Money, money, money

It was a delight to listen to the new Abba album that shot straight to the top of the charts as soon as it was released the other day. There were all those familiar sounds, the lovely harmonies, the delightful melodies, the songs that get even someone like me on to the dance floor. This morning in Synod I had an Abba ‘ear-worm’ playing in the background.

Money, money, money
Always sunny
In the rich man’s world
All the things I could do
If I had a little money
It’s a rich man’s world.

The Diocese of Leeds had brought an important motion to the Synod on ‘The wealth gap between the rich and poor.’ It was an important place to begin this new quinquennium, looking outwards, dealing with something that really is of vital importance, being the Church of England for England. The Covid pandemic has made us aware of many things – the fragility of our health and care sectors, the long term effects of years of austerity, the role of social media, the changing nature of a consumer economy, what life would be like with clear skies and better air (you remember what it was like when no one was flying). But it also exposed massive discrepancies between communities, between the north and the south, between the rich and the poor, and the gaps have just seemed to get wider and wider.

‘All the things I could do if I had a little money’ sings Abba and it is true – once you have money other things are possible. The debate yesterday was about the uneven wealth within the structures of the church and the debate on the budget after the one on poverty revealed a huge windfall for the Church Commissioners in terms of their assets – how will that be used in the life of the church?

Synod is a great place to bring stories and as one person said in the debate, Jesus made his points by telling stories. So we heard a lot from people’s experience in deprived communities around this country. Here we are, so prosperous, with such levels of conspicuous consumption, in which the rich are able to choose to by electric cars and save money on fuel and feel better about themselves and the poor and the not so poor but the just-managing have none of these choices. Housing, education, jobs, everything is caught up in the poverty gap.

Paul in his Letter to the Galatians talks about appearing before the equivalent of our Synod in Jerusalem. They were debating the issue of whether the uncircumcised could be evangelised. In the end Paul was given permission to go off to do his thing. But he writes so powerfully of something else he was told by that gathering of the leaders of the church

They asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.‘ (Galatians 2.10)

The church had established a diaconate to make sure that the poor were ministered to, it replicated into the orders of ministry not just the priestly role of Jesus, not just the oversight of the Holy Spirit, but that servant ministry seen in the Upper Room as the Lord knelt before his friends and washed their feet. The truth is that the church is only truly the church when we are addressing the issue of inequality, when we are being the pontifex in our communities, bridging the gaps. But we can only go so far. Of course food banks and feeding programmes are amazing and make a huge difference. But this is all sticking plaster which enables those in government to get away with creating an unequal society.

In the Five Marks of Mission that the Anglican Communion gathers round the 4th Mark begins with these powerful words

To seek to transform unjust structures of society.

That is what we have committed ourselves to. So we press Government, we press our leaders, we press those who promise the earth to voters and then carry on with preserving the very structures that cause the inequalities to exist to make those big changes which will make a difference. And, just so we are clear, this is not political, it is kingdom stuff. I often quote R S Thomas and his poem ‘The Kingdom’ and in that poem it says

It’s a long way off but inside it
There are quite different things going on:
Festivals at which the poor man
Is king

It is a long way off but debates such as the one we have heard today make kingdom reality a little more real.

God, you love us equally; may we treat our sisters and brothers equally so that all may enjoy the banquet here as well as in your heaven. Amen.

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