Surviving the first year of curacy

It’s nearly a year since ordination and I’ve survived! 

Sometimes it feels like it’s only by the skin of my teeth, but I’m still here nonetheless. So I thought now might be a good time to do a post of the things I’ve learned in that year, for those who are about to start Curacy.

 

1. Meeting the Vicar

Ok so technically this is pre-curacy but when you get to meet your TI for the first time do think very carefully before you go, about what you want to know. The meeting is as much for you as for them. How do you work? How do they work. Are those two compatible?! If you have questions, ask them, and find out exactly what is expected of you and when. Title Post agreements can be notoriously vague so if you have other things to consider (like a life) – or more specifically kids, partner, or especially if you are an SSM your paid employment – agree what you can and can’t do in terms of days and hours, and then stick to it.

 

2. Starting date

We moved house 3 weeks before I was ordained and started work. This was a luxury that I know not everyone has but it you can, make sure there is time between the two. In the run up to ordination you will have to finish college and essays or a dissertation, not to mention possibly managing a house move, potential meetings at the new church, saying goodbye to the old one, clerical garb to buy and who knows what else. Having a break before you are thrown into the madness is really useful. I know some dioceses don’t ordain Curates until September giving you the summer to have a break, which seems eminently more sensible. Of course you will be keen to get going but you might not get a break for a while so start with one instead if you can.

 

3. Burning out (or rather NOT burning out)

And on that, the first 6 months are completely exhausting. Unless you’ve stayed in your sending parish (which is very unusual unless you’ve planted a church for example) everything is new. New people, new places, new house, new job, new schools for the kids, and any selection of the above – it is draining on so many levels, mentally as well as physically, so try to take regular breaks, get rest where you can, don’t book too much in the diary, make sure your treat tin is packed and the wine rack full.

With 2 and 3 in mind let’s just think about working hours…

 

4. Working hours

There are no actual set hours from Min Div that tell you how much you should work, and every diocese, Bishop and even Vicar seems to differ. There are of course many benefits to flexible working time which means that for example as a parent I can stop work at 4 to do the school run and dinner, and then continue work in the evening. However it also means it’s nearly impossible to work out how much you are working. I spent some time in the first few months writing down my hours and what I was doing to work out exactly what was going to work for us as a family. Some weeks were bonkers and made me realise I needed to manage my diary better, but others showed me that I could be flexible.

As above, I suggest chatting to your TI about it when you start and then review it after 6 months or so if you can to see how it is going.

A while back I wrote some posts on getting the balance right, here and here which come with input from lots of clergy, so do read them if you can and find out what works for you.

 

5. What keeps you sane?

Again, leading on from the previous point, you have to look after yourself! Clergy burn out numbers are huge, start as you mean to go on and get a good balance. What helps you to feel rested? or what helps energise you? or just gives you peace? Game of squash, knitting, hanging out with friends? Whatever it is, prioritise it, book it in your diary and don’t drop it unless you really have to. Same goes for prayer/reflection/ retreat time – make sure it’s in there and doesn’t get dropped unless it’s vital!


6. Diary planning

This might not work for you but I put everything in my diary. Literally everything. I am ruthless. I use google calendar so I can access it easily from my phone if I’m out and about. I also share it with my husband’s calendar so we know what we’re each doing and when.

Each few months I go through and block in:

: Prayer time – including a morning every month for a longer prayer time (though I often use this to work I’m ashamed to say)

: IME/ study time

: Weekly running/exercise – keeps me sane and is part of my back recovery

: Days off – in red! and I never (unless an emergency) book things on my day off

: Home stuff / date nights/ Kids stuff/school events etc

Only then do I go through and put in regular meetings like PCC, staff meeting, and regular events. Closely followed by other church stuff eg: preaching, alpha, group sessions. I then add in the preparation time needed for each – so if I’m preaching I block out at a minimum a day to prepare (often spread over 2 days).

Then, anytime after that I book something else into my diary, I also add in the time I need to prepare it at the same time. I learned that if I don’t do this I just end up with a full week of stuff and no time to prep any of it.

I also try and have one day a week where I work from home for the whole day and catch up on admin and one afternoon I keep free for meeting people/pastoral visits, it doesn’t mean there won’t be others but just means at least I have one afternoon available at short notice if needed.

Sounds very regimented but it works for me and I swear by Google calendar.

Also a quick side note, you may have a shared work calendar, so if you need to book things in and don’t want the entire staff team to know what they are use a code system! I know people who use inititals eg: TFM = time for me; ABC = anything but church, that sort of thing, don’t have to tell people what they are!

 

7. On not being the Von Trapp family

Obviously it depends on your circumstances and your family if you have one, but there can be a tendency for churches to expect a lot from clergy partners and families, for example that they will come to everything, help, join in and generally be extra free help. I think that’s particularly the case for clergy wives. So, set boundaries as you need, don’t feel pressured into anything and if your kids are being a nightmare, just parent them as you normally would, don’t expect them to be perfect angels just because you work for the church.

Wider boundaries are key, especially with a family. For example, you don’t have to always answer the phone, door, email, text etc. I have an answerphone on both home and mobile and I tell people to use it as I often can’t respond straight away, and friends and family know that I call screen so if I hear it’s them I will pick up if I can! If you do answer any of the above on your day off then I think it’s harder to expect people to then respect your day off.

Family-wise, if people come to our home for meetings I don’t run around clearing up (unless it’s really bad!) and if the kids are watching TV in the next room we put up with the volume through the wall. I don’t book meetings between 6-7 unless unavoidable as that’s when we eat and Saturdays I only do essential work so that we get some family time.

School hols I avoid just thinking ‘I’ll just work from home’ which just doesn’t work for us and isn’t fair on our kids, and so we try to balance doing things with the kids and having friends over for them, or days out with Granny & Grandad when we do need to work at home.

 

8. Social media

I love social media as I’m sure you all know, great tool for the church and communication. But I have thought very carefully about my use of it since working for the church. In fact I now have two Facebook accounts – one is a family page I have with my husband for keeping in touch with family, pics etc and one that I use for work. So If I get friend requests from people I only have vague links with I point them to the more public page. Keeping boundaries, I usually don’t put personal things or pictures of my kids on my public profiles, and if I’m going to mention them in a sermon I do check with them first.

I find I think more carefully about what I tweet/post whilst trying to still be myself and I’ve also had a chat to my TI about my blog before I started the job to make sure he was ok with it.

 

9. Making friends

A difficult one. People have different opinions on this, some think you need to have good friends in any parish to help sustain you in ministry, especially if you’ve moved far away from family and friends. Others think it’s better not to as you’re there to be a leader and lines can be blurred. I really think this is one that you need to work out what’s right for you.

You might also find yourself overwhelmed with people asking you around when you first arrive, equally no one might! And on this I think key things are:

Being consistent – so if you accept invites from someone more than once and tell others you haven’t got time, that isn’t going to go down terribly well.

Secondly – though it sounds mercenary, prioritise your friends. We haven’t moved far from where we lived before so we make a real effort to see a few key people who are really important to us. They get prioritised over other invites because it’s important for us personally and as a family. Might seem selfish to some but as I said it’s important to us and I’m quite happy to explain that to people if they ask.

For whatever reason you may need (or want) to say no to invites. I’m not sure there is an easy way to say no when parishoners ask you over, but a couple of suggestions are:

: If you get lots of invites, host your own evening drinks and invite people to you, so it’s on your terms and timings.

: Offer to meet for coffee instead so you can do that during the day instead of taking up an evening or having to involve your partner/family

: Use real reasons eg: husband is busy with work, difficult to get a babysitter, we don’t do evenings as we keep them for family,

Whatever happens make sure you have a good support network, friends family, other clergy, mentor or Spiritual Director.

 

10. Not everyone has a great Curacy

There’s so much more I could say but this has to be the final point for now. No matter how good your planning or how much prayer and discernment has gone into it, your curacy may have issues.

For example: your TI gets another job, leaves or goes on sick leave, leaving you holding the fort; you just don’t get on with or disagree hugely with your TI; the expectations put on you are too much; you have a falling out with someone in the congregation, to name just a few.

If you find yourself struggling, please please please don’t suffer in silence. It can be easy to feel like you are new to this and shouldn’t complain or that is might be partly your fault, or will you jeopardise your future if you ask for help. If appropriate talk to your TI first off, or if not then the Archdeacon, or person who oversees Curates. Get advice, help and support and don’t be fobbed off if you really need it.

In some cases it might mean moving curacy, this is rare but not as rare as you might think. If it does happen, don’t panic. Get support where you can and don’t take it to heart, especially at the start of your ordained life.

 

…o0O0o…

So there you go, a few thoughts on what I’ve learned this year. I”m sure there is plenty more (I mean for a start I haven’t even mentioned Jesus –  #EpicFail – so if you’ve been through this already and have other points to add, do let me know and I’ll include them. And if you’re about to start Curacy, I hope it goes really well! If I can help or answer any questions do let me know.

 

Preach // 28th May 2017 // 6.30 TRINITY Church // Witness

6.30 service at TRINITY // 28/5/17

Witness and Mission // Acts 1:8

 

 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

 

 

…o0O0o…

Before I get into this preach tonight, I just want to say, I first sat down to write this sermon on Tuesday morning. I had just woken up and seen the terrible news from Manchester. A lot of thoughts and emotions went through my mind. And I have to be honest I just completely floundered, where was God is in this?

During the day I read an article which highlighted the good that was bring done in the wake of the tragedy but did so my suggesting Jesus came to Manchester after the bombing.

 

 

And I’ve got to be honest it just made me really angry.

 

I mean, ‘And then Jesus came?’

What was he not there before? Did Jesus not grace the doorstep of Manchester before this terrible thing? Does goodness only come out in response to terror and fear? What nonsense.

Look I think it’s almost impossible to come up with an answer to the why? in situations like this. We can talk theology or politics but it actually doesn’t really help us to understand why someone would do something so awful, to cause so much pain deliberately and equate that with an all powerful loving God.

But what I do say to people with those sorts of questions is that we need to hold the truth of who God is alongside the things we don’t understand. And I expect that is what the writer of that piece was trying to do.

Questions are ok, I’m not saying don’t question, don’t ask, because actually I think our faith grows through that, but we have to hold them in tension with the truth.

Now I know some people think that is a cop out, they want to explore and argue and come up with answers to everything and I know because as a Christian I’ve been accused of being foolish, thick, naiive, brainwashed.

They think faith without proof is mumbo jumbo, a crux for the weak. But I say the opposite, wow I mean how much strength and courage and boldness does it take to believe in Jesus? It’s rarely easy!

The thing is he is God, He’s God! If we could fathom him out and answer all our questions then we’d have no need of him in the first place!

We have to get to a place where we can be comfortable with an element of mystery. Or of not understanding.

 

So whilst what I say tonight I believe, it’s something I am passionate about and I believe it is what God has for us right now, I also recognise that sometimes it’s hard to hold that truth in tension with what we don’t understand. Perhaps what I say tonight will sound crass in the light of what’s happened, though I hope not, that is not my intention, or maybe you’d rather hear me say something about God and suffering, but I just encourage you just to try and hold what you hear tonight together with what you don’t understand if that’s ok.

 

…o0O0o…

And the truth of our passage tonight is that we are called to be witnesses for Jesus Christ. And I don’t suppose the disciples when they heard this fully understood what they were to do but they trusted in him.

 

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

Jesus is speaking here to his disciples, literally seconds before he ascended and returned into heaven – and its very appropriate for this week, because did you know it was Ascension day this week?

Now, there are many times in the bible when Jesus sends out his disciples, but I think it’s hugely significant that these are, his very last words to them.

You will receive power

The Holy Spirit will come upon you

You will be my witnesses

In all the earth

 

And before I go on I want us all to understand that this is as much for us now as it was for them then – how do we know that?

 

Matthew 28 The Great Commission, another passage like this one, sending them out:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and (now here’s the key) and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age…

And teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. So the disciples are told to teach others to do what Jesus has taught them, so then the next generation of believers has the same commission, to continue to teach what they have been taught, and so on… right up to us in this day.

Whatever Jesus commanded the disciples to do, we can therefore say is for us too.

Does that make sense?

 

So for example. Matthew 10:7-8 one of my fave passages, Jesus sends out the 12 with these instructions:

 

As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.

 

Yes? Come on!

That’s what I want to see, the sick healed, the dead raised, lives transformed…

and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Remember…

 

So just as the disciples were, WE are Jesus’ witnesses – anyone who is a Christian who has been made a disciple is called to be a witness for Jesus to all nations, to the ends of the earth.

That’s us.

So, are you a witness for Jesus? Are we as a church a witness for Christ?

 

And what does that even mean anyway?

…o0O0o…

Well 2 words that strike fear into the hearts of many:

Mission and evangelism… that is what witness means.

But why is that we hear words like them and break out in a cold sweat?

Well maybe it’s because we have seen really bad evangelism and want nothing to do with it? Maybe we’re worried people will think us weird if we talk about you know, (hushed) Jesus.

Or because the church often has a bad reputation, and we don’t want to have to deal with difficult questions about suffering or evil or homosexuality or women in the church…? Goodness whatever next!

Or maybe it’s just that we don’t really know what it means or what we’re supposed to do?!

Because we’ve already established that this is for everyone, right – we’re all supposed to be doing this, because we are supposed to be following what Jesus taught his disciples, yes?

 

…o0O0o…

Now look, some of us ARE called to be out and out evangelists. We are called to be project starters, to be pioneering new ideas out there… And that is great, we need pioneers to have ideas to get things going, to be out there among the people. And some of us aren’t called to that specifically as a calling or gifting, but we must not be people who sit back and think, well that’s ok – they, them over there are the missional types, they are the evangelists – I’ll let them get on with it…

But equally I’m not saying we all need to be out there on a street corner with a soap box and a loud haler telling people they are going to hell,

but we should be doing something.

So what can we do? And I’m going to focus on us as individuals though it’s as much a call for the church together as it is for us.

So we’re going to use Forrest Gump as an example.

Now I love Forrest Gump – how many of you have seen the film?

If you haven’t it’s the story is of a guy who, well I guess today he’d be classed as having learning difficulties, and it’s his journey through life. And he gets into all sorts of amazing situations mostly by accident.

And the reason I wanted to show it to you today is because I think Forrest is a great example of someone who is missional and evangelistic.

So here’s 3 things we can learn from FG about being a good witness, about being evangelistic and missional.

 

We can be incarnational

We can tell our story

We can go wider

 

 

1) We can be incarnational

 

Had to get that clip in, the most iconic line!
So, being incarnational – literally means in this context – just being who you are, a Christian – being a light for Jesus wherever you are. Jesus was the ultimate incarnation – he came to earth and took on human form in order to fulfil God’s mission. So for us that might mean intentionally seeking to be a shining light wherever we are. We can bring a Christian presence in any given situation, bring a different viewpoint, a bringer of peace and light.

So for example, Forrest makes the most of wherever he is, or wherever he is sent, or wherever he finds himself. He is just himself and takes everything in his stride. No matter what the situation – at war, in business, siting on a park bench – he embraces the place where he is. I am sure sometimes people think him weird but he either doesn’t notice or doesn’t care.

So great example here – he’s just waiting for a bus and he doesn’t just sit there and ignore everyone, he is the same as he always is and so he just chats to people who come and sit next to him, or offers them a chocolate!

Jeremiah 29:4-7 says this:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

 

These are people who were sent to exile, sent away from homes and family and all that they knew, but God tells them to embrace where they are, to bless where they are, where he’s placed them.

We have to own where God has put us! I don’t think any of us are where we are by accident!

So, where has God put you? What’s your mission field? College, work, home, football club… where do you hang out with people?

Wherever you are, you are bringing the presence of God, because we carry that within us anyway. You don’t necessarily have to be talking about Jesus. sometimes just people knowing you are a Christian or that you go to church, is enough. It means that when they have questions or they need support they might just come to you.

John 13:35 tell us:

 

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples- if you love one another”

 

that’s how people will know about God, if we love people and love one another. That’s quite simple isn’t it?

And I always tell the story of my husband who had a work colleague who was a Christian, she didn’t go on about it a lot, he just knew because she’d said occasionally, that she went to church. So when he started having questions about faith, he knew exactly who to ask!

 

Be incarnational and embrace where God has put you.

 

OK so what else can we learn from Forrest Gump?

 

2.We can tell our story – we can talk about what God has done for us.

FG, talks about his faith quite openly and without shame or being embarrassed, he just talks matter of factly about it. And because he does that, people respond – so here you see Lieutenant Dan saying ‘where’s this God of yours’ but actually there is more to it that just teasing, he is on a journey, and later on FG says that he thinks Lt Dan made his peace with God.

But because he is open about his faith it’s easy for God to move! Here we see an amazing miracle but it’s the same in our lives too wherever we are open and seeking God, it just creates ways for him to move and for us to reach into peoples lives.

Your story is one of the best tools for evangelism that you have. Testimony is so powerful, we are a people who love stories, we especially love personal stories and stories of people going from sad to happy, from a bad place to a good one. Some of the stories we see in Alpha, like the guy who had been in prison and the became a Christian and his life was turned around. How many of you watch movies on Facebook or Social Media of heart warming stories? It makes you feel good right!? Your story could do that for someone else.

In Mark 5, where Jesus healed a demon possessed man and when the man asks to go with him, Jesus says no – just go and tell people what the Lord has done for you.

Mark 5:18-20

As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.” So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.

 

This man had been healed by the Lord. And what did Jesus tell him to do – just go and tell people what had happened to him. And that is key. Our story, our testimony.

You know someone close to me who is not a Christian, we’ve had so many conversations about faith and God and the bible, and he is very antagonistic and the only thing that gets him to really listen is when I talk about what God has done and is doing in my life. My story.

I’m not trying to be a theological expert or answer all his questions and get out of the traps he lays for me! I’m just telling him what’s going on in my life.

He even once said, ‘I wish I had what you have’. I’m still praying for him, he hasn’t recognised Jesus yet but I have faith that he will!

…o0O0o…

And you don’t have to have some amazing healing or dramatic conversion, it might just be that because of your faith you are able to feel peaceful in a stressful situation. Or are the one who can be a peacemaker between arguing friends, or the one who encourages people to help someone worse off than them. That’s your cue, your opportunity when people notice those things, that’s just as much you story…

And, we don’t see in this clip but the man sat next to FG on the bench doesn’t believe him and goes off laughing. But FG just carries on talking to the woman next to him. Just like in the parable where the seed falls on rocky ground, in weeds and in good soil, we still need to sow it! That man might never have believed but the woman next to him certainly does!

1 Peter 3:15

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…

Use your story you know it well!

…o0O0o…

And finally. FG shows us that we might go further, go the extra mile.

 

3.We can go wider/further

FG ends up in all kinds of situations that as a child no one thought him capable of, they didn’t even want him in school because they thought he couldn’t cope with it.

The truth is we just don’t know where God might take us. And that might be a one off situation where he calls you in that moment to do something radical or bold or courageous for him. Or it might be wider calling to go somewhere like Lisa from our congregation here who God has called to Uganda for example. Or I have friends that moved to a particular estate locally because that’s where God led them to.

We might end up in places we never thought we could go or doing things we never thought we could do. We need to be open to the leading of God. In our passage it says that the Holy Spirit will come on them. We need to be aware of the HS in our lives, to listen, to hear and be led by him.

I think this is one of the most inspiring scenes in the movie. FG is fighting in Vietnam and despite the danger, despite the fear, he is completely focussed on rescuing people, saving his fellow soldiers.

Isn’t that what we’re about at the end of the day? Seeing people saved? Rescued?

Where might God send you? Who might he be calling you to see saved or rescued?

And more than that, FG did in that moment more than he could have done without the adrenaline and fear and desperation to find his friend. It’s just like that when the HS comes on us, we can achieve so much more than in our own strength!

 

…o0O0o…

 

and one more thing I want to pick up on..

 

Mark 16:15 says

And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation

 

And in our passage from Acts:

and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

 

 

To the ends of the earth…

Did you know that According to Finishing the Task, (evangelistic organization) there are 506 unengaged, unreached people groups with populations over 10,000, together numbering over 51 million souls that are still beyond the reach of the Gospel.

Most of which lay in what’s often referred to as the 10/40 window – a band which lies across Africa and Asia from 10 degrees latitude north of the equator to 40 degrees latitude north of the equator.

But what if we’re not called to actually go to somewhere across the world, does that mean we can’t share the gospel across the world?

No – in our technological era, with the internet and social media, I can put something online that can be seen across the world in seconds. Even in remote places. Of course there are people without access to the internet but it is still a very useful tool.

So for example, I went on my blog stats and looked at where people were viewing my blog from.

There was a huge list of countries. But some had just 1 or 2 views. So if I wanted it would be very easy to write stuff to reach a particular country, or to set my profile and settings to reach a different area. All without leaving the comfort of my sofa!

Social media – we can contact people all over the world. I have friend who runs a school and orphanage in rural Haiti and they keep in touch via Facebook because its the easiest way to get the news out to lots of people and quickly (and it’s free!).

 

Going into all the world might not necessarily mean actually physically going there…

 

…o0O0o…

So.

 

We are ALL called to be witnesses for Jesus. There can be no excuses!

 

We could be incarnational

We can share our story and

We might just be able to go a bit further…

 

…o0O0o…

Lead into prayer….

 

 

 

Ministerial training in the Church of England: A Round Up

A few years ago, I put together a series of guest blog posts on ministerial training in the Church of England. We are approaching that time of year when decisions need to be made about colleges, so here’s a round up of those posts which might well still be useful and certainly gives a selection of viewpoints from different colleges.

Intro – residential or regional training, full or part time, is one better than the other?
Regional Training at SEITE – a look at regional training from a student’s view point (now St. Augustine’s College)
Residential at Oak Hill – a look at residential training from a student’s view point.
Residential at Cuddesdon- a look at residential training from a student’s view point.
A Mixed view – from someone who has been at both

 

 

Blog Giveaway !

So I’ve been clearing out my study and have some bits that I have accumulated through various means, including stuff I’ve been sent to review, so I thought I’d do a blog give away competition for anyone who fancies a few more theology/Christian books (yes I know limited audience…!)

The prize selection includes the books as pictured above, a mug, small bag and some other bits. There may well be more when I finish clearing out… I should note that everything is new, except that I have added hand written notes in the ‘Parish Handbook’ from when I was reviewing it!

How to enter //

All you have to do to enter is tell someone about my blog via social media and encourage them to sign up to it – either by subscribing via email (which can be done by filling in the box to the right under ‘join the conversation’) or by following the Facebook page.

You can do that either by sharing this post, retweeting or tweeting about it, sharing the Facebook post or just generally sharing info about my blog on social media and pointing people to it (feel free to tag me in any posts). Then, and here’s the thing, you must tell me you’ve done it, either via Twitter, email or FB message. I’ll draw a winner at random on Friday evening and post out next week.  

One entry per person but feel free to share as much as you like!

Sorry but entries are limited to mainland UK because of postage costs.

 

Any questions do let me know!

 

 

There are many complex reasons why people go to food banks // Guest post from Jane Perry

Today’s post is a guest post from Jane Perry. You can read more about her at the bottom of the post.

 

Dear Mrs May,

On the BBC’s Andrew Marr show yesterday (30/4/2017) you said “There are many complex reasons why people go to food banks”. It must be hard, as Prime Minister, to be faced with so many complex problems – negotiating Brexit whilst attempting to maintain the economic stability which you rightly identify as key to the long-term security of our public services, being just two of them. But I do have some good news for you: The continued rise in food bank use is not inevitable. It is something you can deal with, and relatively simply.

In 2014, I was part of research lead by Oxfam, working with the Church of England and other partners, to understand food bank use. We wanted to go beyond taking cheap shots at ‘welfare reform’ to uncover the underlying reasons why families have little option other to turn to food banks and set out what might be done to prevent that happening. You don’t need to do that work, the detail is all there in our Emergency Use Only report, now supported by an increasing range of other studies. And there’s little need to worry about whether those findings are still current, the main thing that has substantially changed in the last 3 years is that things have got harder and less certain for many of those who need our help most.

If you read the report, or indeed just talk to people in food banks, I’m afraid there is one central finding that you won’t be able to ignore: Most people are there because they simply do not have enough money to meet essential bills and to feed their families. With alarming frequency, families told us something had happened which left them with literally no, or very little income. We called this ‘acute income crisis’ and set out how it could be distinguished from – even though it was usually underpinned by – ongoing, chronic, low income. I’ll return to low income in a moment, but first we need to be clear: acute income crisis is real and is affecting 100,000’s of people across the UK right now. That is shocking, but it is something we, or rather Government acting on our behalf, can do something about. Here are 3 suggestions for where to start:

  1. No one leaves a Jobcentre hungry. In the UK, we expect the social security system to be there to support the poorest and most vulnerable, when they need it most. There are good reasons why Jobcentres, not food banks, are the best place to offer immediate help and ongoing support to work on underlying problems. That is what our benefit system is designed to do. However, repeated evidence shows that is not currently happening as it should do. You can fix this.
  2. Ensure continuity of income. Often the biggest challenges facing low-income families is insecurity: not being able to rely on regular income, from work or benefits. Universal Credit is a big step forward. It is essential UC is adequately funded and implemented well, ensuring that a basic safety net is there for everyone, all the time. It is early days, but reports from foodbanks in UC areas are worrying. With continuity of income in mind, you might particularly encourage DWP to think again about the 6-week waiting time for first payments, or at least make sure a robust short-term support system is in place and that all claimants are made aware of it.
  3. An economy that works for everyone. Low pay and insecure jobs are a blight on British society, as is the ‘race to the bottom’ to ensure that benefit payments are kept lower than wages. When work pays, then there is no reason to be afraid of giving decent benefit payments to those who genuinely need it. Again, your Government’s increase in the Minimum Wage are very welcome, but we need a decent Living Wage. Too many people are working hard in jobs where the pay for which falls short of what they need for an acceptable minimum standard of living.

As I’m sure you’ve reflected since, the only appropriate response to Andrew Marr’s question about nurses using food banks is “if that’s correct, that is appalling. I’ll look into it and do everything I can”. The only thing that is intractable about foodbank use is the determination to love and care shown by those who run or support them. That social solidarity should be encouraged but there are so many better ways that energy could be used, turning ‘I need…’ into ‘We can…’. However, people cannot move forward if they are left without enough money for food. Their lives are complicated, but the message is clear: This will not do. Policymaking is complex, but that’s no reason for inaction.

 

Jane Perry  previously worked within government, at the Department for Work and Pensions, and for the Policy Studies Institute and National Centre for Social Research. She is now an independent social research consultant. She was the lead author of Emergency Use Only report (Oxfam et al, 2014), pioneered the ‘Listen Up!’ project in Sheffield Diocese, and also produced Paying over the Odds (Church Action on Poverty, 2010).

 

Hidden Beauty

It’s my day off today which means I have slept in, my husband has taken the kids to school and I have finally surfaced at 11am, and breakfasting with a cup of tea and some chocolate (because I can, ok?), I find myself looking out the window onto the garden we’ve spent many hours working on this weekend.

We love our Curacy house, it is an absolute blessing, and far beyond what we had hoped for. But when we moved in, it’s fair to say the garden was a tad neglected. A lovely neighbour from the church had been round and moved the lawn but aside from that it was a bit of a jungle. There was a rotting shed in the corner, a strange sort of fenced off inner sanctum, which we later discovered was the result of a previous tenant owning a lot of cats, (random, yes) and very overgrown. Thankfully we like a gardening challenge and over the last year (aided a lot by my parents) we’ve started to transform this mess into something more loved.

When you preach regularly you tend to view life through the lens of ‘well, that would make a good sermon illustration’ and there are so many in this garden but I think my favourite here was the gift of an apple tree.

This was one side of the garden when we moved in.

 

You can just about see that those grey posts are holding back a chicken wire fence and what looks like a large amount of ivy, in fact I’d call it an ivy tree it was that bad, as well as some other overgrown bushes. On closer inspection we found that behind this fence was another 4 foot of garden, with the fence going round 2 sides of the garden. It was impossible to work out what was behind it or to weed or plant anything as you just couldn’t access it. So one swift phone call to the diocesan housing department and they agreed we could take it out, but on the strict understanding that they weren’t paying for it!

So we all got to work. 

And work it was, the fence posts were about 4 foot into the ground in a large amount of concrete and it took an entire day to get the first post out. But when we did, we were amazed to find a tree behind it.Not only that, an apple tree, with apples growing on it. You can just about see them poking through the ivy here:

 

 

A lot of cutting back followed and the first of many many trips to the tip before the tree and some wonderful plants that had been hidden, emerged from the chaos, including well established rosemary and sage plants. Suddenly we found that the overgrown mess we thought we had, actually contained both the beautiful and the sustaining. 

The garden is still very definitely a work in progress and further cutting back halted whilst the birds nest, but here is the tree now, and the herb bed that we expanded in front of it.

 

I love the image this gives of the stuff that is hidden in the mess of our lives. Some of us are pretty messed up and then God, the ultimate gardener, starts to prune away and pull out our weeds. It’s tough going sometimes, hard work and painful.  Bits of roots get left behind and start to regrow and need to be pulled up again, but this time it’s less painful, until there is nothing left of that weed.

And underneath it all is something worthwhile, something beautiful, something that with a bit of nurturing can grow and flourish.

And into that we can plant new things, useful things, things that bring glory to God, things that can give life, and sustain us.

Just like me, our garden is still a work in progress, sometimes it’s raining and cold and I don’t want to go near it, other times it’s easy, the sun is thing and I can’t wait to get out there, and sometimes it’s just darn hard work.

I’ve recently found myself with my morning cuppa, staring out the window and looking at the fruits of our labour, the beauty in the garden and reflecting on it. I like to think that’s what God does as he looks at us – sees the beauty, recognises the hard work that has gone into us, and takes pleasure in just admiring us.

Holy Week Reflection 7 // Holy Saturday

Holy Saturday – in the Grave

Read: Luke 23:50-56

  • What, if anything, stands out to you?

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 13 and 14 click on the numbers to get the audio

 

Artwork: two choices today:

‘The Deposition’ Ugolino de Neriolook close up at the faces of Mary and Jesus 

 

or Michelangelo’s ‘Pieta’ sculpture (click on the titles to see the paintings)

 

  • Both these pieces depict the raw emotion of a Mother with her dead son. Can you feel the sorrow through the artwork?

 

Prayer Points:

  • As we come to the end of the week’s reflections, why not commit yourself afresh to the Lord? You could use this prayer – The Methodist Covenant Prayer which Methodists repeat every year in committing themselves afresh to the Lord.

 

I am no longer my own but yours.

Put me to what you will,

rank me with whom you will;

put me to doing, put me to suffering;

let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,

exalted for you or brought low for you.

Let me be full, let me be empty,

let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things

to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

you are mine and I am yours.

So be it.

And the covenant made on earth,

let it be ratified in heaven.

Amen.

 

 

 

Holy Week Reflection 6 // Good Friday

Good Friday – The Crucifixion

Read: Mark 15:21-41 perhaps 2 or 3 times

  • What, if anything, stands out to you?
  • Imagine yourself in the text, at the foot of the cross, how does it make you feel?

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 11 and 12 click on the number to get the audio

Painting: ‘St John of the Cross’ by Salvador Dali Click on the title to see the painting

 

  • This painting was inspired by a drawing, kept in the Convent of the Incarnation in Avila, Spain, which was done by Saint John of the Cross after he had seen a vision of Christ during a powerful spiritual experience. Dali talks of the unity of the world in Christ through his own interpretation. What does it speak of to you?

 

Song: Strange way by Martyn Joseph

 

  • A cleverly written song on the Crucifixion, have a listen to the lyrics and see what stands out to you and think about why.

Prayer Points

  • We sometimes talk of nailing our burdens or our sin to the cross. What do you need to let go of and give to the Lord right now? Lift it to him in prayer.
  • Pray for those who are persecuted for their Christian faith around the world.
  • Pray for those you know struggling in their faith

 

Holy Week Reflection 5 // Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday – The Last Supper

Read: Luke 22: 7-30 and/or John 13:1-17

  • What, if anything, stands out to you? 

Listen: Stations of the Cross by Malcolm Guite 9 and 10, click on the number to hear the audio

 

Painting: ‘Journey with Jesus’ by He Qi click on the title to see the image

 

  • There is much symbolism and many references in this picture, what stands out to you?
  • Where would you be in this picture?

 

Prayer Points:

  • Focus on the line from Luke ‘…my blood is poured out for you…’ Spend some time thanking God for the amazing sacrifice he made for you.
  • Pray for those in positions where service is key, perhaps the emergency services, medical staff or armed forces.
  • Pray for those who serve you personally. At home, work, church or in the community…