic. It’s hard not to notice the negatives, particularly on a grey January day.

I wondered about the people who live in these neighbourhoods. What are their treasures to share? What do they hope for and dream of? Who is God for them? In both places, I spotted party balloons drifting sadly outside a home. There are things to celebrate here – but there’s a lack of attention and value to the joy that can be found in communities that experience neglect.

What both areas did have was a church. One was covered in banners advertising Christian courses and organisations that will help you lose weight and the other was a shiny new building, incongruous with its surroundings, not least the boarded up pub directly across the road. I’ve no doubt both organisations are doing their best to express God’s love and attention in meaningful ways – food banks and community meals, hospitable welcomes and debt advice, services at key life events. It’s all good stuff. If I lived here, would I connect with these things? Maybe. Would I feel at home in the church, would it represent something of my life as I live it? 

In his book The Christlike God, John V Taylor warns against the temptation to be the provider as imaged in the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness and the taunt to turn stones to bread. This is so often the Christian response in situations of poverty and there are conscious efforts take a different stance, ‘being with’ rather than solely ‘working for’. This is a learning journey with many gifts being discovered along the way.  

Pioneers are often the people who are wrestling with how to be with and for in places of deprivation, trying to be creative and humble in a figuring out a way forward. It’s good when there is space to share wisdom, practice and resources for those who are teasing out ways to be true to Jesus’ pattern of being with people and working for justice. 

One opportunity for this is coming soon on Thursday 21 March at The Elmgrove Centre in Bristol. You are invited to come and hear some great speakers, all experienced learners in how to be with people living at the edge of social and economic resources. They are Ash Barker, Eunice Atwood, Rosie Hopley and Charlie Walker, all practitioners with lots to bring to the conversation. Wherever you are in your own learning of situations of UK poverty, bring your discoveries, questions and gifts to the day to add to the conversation. 

Tickets cost £20

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