“When I work with the poor they call me a saint; when I ask why they’re poor they call me a communist.”
So said the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara.
He was quoted by Archbishop Rowan in a perceptive interview by Michael Gove of all people, in this week’s Spectator.
Christians may be becoming marginalised and cinemas may refuse adverts featuring the Lord’s prayer, but something is afoot in our society., observes our Archbishop.
“I think the tide is turning in this country,” he claims from his particular vantage point.
“We are seeing many churches growing and particularly I would say that in the last seven or eight years one of the most exciting things has been that, in the aftermath of the Great Recession, we have seen the churches more active in social structures again, in the social events of this country, than at any time since 1945.”
Certainly one of the features of the last five years or so has been the way that the churches of Ormskirk have got our act together. Witness the birth of the Street Pastors, Debt Advice and the Foodbank, all initiatives of Christians from different churches working together.
As it happens tomorrow some eight members of our congregation – possibly more – will be sleeping out along with about 30 other brave souls from other churches in the centre of Ormskirk. They will have a specially erected marquee but otherwise with the minimum of equipment, it’s going to be tough.
This is the Advent Challenge, raising money and awareness for the Church Urban Fund’s ministry with the homeless and the marginalised. You can support them financially here:
You can also pop in during the day or go to one of the special evening activities at the clock tower between 7.00 and 11.00 pm.
Not surprisingly all this has been picked up by the local media, making the lead article in the Champ with as somewhat shorter article in the Advertiser.
For what is happening increasingly, as Justin outlines, is as State provision recedes social care is increasingly being provided by Christians, or more precisely by churches (because for once, we are playing as a team).
It was the German reformer, Martin Luther, who noted “A true Christian lives and labours on earth not for himself but for his neighbour. Therefore the whole spirit of his life him impels him to do even that which he needs not do, but which is profitable and necessary for his neighbour.”
However, what makes the Christian distinctive in our society at this point in time is that not only do we care but we also have the organisational structure not just to initiate but to sustain social care.
For in this age of individualism voluntary organisations – trade unions, local societies, political parties, for example – are struggling to attract members..
However, simply to provide care is one thing, to address the underlying causes – as Archbishop Câmara observed – is something which the Gospel lays upon us. The two go together.
This spells trouble. For whenever you take on existing structures you take on vested interests and the various manifestations of nimbyism (Not In My Back Yard). And more, we may well confront evil.
Inevitably we will take flak. Being accused of being a communist is the least of our troubles.
But it is no less than Jesus warned.
“If you lived on the world’s terms, the world would love you as one of its own. But since I picked you to live on God’s terms and no longer on the world’s terms, the world is going to hate you.” (John 15:18f Message translation)
And sometimes that hatred may be vicious.
When asked at the conclusion of his interview who is his hero, Archbishop Justin points us to Cardinal Van Thuan who spent 13 years in a communist prison after the fall of South Vietnam. “He was in solitary confinement. But he led his torturers to Christ. He converted, taught, and ordained priests in prison. He breathed in the presence of Christ.”
“Do not be overcome by evil,” I read in my morning’s BRF Bible reading, “but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21). That is both our call and our confidence as we serve in Jesus’ name.