‘The poor will always be with you’

It has been a long day and so this is a short post.

Enjoying the Southwark Synod Supper.

Enjoying the Southwark Synod Supper.

The evening began with our Southwark supper. We do this each time we meet in York. Adrian Greenwood acts as the organiser and gets us together to share supper – which is a very good thing to do. When we pull in others at the Synod from Southwark Diocese there is a room full and, as Bishop Christopher commented, people from the diocese make a huge contribution to the life of the Synod.

The Southwark Supper

The Southwark Supper

We went from the supper back to the Chamber and to the debate which was introduced by a member of the Archbishops’ Council from our diocese, Philip Fletcher, who is Chair of the Mission and Public Affairs Council, on Welfare Reform and the Church.

The Order Paper contained a good number of amendments and a great deal of the time was given to dealing with these. But the debate was a good one and it raised many of the issues that I was standing to make. I had had the privilege earlier in the week to hear at the Society of Catholic Priests Conference, from Professor Emeritus John Hull who spoke to us about the prophetic church. He said that we need to understand our vocation – to be prophetic. We are called to speak boldly, courageously to society about where things are wrong, where the justice of God is not being honoured, where unjust structures must be challenged. It is not for the church to provide the answers for the politicians. We are not here to do the politicians job, we are here to fulfil the prophet’s mission.

Welfare reform at the moment is loading the poor in our society with the costs of societal austerity. Too many of those in employment are now in poverty. This cannot be right and in the debate the church spoke out powerfully and challenging.

The final vote on the amended motion was taken by a division of the Synod and the result was those in favour were 331, againt 1 and abstentions 7. This is a powerful message to society and all in politics and not just the present government. Things have to be different – the kingdom values that we hold are different and we are committed to that, for as we pray ‘thy kingdom come’.

Jesus says in Mark 14.7 that ‘The poor will always be with you.’ This was not a message to us to complacency, to accepting the situation but a call to the reality that there is always a bias towards the poor. I turn also for my inspiration to the book of Deuteronomy

Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15.11)

Perhaps we can offer this prayer of St Augustine for all our brothers and sisters.

Watch, O Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight,
and give Your angels and saints charge over those who sleep.
Tend Your sick ones, O Lord Christ.
Rest Your weary ones.
Bless Your dying ones.
Soothe Your suffering ones.
Pity Your afflicted ones.
Shield Your joyous ones, and all for Your love’s sake.

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