This newsletter comes with every blessing for the Advent season, and for Christmas when it comes.
These are puzzling times, and it is not easy to grasp the changes that we are seeing around us at present or to work out how, as ministering Christians, we might best respond to them. Through relationships in congregations, local communities, and workplaces, clergy are deeply connected to the sharp end of much of this change, and on the whole it’s not very comfortable.
Powerful forces are reshaping how we live together and at the moment their destructive and divisive potential is very apparent. The banking crisis in 2008 and more recently Brexit and the Election of the new US President have exposed an appetite – perhaps even a desperation – for change, but little clarity on how a better society might emerge, and who might be able to flourish within it. The outlook seems bleak: the economy has not recovered, we are seeing significant rises in hate crime and there is a vague feeling that things are not as they should be, which in turn creates an underlying sense of fear.
Maybe, though, as we approach this Advent season, we should try to discern within these changes the possibility for hope. Could it be that what we are actually living through is deep systemic change, a necessary if unsettling step in a journey towards a society and even a world which looks very different –more just, more human, and more equal? This is a time when, as well as responding to the voices and needs of the individuals on our doorsteps, we need to be doing what we can to shape the forces that are having such a profound effect on the lives of many of the people we serve. As we reflect on the coming of Christ, perhaps we can take inspiration from the example of freedom, equality, and love that is the life of Jesus, and consider how that might be expressed in our communities creatively at this time.
At CUF, we are keen to support and resource you and your church in this. We have this week launched our Common Good Fund which is aimed at offering alternatives to the voices of hate that have become more pronounced in recent months. At CUF, we have been working through our Near Neighbours programme to build connections between different faith communities, encouraging them to work together on local projects aimed at improving life in their neighbourhood. This new programme extends that work across the country, so if you have ideas about activities your church could do to build trust, nurture relationships and work together with others then we would be delighted to hear from you.
Attached here is a letter from my colleagues, Liz Carnelley and Jon Miles, that offers more details about the Common Good Fund.
I am very grateful to those who have already signed up for our Advent Sleepout Challenge, an event that we are now organising on an annual basis. The sleepout raises much needed funds for the work that we do through our local networks with the homeless. If you want to know more – or if you fancy a freezing cold night out (which I can recommend as an aid to reflection in Advent!) – then do follow this up on our website.
Looking further ahead, we have produced some very helpful Lent resources to help churches think through the issue of hunger and food poverty, one of the most immediate consequences of some of the changes we are seeing around. I hope you will consider using them with your congregations and, where possible, more widely.
Much of CUF’s work these days is concerned with hunger. The statistics make frightening reading. For example, despite generally low levels of inflation, food has increased in price by 31% over the last 10 years. This has a particularly negative effect on children with increasing numbers turning up for their first day at school underweight. If you would like to support us in this work then do consider our Big Pancake Party where we are inviting churches, schools, and others across the country to join us in celebrating Shrove Tuesday with a fun event which will help us engage with this increasingly serious issue.
At CUF we want to support and encourage you in your ministry so that together we can be Good News in these changing times. It is not words that will lead to the sort of positive change we want to see in our communities but rather action that shows love for neighbour. Please do use us and help us, as we all work together to shape a new future.
With every blessing,
Canon Paul Hackwood
Church Urban Fund