The Rt Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow, gave the presidential address to the Synod of the Diocese of Durham on Saturday 21st May.

In his address he talked of putting ourselves in other shoes – to see what their situation was, he quoted a number of key statistics showing the degrees of hardship and poverty present in our communities. 

He said: “You will know, I hope, that:

  • in one of the Gateshead parishes over 50% of the children are living in poverty.
  • That means for those who are interested in statistics, that 52% of the children living in homes where the income is less than 60% of the national median income.
  • You may know too that a woman living in the middle of Stockton-on-Tees will die 18 years before a woman living in the middle of Durham.
  • You may know that in the middle of Stockton-on-Tees nearly half of the parents are bringing up children on their own. Life is complicated for people in lots of our communities.

“And the people who know far more about this than I do tell me that

  • poverty is not just about not having enough income or skills or health,
  • it is also about not having good and supportive community and family around you.
  • It is about not having anyone to turn to when life gets difficult or you need help with the children or something goes very wrong for you.
  • Poverty is also about not believing in yourself; having that strong sense that really you have no value.

“So what we call the poverty agenda is in fact about broadening our experience of the human family. It is about reminding ourselves again and again and again that every single person in our parish is made in the image of God; somebody for whom Christ died. It is about removing any lurking suspicion we may have that some lives matter less than others.

“It is all about blessing our communities in Jesus’ name – but also allowing our communities to bless us.”

The full transcript of Bishop Mark’s address and the video of his address follows.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gbZ0LnyUD8U&width=600

Transcript:

Diocesan Synod – Saturday 21 May 2016

So this has been a long and complicated Synod. There have been good stories to hear. We have things like money to worry about. We have heard something about how we are going to resource and support laity and clergy across the diocese in the coming years.

And as we come to the final session of this Synod, I think my job is simply to remind you why we are doing all this. We are doing all this to bless our communities in Jesus’ name.

We are here to bless our communities in Jesus’ name. That is what we are about.

I hope by now you will know something about the communities that we are seeking to bless. Because often life is quite difficult for people within our communities.

You will know, I hope, that

  • in one of the Gateshead parishes over 50% of the children are living in poverty.
  • That means for those who are interested in statistics, that 52% of the children living in homes where the income is less than 60% of the national median income.
  • You may know too that a woman living in the middle of Stockton-on-Tees will die 18 years before a woman living in the middle of Durham.
  • You may know that in the middle of Stockton-on-Tees nearly half of the parents are bringing up children on their own. Life is complicated for people in lots of our communities.

And the people who know far more about this than I do tell me that

  • poverty is not just about not having enough income or skills or health,
  • it is also about not having good and supportive community and family around you.
  • It is about not having anyone to turn to when life gets difficult or you need help with the children or something goes very wrong for you.
  • Poverty is also about not believing in yourself; having that strong sense that really you have no value.

I was hearing the other day from somebody who is doing a lot of work with people who are in recovery from drink and drug addictions, that very many of the people they work with find it almost impossible at the end of the day to think about what has gone well, all they can think about is where they went wrong and were a bit rubbish.

That is some of the reality of life in our communities; the communities which we are called to bless in Jesus’ name.

I hope it is alright to say this but I am often anxious that when I go and visit congregations, those congregations do not truly represent the wide range of people who live in the parish and to be honest, there have been some times over the last eight and a half years when I visited a PCC and have not really been certain that the PCC and congregation knew who lived in their parish.

I think therefore that if we are serious about blessing our communities in Jesus’ name, we need to learn more about them and more important to start to imagine what it is like to live in the shoes of many of those who live in our communities.

I have been wandering around the planet now for well over 60 years and I am constantly amazed at how very little I know about the lives of so many people in our communities.

Sharon Pritchard our Children’s Ministry Adviser, was talking to some Readers’ the other day and was telling a story from a Messy Church project in another part of the country. If you know anything about Messy Church you will know that one of the important bits of it is that at the end everybody sits down and has a meal together. And at the end of one of these sessions, a young boy went up to the vicar and said please can I ask you a favour. The vicar said yes and the boy said please could we borrow one of these tables. The only time we ever sit down together for a meal is when we come to Messy Church and Christmas is coming up soon and we would really like to be able to do that at home so please can we borrow a table.

And as I listened to that story, I was left wondering about how many of us in that gathering of Readers’ and indeed how many of us in Synod today, come from families where it is not the norm at some stage or other to sit down together at a table to eat.

I was talking to one of our clergy the other day who is establishing some really lovely relationships with the local women’s refuge, and she told me something that had never occurred to me which is that one of the things that stop women who have been victims of domestic violence going into a refuge is that they cannot take their animals with them and it was good to hear that something was being started locally to see if it was possible to arrange a local pet sitting service.

It is not necessarily a situation that these are things about which I ought to know but it does remind me about how little I know, and if we are to bless our communities in Jesus’ name I think we need to understand more about them.

That is why I hope that over the autumn there is going to be an opportunity for some parishes to work with our Bridge Officers (Tim Ferguson, Chris Fuller, Ray Leonard) to start to put ourselves into the shoes of people who live in our communities and people who are different from ourselves.

I hope that this will give us an opportunity to just think about what it is like to try to feed a family on benefits when you are not able to get to the best supermarket to get the cheapest deals because you cannot afford the bus fare, and when just as you think you have everything planned one of the children has their trainers nicked. And then just to wonder if you are really living under that sort of pressure how you would cope and perhaps cigarettes or the odd drink are the only way you can somehow get through it all.

It will I think help us to bless our communities in Jesus’ name if we can start to stand in the shoes of those whose life experience is very different from ours.

And as we start to learn more about our neighbours, we shall need to guard against being judgemental; being judgemental about people whose experience of life is very different from my own. One of the quotations a number of you will have heard me banding about over the last 18 months comes from a wonderful priest working with former gang members in Los Angeles, Father Greg Boyle, who says: “Here is what we seek; a compassion at what the poor have to carry, rather than a judgement about how they carry it”

We need more and more – and Val Barron, who many of you will have met, is always reminding us about this – we need to celebrate the good in our communities, the sheer tenacity and ingenuity of so many of those for whom life is really, really complicated.

It was wonderful the other night to be in one of the most challenged communities in our diocese for a concert by a newly formed gospel choir. Here people were being helped to discover that they truly had a voice that they could sing, that they could enjoy doing something together. They were discovering something of the resource that they had in their own communities which previously they had not realised was there.

Some of you will know that I was lucky enough to have some sabbatical towards the end of last year and as part of that was able to spend some time in London with a group of people for whom life was very complicated and had been complicated for very many years. And I went on my sabbatical with two texts that I wanted to explore.

The first was from St Vincent de Paul, who pioneered and organised work amongst the poor of Paris and other regions of France in the 17th century. And St Vincent says: “The poor are our masters and our teachers”. And he goes on to say: “It is the poor who will convert us. The poor are our masters and our teachers”.

And I suppose part of my sabbatical was about trying to work out what it was that I could learn from those whose experience of life had been very, very different from my own. We need to acknowledge the enormous richness in those communities that are so very, very different from our own experience.

And the second text which I took with me came from a Buddhist Monk: “The truest meaning of compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them”. We have to rediscover this vision of the human family to start to break down some of the walls that seem to separate us from our brothers and sisters for whom Christ died.

In many cases I think we need to ask God to take away some of our fear. We are many of us naturally fearful of people who are different from us.

Many of you will have heard me tell the story that was told me many years ago by somebody who worked for the Children’s Society, who talked about the way in which older people in particular often felt quite afraid of young people who congregated around bus stops at night making a bit of a noise and the Children’s Society worker said that what people did not realise was that these young people were also themselves afraid. And the reason that they gathered in such public spaces and often in quite large and noisy numbers was simply because that was where they felt safe. And I come back time and time again to that saying from St John: Perfect love casts out fear.

So what we call the poverty agenda is in fact about broadening our experience of the human family. It is about reminding ourselves again and again and again that every single person in our parish is made in the image of God; somebody for whom Christ died. It is about removing any lurking suspicion we may have that some lives matter less than others.

It is all about blessing our communities in Jesus’ name – but also allowing our communities to bless us.

So to go back to where I began, all this talk about new initiatives about the need for money, about new training, all of this is to enable us to bless our communities and to know what it means to be blessed by them.

It is about working out how together we can find a bit more of heaven on earth and how day by day all of us can discover a bit more of what it means to be a member of the human family and be enriched by it.

Thank you

 

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