Listening to the experience of poverty

In conversation at Gather for the Day in Bristol

Natalie Burfitt reports on the recent CMS Gather for the Day event held in Bristol.

In his book The McDonaldization of the Church, John Drane boldly states that “the mainstream Churches have virtually never been able to relate to the poor in any significant and long-lasting way.”*

Pretty damning, right? And while we might want to hold up good and shining examples to contradict the claim, it’s hard to ignore the fact that mainstream churches in the UK tend to be middle-class. It’s not that there’s no concern about homeland poverty – it’s just that there are very few meaningful relational connections with people experiencing poverty.

But this is a space where pioneers and social entrepreneurs tend to be found, so it’s important for the CMS pioneer network to focus attention on what it means to be with communities experiencing poverty. On Thursday 21 March, the latest in our series of Gather events (meeting places for pioneers and the missionally-minded) went to Bristol to host a day of listening and learning from this context.

Eunice Attwood
The Seedbeds team from Birmingham

Eunice Attwood, Church At the Margins Officer for the Methodist Church, set the scene. She outlined key facts about what poverty in the UK looks like, as well as giving a human face to the experience with memories from her own childhood and family life.
Ash Barker told stories of ‘the places that have chosen him’, accompanied by Michael, Helen and Matt from his current home in Winson Green, Birmingham. Ash, Michael, Helen and Matt exercise creative, practical ministries at Lodge Road Community Church where the local community find a place of welcome, fun and care.

Rosie Hopley also told stories of her childhood where she knew both plenty and scarcity. Her social enterprise work is based in Bristol and Lovewell, sells beauty products that support traumatised women in to work, confidence and self-esteem. Some of us left with beautifully scented candles and diffusers purchased from their wares.

Rosie Hopley
The Clean for Good team from London

Finally, we heard from Clean For Good, a London based cleaning company that goes against the normal, exploitative practices of the cleaning service industry to offer just and fair employment rights. Its founders narrated the hardship in setting it up – a mighty task – that then seemed like a small mountain when held against the stories from two of the company’s managers. They told of years exploitation, isolation and degradation in a way that was powerfully affecting – and how Clean For Good had brought them transformation and new life.

In the conversation and connecting, there was time to ponder it all with others. A few days after Gather For the Day, there was national news coverage of the latest figures showing rising levels of childhood poverty in the UK. How we learn the names, faces and stories of the people behind the numbers is the call and invitation to all of us who seek the common good and God’s shalom.

*John William Drane, The McDonaldization of the Church: Consumer Culture and the Church’s Future (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2000), p. 61

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