THE director of Church Action on Poverty (CAP) has called on the Church to take the side of the poor.
“Power, Poverty, and the Church”, a conference hosted by the Church Urban Fund and Church Action on Poverty (CAP), was the first in a series of forums held at St John’s, Waterloo, on last Friday.
Almost 100 church leaders, activists, and anti-poverty charities attended, with the aim of increasing awareness of poverty, helping churches to engage more effectively with those in power, and building a movement of Christians to tackle poverty and powerlessness.
The national co-ordinator of CAP, Niall Cooper, recalled the Church’s historic commitment to the poor. Adapting the call to the present economic crisis, Mr Cooper said that the Church had to decide if it was going to take sides. In the case of the protest at St Paul’s Cathedral, he said that the Church had failed to take a side.
He recalled the witness of Archbishop Oscar Romero, in El Salvador: “The Church in this country faces none of the threats faced by Archbishop Romero; at best, it is likely to incur some ridicule in the right-wing press.”
“The challenge for the Church”, Mr Cooper said, “is to develop a social movement to close the gap between rich and poor.”
Dr Luke Bretherton, Reader in Theology and Politics and Convener of the Faith and Public Policy Forum at King’s College, London, drew a distinction between the redistribution of resources and power. “We are fixed in this country on addressing poverty as a redistribution of resources, when it is really about the redistribution of power.” He said that welfare provision in the post-war period has been done in a paternalistic, top-down way.
The NHS, he said, was a prime example of a service that had become target-driven, but had lost the sense of a shared commitment. “The challenge is to move from pastoral care to building powerful communities that provide mutual and reciprocal support. Communities need power to act for themselves, to challenge structures and not be dependent on a top-down model of power.”
The chairman of the trustees of the Church Urban Fund, Canon Paul Hackwood, spoke of how the poor had missed out in recent decades. “If you cannot consume in a consumer society, you are excluded. . . It is an absolute form of inequality. The poor are now seen as feckless and unable to help themselves.”
The CEO of the Church Urban Fund, Tim Bissett, said: “There is a need to galvanise the Church locally and nationally to build solidarity. We need the Church to take poverty much more seriously, and to speak and to act together more.”
A report is being developed that will highlight the key points of the forum.
Poverty-action pack. A new resource pack, Breaking Barriers, has been published to help churches to address poverty in the UK. It is designed for use during Poverty and Homelessness Action Week, from 28 January to 5 February. The pack is available online at www.actionweek.org.uk.