Prayers for Day 35 of Lent

The Church Urban Fund is pioneering a programme of Joint Ventures - working in partnership with Dioceses throughout England to provide long-term sustainable support for Christians working in the country’s poorest neighbourhoods.

Pray for these joint ventures, and in particular for the Joint Ventures developing in Southwark and London Dioceses, and for the partner parishes of CTC involved in this work.

Praying and working for justice

Yesterday, some of the churches who are taking part in our ‘Money Talks’ process, or doing the longer ‘Seeing Change’ course this Lent, gathered under the Dome of St Paul’s Cathedral – where this important work was held in prayer at the 6pm Eucharist.

We reproduce Canon Michael Hampel’s sermon below (the readings were Isaiah 43: 16-21 and John 12: 1-8)

The Fifth Sunday of Lent marks a gear change in our observance of Lent. The pace of our journey to the cross, following in the footsteps of Christ, quickens as we focus on Jerusalem and the final events of Christ’s earthly ministry. Today, in the Church’s calendar, Passiontide begins.

The word ‘passion’ may seem a strange word to use to describe the darkest part of the Gospel story. We often use the word today to describe emotional excitement but, at root, the word means ‘suffering’ – this case, Christ’s suffering in betrayal and death.

The word, then, has a sense about it of both the agony and the ecstasy: the agony being the very real experience of so many of the world’s people and the ecstasy being those moments when we try to stand outside of ourselves and look at how the world could really be if only we could rebuild the city and truly be the people whom God intends us to be.

On this gear-changing moment in Lent, then, perhaps we should try to stand outside of ourselves and consider – both in prayer to God and in collaboration with each other – how to redeem the agony and ensure that every human life is transformed from the darkness of Good Friday into the new life of Easter Day.

Those of you who are following the Lent course developed by the Contextual Theology Centre know about the importance of listening to people’s stories and about working together in order to respond to people’s needs. And both halves of that equation are crucial. It’s no good just criticising the Government for trying to resolve an economic crisis to which most of us have contributed without also proposing alternative solutions to the problems of recession. We must listen to people’s stories and, together, work out how to respond.

Perhaps something along those lines is going on in this evening’s Gospel lesson. The problem of the poor is placed on the table by Judas – not, we’re told, for particularly charitable reasons – but the solution to the problem is far more valuable and effective than a quick bit of fund-raising and the solution to the problem is sitting at the table. It is Jesus.

Why? Because Jesus both in his life and in his death turned upside down all conventional theories about leadership, politics, economics, law and order, relationship, community – well, and everything in fact – by coming among us as one who serves and by dispensing grace, mercy and truth as gifts from God.

It sounds very simple but it is vastly more effective than raising three hundred denarii by selling a jar of costly perfume because our discipleship of Christ obliges us as faithful people to make ourselves responsible for the plight of our neighbour and by not resting – even if it kills us – until our neighbour has his equal share of the grace, mercy and truth which flow from the generous God who made heaven and earth and who came among us as one who serves.

As one former Bishop of Durham has said, “You may not feel up to it but God is certainly down to it!”

Prayers for Day 34 of Lent

Pray for the Parish of St James’ Gloucester – one of the poorest in the Diocese.  The Church Urban Fund is supporting St James in delivering a pilot project of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes for refugees and those seeking sanctuary in the UK.

Pray also for churches in Liverpool which are exploring involvement in broad-based community organising.  CTC Director Angus Ritchie spent time training church leaders in the city last week, and discussing the theology which undergirds Christian engagement in the movement.  Pray that these conversations will bear fruit, and in enable churches to take effective action with their neighbours for social justice.

Prayers for Day 33 of Lent

Please pray for ‘Seeing Change’,  the programme of Bible study, prayer and training developed by CTC and the Church Urban Fund to equip churches to engage their neighbours in ‘Money Talks’ – exploring the impact of the financial crisis on their lives. and identifying practical action that can be taken together to respond to the needs and injustices it is creating.

Around 16 churches have done Money Talks this Lent, with many more coming in the months ahead.  Tonight, they will be holding this work in prayer at St Paul’s Cathedral’s 6pm Eucharist.  Whether or not you can join them in persin, please do uphold this work in prayer.

Prayers for Day 32 of Lent

Pray for St Philip’s Centre, which is administering the Near Neighbours programme in Leicester, and also offers training to churches and civic bodies throughout England in inter-faith engagement and dialogue.

St Philip’s also works with CTC to deliver the Catalyst training programme for young people in east London.  Pray for young people who met recently at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine (home of CTC), and for the relationships and activities which are flowing from that encounter.

Pray also for the other training partners involved in Near Neighbours – the Christian Muslim Forum, Hindu Forum, Council for Christians and Jews, The Feast, and the Nehemiah Foundation, which employs and trains community workers as part of the programme.  Pray in particular for Beti and Rukshana, the Nehemiah workers in eastern London.

Prayers for Day 31 of Lent

Please pray for Bradford Churches for Dialogue and Diversity, which is administering the Near Neighbours programme in Bradford and another of neighbouring towns – and in particular for Carlo Schroder, the centre’s Near Neighbours Co-ordinator.

In East London, pray for Waltham Forest Asian Seniors.  For many years, this organisation has provided lunch and fellowship to elders in the Asian community in the area.  With support from Near Neighbours, the lunch club has reached out to neighbours at Shern Hall Methodist Church – a simple development which is now building long-term friendships.

Prayers for Day 30 of Lent

As we continue to pray for Near Neighbours, please remember the work of the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre in Birmingham, and in particular Jessica Foster’s work as Near Neighbours Co-ordinator for Birmingham.  Pray also for The Feast, a Birmingham- based project which is supported by Near Neighbours, and is bringing together young Christians and Muslims to build friendship and to share with one another something of what their faith means to them.

Pray also for the East End Trades Guild, a project supported by  Near Neighbours in eastern London which is bringing together shops and businesses run by people of diverse cultures and faiths, and for Guild Organiser Krissie Nicholson.

Some facts about the Trades Guild…

  • Its 200 members employ 1200 people
  • In total we have a turnover of £77 million
  • Members put £17 million people’s pockets through wages last year, and £26 million of our supply chain supports other businesses in London
  • Members pay £1.3 million in business rates, and £5 million in VAT and £2.3 million in National Insurance contributions, every year.

Of particular significance for Near Neighbours…

  • We are the “face of the community” for international visitors and locals, serving 520,000 people per month. Our businesses know an average of 80 customers by name.
  • We have intimate local knowledge – we guide people to resources and other businesses, supporting each other.
  • Our relationships with local people help address social isolation and child safety, and our relationships with the police supports greater public safety and crime prevention.
  • We offer a quality of service based on in-depth product knowledge, and we build a loyal customer following.

Prayers for Day 29 of Lent

This week, one of the focuses of our prayers is the Near Neighbours programme – working to build and deepen relationships across religions and cultures.  The overall programme is run by the Church Urban Fund and the Church of England.  Pray for its Director, Liz Carnelley and Grants Officer Andy Mathews.

CTC administers the programme in eastern London.  Pray for Basic Sports and Fitness, a Near Neighbours supported project in Manor Park run by Olympic boxer John Bosco, which is bringing together young people of different faiths to get to know each other, develop healthier lifestyles, and work on other local projects together (including the CitySafe campaign, to reduce street crime and create ‘havens’ for young people in immediate fear of violence).

CTC resource endorsed by leading campaigner Ann Pettifor

Economist, campaigner and founder of Jubilee 2000 Ann Pettifor blogs on why she’s supporting the ‘Seeing Change’ course CTC has developed to help churches talk about money issues. (This course can be used in Lent, or at any time of year).
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“We read the gospel as if we had no money,” laments Jesuit theologian John Haughey, “and we spend our money as if we know nothing of the gospel.”

It continues to puzzle me that the Church – in the broadest sense of the word – finds it so hard to talk about money and economics. The Jubilee 2000 campaign revealed how much the British people valued and wanted to participate in a public conversation about the global financial system and the structural injustice of third world debt.  It also highlighted the relevance of Christian and other faith organisations to that conversation. Christian values – particularly the Judaeo- Christian and Islamic abhorrence of debt bondage or usury – proved highly relevant to the injustice of the global financial system.

Today the Church focuses much energy on matters like gay marriage and sex, and very seldom intervenes in debates about money and economics. But money and economics are big public, political and social justice issues – addressed throughout the gospel, which the Church is pre-eminently suited to talk about. This is particularly the case today, when money and economic systems, designed by our politicians and central bankers in the interests of wealthy elites, impose grave suffering, unemployment, debt bondage, homelessness, hunger and poverty on our loved ones and communities. They also embed the structural injustice of inequality within and between individuals, families and communities – local, national or global.

As American theologian Ched Myers* argued: “Any theology that refuses to reckon with these realities is both cruel and irrelevant. We Christians must talk about economics, and talk about it in light of the gospel.” Throughout the Old and New Testaments we are instructed to dismantle what Myers calls “patterns and structures of stratified wealth and power, so that there is “enough for everyone. The Bible understands that dominant civilizations exert centripetal force, drawing labor, resources, and wealth into greater and greater concentrations of idolatrous power (the archetypal biblical description of this is found in the story of the Tower of Babel, Genesis 11:1-9). So Israel is enjoined to keep wealth circulating through strategies of redistribution, not concentrating through strategies of accumulation.”

That is why I welcome this Lenten course. Christians are going to be talking about money – and also I hope, economics – and drawing on the many references to money and economic injustice in the Bible. I hope this will help us all think more clearly about what is happening all around us – so that we can act upon the principles of the gospel.

———————-

Churches who’ve been taking part in the Seeing Change course will be partaking in the 6pm Eucharist at St Paul’s Cathedral this Sunday, 17th March. Everyone is welcome to come and take part in the service where we will pray for the success of this initiative and the wider work of the Church in economic justice.

*CHED MYERS is a writer, teacher, and activist based in Los Angeles, and author of The Biblical Vision of Sabbath Economics.

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Gospel Reflections for Sunday 10 March

The lectionary readings in the Church of England and Roman Catholic church diverge this Sunday.  The Missal gives us John 8.1-11

A preacher gave a sermon against gossip in his church one week. He preached exactly the same sermon the next week…

…and the next! This time, some of his congregation asked him why he was doing this. He said, ‘I’ll go on to the next sermon once you’ve taken this one to heart!’

Just like that preacher, today’s Gospel underlines the message of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which many churches read last week.  We are given the same message again and again, because we need to absorb it in our hearts as well as our heads.

As we were reminded two weeks ago (when we reflected on the Parable of the Fig Tree), there is a world of difference between the free grace offered in Jesus Christ and ‘cheap grace’, which allows us to continue complacently in our sin.

The point of guilt is to change our ways so we ‘go and sin no more’. We are reminded of this every time we look at the cross: God’s response in Christ to sin is not vengeance, but love. How many times do each of us need to hear that, before we take it to heart?

The Church of England reading for this Sunday is John 12.1-8.  This  speaks to us of one woman’s response once she had taken the message of the cross to heart – for she anoints him prophetically, for burial. This is how grace transforms us: we only come to such overwhelming generosity in our worship of God and our relationship with neighbour and stranger when we have begun to grasp his overwhelming generosity. “We love because he loved us first.”

Almighty God, as we stand at the foot of the cross of your Son, teach us to see and know his love for us, that in humility, love and joy we may place at his feet all that we have and all that we are, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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