Call for UK churches to build a 'church of the poor'

By agency reporter
June 3, 2016

Prominent church leaders and thinkers have issued a call to action for all the UK's churches, echoing Pope Francis' wish to see "a poor church, for the poor".

Their reflections and the challenge for the church are collected in a new resource, A Church of the Poor?, to be published by the ecumenical charity Church Action on Poverty on Sunday 5 June. It highlights good work being done in many UK churches to respond to the growing problem of UK poverty. But it also shows that much more needs to be done for the Church genuinely to put the poorest and most vulnerable people first.

Church Action on Poverty's Director Niall Cooper says: "Pope Francis has said that he wants 'a poor Church, for the poor' – but what does it actually mean to be a Church of and for the poor? Here in the UK, are our churches doing enough to stand in solidarity with people in poverty? This is a question which Church Action on Poverty has wrestled with for more than 30 years, but one which we will be pursuing with renewed vigour over the coming months. This call to action is only the start. Our ‘Church of the Poor’ programme will provide further materials and resources that enable churches to discover together what it means to truly be a church of the poor. We look forward to churches across the UK joining us on this journey!"

The resource includes calls to action from leading figures in nearly all the UK's Christian traditions, including Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed Church, Church of Scotland, Quaker, Pentecostal, evangelical, and Lutheran. There are some very sharp challenges for the UK's churches:

“Priority for the poorest and the most marginalised is the gospel imperative facing the whole Church, not just the Church in the poorest places.”
(Martin Johnstone, Church of Scotland)

"The ‘option for the poor’ surely means taking up the cause of the poor and oppressed in ways which respect them as agents of their own liberation and ours."
(John Battle, Roman Catholic)

"Today’s challenge is to be a church of the poor – for if we are not, how can we understand the reality of poverty, how can we be challenged by the reality of poverty, how can we base our action on the experience of poverty, and in short how can we genuinely call ourselves a church for the poor?"
(Rachel Lampard, Vice President Elect of the Methodist Conference)

"There is still much to do before the church as a whole moves from being for the poor to being alongside and of the poor. We need to make good use of the relationships formed with people who make use of all our projects, and listen to what they, and through them the Spirit, are saying to the Church today."
(Greg Smith, Evangelical Alliance)

“I am sick and tired of hearing pompous tosh about the ‘Church’s prophetic voice’ or the ‘church in the public square’ whilst at the same time we are busy abandoning the people we purport to represent by closing their churches and withdrawing their clergy.”
(The Rev Philip North, Anglican Bishop of Burnley)

*The resource also contains case studies of effective community projects, and background on each tradition's theology and practice in relation to poverty. From 5 June, it will be available to download free from www.church-poverty.org.uk/poorchurch.

* Church actiob on Poverty http://www.church-poverty.org.uk/

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