Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category


The Growing Faith report and General Synod motion agreed on February 22nd are hugely welcome. They are the next step on a long journey bringing the churches work in schools, it’s own work and households in much more harmony.

in 2010 the Growing for Growth report called for every child and young person to have a life enhancing encounter with the Christian faith and the person of Jesus Christ. Thankfully this was picked up as a phrase for all people. We want all to have such life enhancing, indeed life transforming encounter with Jesus.

I simply offer 7 headings to help us take Growing Faith forward into action.


In the research undertaken into the huge amount of work under taken with Toddler groups based in churches one point that stood out was the strength of feeling expressed by parents, grandparents and carers about why they come to church based groups. They expect and want God’s story told and shared. They want the groups to be clear about God. (www.going4growth.com/downloads)

So in all aspects of our work let’s tell God’s story. Let’s talk about Jesus.


Howard Worsley undertook some really good research into reading and talking about the Bible with children. The core of this is to simply read the Bible together and explore it. Parents and children reading and talking honestly about what they make of the text; sharing what God is saying; sharing the struggles and discovering together. We need to do the same in our schools. Help children and young people actually read the biblical text and explore it together, in all its delight and in all its complexity. In our churches we need to also openly handle scripture together. If in all contexts we read the Bible openly together we will grow together.


Prayer Spaces in Schools have been one of the best developments in the Diocese of Durham in recent years. They help children and young people learn to pray creatively and engagingly. They also develop their creative and leadership skills. We will do well to take the very best of creative praying into how we pray in our homes, and in our churches. Praying creatively grows faith.


Young people and children are passionately concerned about climate change, homelessness, poverty and all kinds of matters of justice. They want to do things to make a difference. So let’s help households act together. Let’s find ways of schools, churches and households acting together in our local communities for their blessing, and in wider matters of justice.


I am proud of Durham Diocese’s Children’s Council. They decided to undertake a year of reaching their own peer group with the good news of Jesus. They called it Mini Missionaries and gained some funding from Scripture Union. They didn’t not invite me to join in the trampolining event, wisely. When they presented their work to our Diocesan Synod some of the adults noted, ‘They are leading us and showing us the way.’ Indeed they are. We must encourage leadership now amongst our children and young people.


Residentials and camps are hugely valuable. CPAS Development of their School  entures alongside their long history of Ventures and Falcon Camps is an exciting development. Going away together really helps people of all ages explore and grow in faith. School trips, SU Camps, events like Soul Survivor, Spring Harvest,  Walsingham, Taize and the like are all hugely valuable. At a local level we need to develop more ways of people of all ages going away together to discover faith.

All of these help grow faith. When combined together they become even stronger. The Rooted In the Church (www.churchofengland.org/sites/default/files/2017-10/2016_rooted_in_the_church_summary_report.pdf) research reveals the importance of all these factors.

In order to grow faith better we need to see the households as the primary place for where faith is discovered, learned, and nurtured. But this is hugely enhanced by what happens in our churches and in our schools.

We need to be

Generational – Peer Group Learning and work matters

Cross-Generational – grandparent / grandchild etc

Inter-Generational – discovering together across all ages

We all need to Grow in Faith. I believe these factors will help us do so.

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This is the paper I contributed as part of the panel on Christians and the Poor at Sant Egidio International Meeting “Bridges of Peace. Religions and Cultures in Dialogue”

Monday 15th October 2018 Bologna


Saint Paul in writing to the Galatian Christians noted that when he met with Peter, James and John in Jerusalem to talk about the good news that they preached to the Gentiles these ‘pillars of the church’ supported all they were doing, ‘Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.’ (Galatians 2.10)

From the very outset of the Christian church concern for, care of and being alongside the poor has been at the core of our vocation.

It is an honour to share some reflections on this as an Anglican. I do so bringing special greetings from the Archbishop of Canterbury.



The first Christians were building on the legacy of how God had called upon Israel to care for the poor. Whilst in the Old Testament ‘the poor’ is an oft used phrase it is also clear that at the heart of this group were the widows, orphans (that is the fatherless) and the strangers, sojourners or refugees. This approach is entirely rooted in God’s selfrevelation as the one who ‘executes justice for the fatherless, and the widow and the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.’ (Deuteronomy 10.18). It also regularly recalls Israel’s own experience of being enslaved and mistreated in Egypt. Since they knew what it meant to be poor and illtreated in a foreign land they were to learn and ensure that they did not treat others in that way. It is because God is for the poor that his people must also be for them. This worked out in Israel’s law and practice through:-

1) the practical provision of daily needs for the poor,
2) ensuring that the poor were treated with justice (Exodus 22.21-27; Leviticus 19.15; Deut 24.17f) and
3) having ways of enabling the poor to take responsibility for themselves, engage in meaningful and useful work, and be restored fully to the life of the community. A clear example of this enabling the agency of the poor is in the gleaning laws (Leviticus 19.9f, 23.22; Deut 24.19-21). Most beautifully told in the story of Ruth (Ruth 2).

The Psalmist regularly reiterates both that God is the God of the poor and that the righteous person cares for the poor (Psalm 10.14,18; 68.5; 146.9; 72.4; 112.9). The Prophets regularly accuse Israel of failing to care for the widow, the fatherless and the sojourner. It is this failure which consistently leads to God’s judgment upon the people. Injustice lies at the heart of this prophetic condemnation. (Amos 4.1-3; 5.4-24; Isaiah 1.12-26; 58; Jeremiah 7.5-7; Ezekiel 16.49; 34; Zechariah 7.8-14)

Alongside this there is the apocalyptic vision of the future in which all are cared for; where the young and the old are living life to the full. Where the whole community is at peace and the poor are no more. (Isaiah 65.17-25; Micah 4.1-5; Zechariah 8.1-8)



Jesus’ own ministry is clearly rooted in this prophetic tradition. He deliberately reads from Isaiah 61 when he is in the synagogue at Nazareth. (Luke 4.18ff) He consistently is alongside those who were regarded as the poor and the outcast by the religious leaders of the day; in his healing ministry he restores those who had been excluded (e.g. Luke 5.12-16; 8.40-56). He heals those from a Gentile background (e.g. Mark 7.24-30). In the way in which he welcomes children and places a child in the midst as a possessor and sign of the kingdom he places children amongst ‘the poor’. He commends the generosity of the widow (Mark 12.41-44). He calls the poor ‘blessed’ (Luke 6.20). He is with the poor, speaks and acts for the poor and looks to the kingdom, the reign, of God in which there is justice for the poor. He encourages his disciples to be those who serve the poor, perhaps most powerfully at the end of Matthew 25.


The early church, both in the scriptures in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 6.1-7; 9.36-42; 11.27-30; 20.35) and in the letters clearly sought to live out the care for the poor, in whatever form that poverty took (2 Corinthians 8-9; Galatians 2.10; Hebrews 13.1-3; James 2; 1 John 3.11-18). There was a particular care for the poor amongst the church itself but it clearly spilled out into care for those amongst whom they lived. This is then worked out in the life of the church in the early Christian centuries. Christians were known to be those who stood with and cared for the poor. Ignatius for example is clear that the grace of Jesus Christ leads to concern for the widows or orphans, for the oppressed, for those in prison or released, for the hungry or the thirsty’ (Letter to Smyrna).

So our continuing response to the poor in our own day flows from this long history of God’s people. One thing to note here is that our Christian calling is two-fold: to offer practical service in response to the immediate needs of individuals, families and communities, and to oppose unjust economic and social structures that trap people in poverty.

I would also note here that the response is never to put people in a category. The poor are always people to be loved not a problem to be solved. They are valued as made in God’s image and people for whom Jesus Christ gave his life not an anonymising abstraction called poverty.



The Church of England as the established church of the nation has from its outset been connected with the powerful of the land. It has arguably, therefore throughout its history struggled to express its conviction about serving the poor. In my own area of Durham, for example, the Church of England was largely associated with the owners and managers of the coal mines. It was the Methodist church that was more closely aligned with the miners and their families themselves.

In the great missionary expansion that saw Anglican churches established across the globe at one level the story reads like that expansion is closely linked to the powerful and could be seen as an imposition on the indigenous populations.

But there is another side to the story. The establishment of church schools early in the nineteenth century, led by the visionary Joshua Watson, was all about ensuring that the poor were educated. Church of England schools were all originally founded for the poor. It was Anglican missionaries who also saw the importance and value of education for all as the church was established in parts of Africa and the Indian sub continent.

Likewise many early healthcare developments were inspired by Anglican leaders. The missionaries established hospitals and health centres aimed at serving the poor.

Wilberforce and fellow Anglicans struggled to first end the Slave Trade and then Slavery itself. Lord Shaftsbury led many of the reforms in how factories were run so that children were no longer used in labour and the rights of the poor were protected. Prison reform was partly down to Anglicans. Octavia Hill created the very first social housing so that the poor were better housed.

In the middle of the twentieth century William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury, played a critical role in further developing education for all, and in the creation of the National Health Service. It was Temple who coined the idea of the ‘welfare state’. What drove him and his contemporaries was a concern for the poor and a desire to see justice for all pursued.

Across the Anglican Communion today there remains a very high level of commitment to expanding access to education and health care. Anglican churches are also heavily involved in working with others to provide clean water, better sanitation, literacy and financial training for the poor and the empowerment of women. The Mothers’ Union is the largest voluntary charity in the world with its 4 million members. They work everywhere with the poor. Anglicans are often leading the way on environmental care, reforestation, protection of the land, and of people’s land rights. Very often this is done in partnership with other Christians and through inter and non-denominational organisations like Christian Aid, Tearfund, World Vision and WaterAid.

Across the globe Christians welcome refugees as they come across borders. They help them with food and clothing and homes. They help them integrate into society, and where appropriate also help them return home when the time comes.Because Anglican Provinces are national structures they are also able to bring some corporate strength to strive for justice which may not be available to more independently structured churches.

At a local level in Durham my own local authority is clear that the welcome that has been offered to Syrian refugees would not have been possible without the welcome and support given by church members, many of whom are Anglican.


In England the vast majority of food banks, created in response to concern for families struggling to make ends meet, are run by local churches and their volunteers. Prison visitors are often Christians. Organisations helping people resettle after prison are often run by church members, many Anglican. We run Holiday Hunger programmes; help sex workers stay healthy and get off the streets; visit the lonely elderly; run lunch clubs and friendship schemes. We host large numbers of carer and toddler groups. The ‘Church in Action Report’ of 2017 offers a clear analysis of the way the Church of England is engaged in social action.

We also join with others to campaign for better housing, the living wage, and fairer welfare systems. The Archbishop of Canterbury spearheaded the campaign against payday lending in the UK. He has recently been part of the IPPR group that has presented fresh ideas for a more just economic system that has a priority for the poor.

The Church of England still educates over a million children every day in our schools. Large numbers of these are situated in settings where the poor are largest in number.

All of this said we still struggle to be a poor church that is with and for the poor. We are generally better at offering charitable help to the poor than at working with the poor to bring about a more just economic system.  Very often, in England, we appear to be part of the establishment and therefore of the powerful rather than of the poor. Pray for us to learn more of how we can truly be ‘poor’ and with and for the poor. Always remembering that ‘the poor’ are not a category but each is a person, part of a family and part of a community. Each made in God’s image; each valuable and loved; each one for whom our Lord Jesus Christ died, and through whom he seeks to minister to us.

May we all continually seek to be those who are eager to remember and be with and for the poor.

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We are a world awash with smartphones. Here in the midst of much poverty smartphones are everywhere, most notably amongst the young. Alongside the banks it is the phone shops that look the smartest and appear the most frequented. Even out in the remote villages smartphones are to be found. There seems something incongruous about a cowherd still dressing in traditional blanket and hat gently prodding his cows along whilst talking on his phone. Yes it would be true that the primary use here remains actually talking to other people rather than playing games, but the latter are played too. Wherever we are in the world now we want to be ‘connected’. Mobiles have revolutionised communications in many poorer nations even more than in the wealthy west. From no phone systems at all to global connection in less than 20 years. They are a force for good. But they are also creating the challenge of unrealisable dreams.

Everywhere I went people talked about climate change. Here the impact of drought is tangible. It not only severely impacts the largely peasant farming that takes place but when two of your most important exports are water and hydro-electric power then the threat of drought hits the national economy in other ways. Whilst I have been here there have been some very severe storms. Lots of rain. But the trouble is this washes crops away, it destroys rather than provides the nurturing water that comes with more gentle showers. It also hits some places but not all. Cape Town’s troubles are also much in the news; everyone here seems to know someone in Cape Town. Whilst here my news has come largely through Al Jazeera. They had a very interesting piece on ‘climate change denial’ being very much a western phenomenon. The countries that have contributed most to the reality of climate change are those arguably least significantly impacted by it, and most likely to deny it. In Lesotho they live with its realities and are trying to adjust farming patterns to account for it. But it is hard to change the pattern of centuries. For all who believe that this is God’s world and that caring for it is our God given responsibility helping people adjust as well as seeking to work to ensure future temperature rises are not disastrously high is essential.

The work of the Lesotho-Durham Link is impressive. The team is very stable and loyal. They work hard and they work well together. Outdoor pursuits, team building, conferences, backpackers and campers, day visitors simply enjoying the beauty of the site all form part of what it is about. It serves some of the most needy in Lesotho. Joseph Morenammele is an outstanding and visionary leader. There is a clear vision for the future, and a strategic plan, backed by a thoughtful Board. In many a setting it would ‘fly’ very rapidly. But no project can ever be divorced from the economic and social realities of the nation in which it is set. So progress might be slower than some would like. However with a leader like Joseph and the team that he has it can certainly keep on developing and serving more people well long into the future. The new Durham building opened last year by my colleague Bishop Mark Bryant with Lesotho’s own Bishop Adam Taaso is currently occupied by members of the SADC peace keeping force. A visual reminder daily that there are political stability challenges facing this nation.
These need to be sorted for the sake of people like the Child headed household I visited. The three children, the oldest just 12, now live with Grandma. The twelve year old looks after a ‘keyhole garden’ and should just be starting secondary school. Support comes from one of the Link’s many projects. So hope comes. Listening to a second grandmother talking about how she is taking in her grandson to offer him better support than he receives at home and to remove him from trouble was humbling. The home is poor but kept with great pride and a passion for doing things well. This is life for so many in this land; rural, small, struggling yet filled with pride, value, love and passion; hope is not diminished. But all such hope needs nurturing not only personally and through a project like that run by the Link. It also needs to. E matched with clear leadership that always seeks the very best for the nation, not the power and prosperity of the few who hold the reins of government, or want to do so. This is true in all nations. Government really must be for the ordinary people; the poorest and the neediest who so often hold themselves with deep pride and so much hard work.

I have loved this second visit. I have met so many cheerful people who keep going amongst so many challenges. I have seen the faces and quietly observed some of the daily struggles that so many face. I have delighted in praying with and for some truly wonderful sisters and brothers in Christ. I am deeply impressed by the service given through the Lesotho- Durham Link.
I hope it is not too long before returning to this special kingdom once again.

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Lesotho Travels

Walking around the main streets at the centre of Lesotho’s capital city, Maseru, has reminded me of the importance of second visits. My first visit to this Mountain Kingdom, landlocked entirely by South Africa, was in the autumn of 2015. I travelled with Rosemary and a group of around a dozen others. For some of them it was the umpteenth visit, for others like us it was their first. For some it was also their first taste of any form of ‘Africa’.

On first visits the sights, sounds and smells can be overwhelming. It can all be intoxicating and disorientating. But when you are with a big group you are also shielded by the company of your own culture sharing it all. You can easily escape back into your own world. You travel home with rich memories. Somethings may have happened that actually change your perception and understanding of the world forever. For myself encountering queuing for almost non existent food in a Moscow supermarket in 1991 was one such experience.

Lesotho first time around was wonderful; the mountain scenery is stunning; the Katse Dam and it’s enormous reservoir is a wonder. I was captivated, yet made to ponder, by the blanketed herdsmen and their meagre cattle; and by the wide use still of horses and donkeys. You don’t see the latter creatures in my beloved Rwanda and Burundi. The work of the Lesotho-Durham Link was hugely impressive under it’s inspirational leadership of Joseph Morenammele.  Meeting King Letsie III on 3 occasions was unexpected but also revealed a delightful humble sovereign in this land of constitutional monarchy. We had good times then with Bishop Adam Taaso Opening a new parish Church (led by Archbishop Thabo) and confirming high up in the mountains in a marquee.

My love for the nation was further added to when King Letsie and Queen Masenate visited Durham for 4 days in June 2017.

But second visits open up new vistas and insights. Partly through being her alone this time. Partly by staying at the heart of the city and so being able to wander the streets alone. But mainly because you begin to see a little, only a little, beneath the surface. The enthusiasm of the worship in Hlotse on Sunday was quite a lot to do with the visit of the bishop (well 2 of us but I counted rather less than Bishop Adam)’; the induction of a new parish priest, also to be Archdeacon and the confirmation of 58young people and young adults. It was as anticipated a very long service. But the joy was clear. Behind the church is a convent with 14 sisters. I had the most delightful conversation with 1 Sister who took her vows in 1957 and another’s in 1945. Their delight in talking Tom an English bishop was remarkable. Their faith shone through as they talked of ordinary thing she like corn flakes and tea and then of ageing and readiness for heaven. They touched me with a little bit of heaven themselves.

Unemployment running at 28% and higher amongst the young. So spending time in a workshop with Church youth leaders was valuable. They were so attentive, and wanting to lead well. On the streets are many young adults clearly seeking to eke out a living through selling fruit, or second hand shoes and trainers. The streets remind me that banks always appear to be doing well whatever the conditions of the wider population. I visit a school tomorrow so might get to talk with some about their hopes and dreams. The youth leaders tell me that what the young people want is to be loved and cared for, to belong, to have a sense of oneness in a nation riven by division.

Currently the Link is occupied partially by forces from the Southern African Defence Force. Here to aid peace in a nation trying to rebuil not from overt conflict but from sever fractures. The young want oneness. I hope the adults listen and are grown up enough to work for the good of the whole nation. The same applies to the church. Sadly it too has divisions being played out quite publicly. My prayer is for the unity for which Jesus prayed to become a reality. A second visit has helped me understand this further. Leading a workshop for senior leaders on leading in the style Peter portrays in 1 Peter 5 I hope offered some wisdom. But it can only be for me, and others from ‘outside’ to pray for the Holy Spirit to work and bring true unity in love.

This is a country which the world can easily ignore and forget. It isn’t so small and so out of the way for many. But three weeks ago one of the largest diamonds found in many years was discovered here in its diamond mines. A jewel that is of enormous value. May it stand as a symbol of this glorious mountain kingdom; a jewel to be valued.


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To keep up some momentum here is the transcript of the talk I gave to the VONNE (Voluntary Organisations Network North East) at the end of November. A further specific reflection based on my Study Leave will follow soon.

Child poverty is a moving landscape and one of the things that I’d like to say at the very beginning is, one of the key things we must make sure we keep doing is using the word poverty, because one of the moves, I have no doubt is to try and use that word less and remove it away from some of the discussions. We need to see the picture whole. The Welfare Reform and Work Act is hugely significant, in terms of the changes that are being made, but the government themselves will keep saying, and rightly so, that it is only one bit of their overall strategy. We need to take on board the Childcare Act and the introduction of 30 hours of free childcare, which is being piloted at present in some areas and comes into action from next September fully. And then the Children and Social Work Bill which is going through Parliament at the moment. It has completed its passage through the House of Lords and now goes to the House of Commons. One of the things that has happened in that process is around the 2 child limit which comes in next April within the Welfare Reform and Work Act. Many of us worked to get some exemptions and we got some through, but others didn’t. In the Children and Social Work Bill it has already been agreed to add back in one of the exemptions that we argued about, which is around where children are adopted into a family. If you adopt more than 2 children you will be exempted from the 2 child limit. Oona King deserves huge praise for the way in which she led on that one. So that’s the whole picture. It doesn’t necessarily get any brighter by looking at the whole picture but we need to take all of it on board.

I always have to remind myself of the world situation as far as child poverty is concerned. I spent 4 weeks this summer in Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, as part of 3 months study leave, looking particularly at the responses to child poverty in those contexts. I absolutely hold to the fact that we need to think in relative terms but actually we also need to remind ourselves, from time to time, that what we are talking about in terms of poverty in our setting is nothing like that being tackled in many many parts of the world. But it’s remarkable how smiley and bright and lively many of the children in really desperate poverty, that I was with in the summer, remain in the face of all that they do. A reminder too that we must see poverty as more than finances and economics. The SPICES acronym is a very old one, but I think it still has some value in reminding us that, in terms of human development, social, physical, intellectual, cultural, emotional and spiritual all matter and that we need to think in terms of children’s wellbeing in all those areas. When we are thinking about child poverty and poverty generally we need to consider poverty in all those areas. I have a sister and brother in law who have worked in the private education sector in boarding throughout their entire career and they deal with children from very well-to-do backgrounds, but who my sister would regularly say “ Are deeply poor in some areas of life”. We need to recognise that different types of poverty hit different people. That is not to take away from the fact that those who are in financial poverty, are those who are most desperately in need of our support and encouragement and change.

The whole issue of the impact of adverse child experiences, we need to continually review when we are thinking about this. Very sadly it has been brought to our attention again in the last few days with the enormity of what the Football Association is now facing, with all the adults coming forward telling us again of the enormous impact it has had on their whole life to have been abused as a child. When we are thinking about the children in our current settings, one of the things I think we need to continually hold in our minds is the long-term life impact the situation that children are facing can potentially have on them. So that we are not simply looking at the current situation that is faced, but we are looking forward and thinking through the impact that this could have on their whole life, so that we become even more determined to tackle the issues in the here and now. I am increasingly concerned with how much difficulty and trouble we are building up for ourselves as a society by not tackling child poverty adequately in the present.


Let’s go then, having said that, to the Life Chances Strategy. The non-existent Life Chances Strategy at present because it still hasn’t been published. But in the Welfare Reform Act it’s quite clear that there are 5 areas which are now legally being used namely – worklessness, family breakdown, educational failure, addiction and serious personal debt. I am quite convinced that no one in this room will disagree with the fact these 5 areas do impact children and poverty in all kinds of ways. Nevertheless, I remain deeply concerned that these are the consequences of poverty much more than the causes of poverty. What we are in danger of, having embarked on the Life Chances Strategy, is still failing to look deeply enough at what are the root causes. If we think these are the causes we are missing some important factors.

There are very serious issues, I would argue, about the educational failure. The fact that we are waiting until Key Stage 4 to use as a measure, when we know that the early years of life are the most significant of all. So actually what is happening, by the time the child is 5 or 7 and we are at Key Stage 1, if we are going to use those kind of rules, it is much more significant than what the results might be at Key Stage 4. So if we are going to use this measure, we have chosen the wrong end of education.

I and others fought very hard in the debates on the Welfare Reform and Work Act about continuing to use financial measures in the Act and we did prevail in that debate and argument to some extent. But one of the things that I am still concerned about, is whether or not in the future the financial interplay with other aspects of poverty is going to be taken seriously enough. What is uncertain at present, and what is definitely part of this moving landscape, is that there has been very little reference to Life Chances since there was a change of Prime Minister. What we now have is regular reference to ‘just about managing’. Now this may be a helpful phrase in some ways and to so recognising a particular area of concern. So I don’t actually want to push away from asking questions about those who are ‘just about managing’. My concern is that there are those who are not managing at all, and we are losing sight of them if we are not careful. So the moving landscape remains uncertain as to whether or not we are going to see Life Chances Strategy. We are told that we are, but if so, when and are there going to be any significant changes from what the Act has laid down in the light of the emphasis on ‘just about managing’. We wait to see.


The Children’s Society published a kind of response and highlighted these areas that they thought needed to be covered in any response to poverty, specifically child poverty. Low income or debt; so the debt issue that is in the Act is accepted but it’s not just about debt it’s about low income as a basic fact. Mental health and wellbeing and we should pleased and encouraged, I think, at the increased conversation and awareness around mental health issues. It needs to be turned into adequate support and action but at least it is being discussed and talked about much more significantly. Education and skills, physical health and nutrition, housing and homelessness. I think the Children’s Society are quite right to include reference to refugees and migrants, because so much of the poverty that exists for some is connected with being refugees and migrants. I have to say, I was horrified when I was listening to the news this morning at the thought that it was ever entertained by the Home Office, some while back, that the children of illegal immigrants should go to the bottom of the list, as far as education is concerned with allocation. The measure of the quality of a society must surely be how it responds primarily to the needs of the most vulnerable. How much more vulnerable can you be than being the child of an illegal immigrant. If it was me they go to the top of the list not the bottom.

Now more recently, with a bit more time to consider and reflect, the Child Poverty Action Group published, last month, Improving Children’s Life Chances and they highlighted high quality early education and care, adequate family incomes lower costs for families better homes and living environment support for families effective children’s health and wellbeing services, education system that works for all children and they also picked up on the support for young people’s transition to adulthood. To be fair in the Children and Social Work Bill there is quite a lot about the transition thing, particular about children leaving care. There is some really good stuff in it, which if it gets followed through, will be tackling some of those serious issues about that transition, particularly for those coming out of care. But it actually needs to happen for all young people. It is a series of essays and it is a really helpful resource in terms of trying to think through more fully a longer term response to the changes which are going on. So it is a moving picture. It’s moving in that it should move us with compassion indignation and action. Ken Loach is probably right to use a much shorter sharper word when he says ‘anger’ rather than indignation. It’s moving, in that we will need to keep learning about the interplay of all the factors. It’s also moving, in that we will need to hold to account The Life Chance Strategy to watch for moving goalposts. As I have been in the House of Lords for the last 3 years since I became bishop up here, one of the things that I’ve been learning about is how we hold people to account once an Act of Parliament has been passed and we see the out workings of it. There’s always a danger that we think the battle is finished or is over, when actually holding people to account for things that they’ve said needs to keep happening. So what you experience on the ground and those stories need to keep being fed back up so that real stories are told so that people are held to account for what’s happening and understand the impact of the policies that are being pursued.

End Child Poverty has a list of things that they say every child should have – every child should live in a family that is able to afford the basic essentials, every child’s need for decent living standards must be at the heart of any parental employment strategy, every child should be able to make the most of their learning and development, every child should have a secure and warm home, every child should have enough food to keep them healthy and help them grow, The bottom one is not on the End Child Poverty website because its mine, which I have added and this for me remains hugely important and I think needs to be at the top of all our work which is this – every child needs to understand their value, that they matter, that they are important. Every child needs to have the capacity and the ability and be allowed to dream. You might not like my phraseology, I am a Christian after all, and therefore I believe it’s a God-given potential. You can take the God-given out if you want, every child needs to be helped to fulfil their potential and every child needs to know they are loved.

Two of the projects that I looked at this summer, one in Uganda and one in Burundi, have developed fostering in their context for abandoned children and it’s a whole new thing in both those societies. Very interesting to talk to the people running it on what are the criteria they use to come up with for what makes a good foster family or foster home. They are independent of each other and they both gave me the same answer. Their answer was, ‘Paul, the first question we ask is ‘Is this a home in which this child will be loved’. Before they ask anything about space or living standards or anything else, that is their top criteria. And it struck me that it wouldn’t do us any harm to add in ‘Is this a home where this child will be loved?’ Every child needs to know they are loved because the deepest poverty of all is to not be loved. Christian Aid in their Poverty Over document make this point – poverty robs people of dignity, hope and the power to determine their own future. That’s why we have to tackle it. That’s why we have to get rid of it. Here, to conclude, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation have come up with really valuable and significant proposals in their latest report. The most significant thing is the title ‘We Can Get Rid of Poverty If We Want To’ and if we do so it will restore dignity to huge numbers of people. It will restore hope and it will give many many children the power to determine their own future, which at the moment is taken away from them because of the poverty in which they live.  


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Walking into a Batwa home seeing a couple of blankets on the dirt floor of a room no more than 8’x8′ and being told that 4 children share this space every night is seeing poverty starkly. Yet these 4 children smile and are cheery. They proudly showed us the 1 school textbook they possessed. Walking into a flat with damp walls, a mattress on the floor but almost no furniture, and virtually bare cupboards in the UK is also staring poverty in the face. Again the children smile and joke. Poverty is a reality in just about every nation on earth. It is relative, and open to perception; the Batwa children would probably love a mattress but they might still prefer to share it and actually prefer the warmth of their climate to the damp of the U.K. They might prefer having open space to grow a small amount of crops to having to buy from shops and eat processed food. But in simple relative terms the children in the UK are better off than the Batwa. This, I hope, already illustrates that the issue of poverty is not as straightforward as can appear. Yet it also highlights that some aspects are clear. Poverty is about food and hunger; it is about shelter and clothing; it is about education and opportunity. Poverty is not simply a matter of income; so whilst the World Bank’s definition of a person living on less than $2 per day has some distinct advantages; as does the carefully calculated Living Wage Foundation’s living wage levels, if we reduce poverty merely to income we will fail to understand it properly. Simply throwing more money at poverty will not solve it; although equally a refusal to recognise that income levels do matter will only make poverty worse. There is a poverty that comes from lack of social relationships; from prejudice and inequality of opportunity. There is a poverty which comes from a lack of love. There is a spiritual poverty which fails to recognise, allow, or attempt to crush and destroy the human spirit with all its capacity for imagination, creativity, awe, wonder, worship and prayer. Poverty is multi-faceted and interconnected. It has therefore to be confronted and tackled in a multitude of ways. Fortunately because so much of life is interconnected it is quite possible to be working in several ways at once. If, though, we are to tackle poverty then not only must we recognise its multi-faceted nature we need to seek to understand its causes. Failure to recognise and tackle the causes of poverty means that we will only ever respond to the symptoms. So we will feed the hungry but not ask why the hunger exists. We will tend the sick but not see if the causes can be eradicated. We will wonder why after all the effort we put in so recently to help that the same situation has arisen once again. I have thus far made an assumption. The assumption has simply been that poverty is an evil that needs to be confronted. I am clear that as a Christian I have to believe this. However there are those who will argue that poverty is the fault either of the poor themselves, or of their own inept and corrupt governments and that they should be left to resolve the issues for themselves. Poverty is thus not ‘my’ or ‘our’ problem it is ‘theirs’. So although brief let me explore what the causes of poverty are as outlined in the Bible. There is, I believe, deep wisdom found here that current research and theories end up echoing and contextualising for the post-modern world.


The story of the Israelites Exodus from Egypt is foundational to understanding the Old Testament laws that tackle questions of poverty. The Israelites found themselves enslaved by an oppressive rule and government that increasingly made their situation individually and corporately worse and worse. Under Moses’ leadership God rescues the Israelites from this oppression. Constantly the Israelites are called to remember this deliverance as inspiration for their response to the most needy and vulnerable in their society, namely the widows, orphans (fatherless) and the stranger / alien (e.g. Exodus 22.22-24; Leviticus 19.9;23.2; Deuteronomy 10.18f; 24.17-22) It is the character, nature and action of God which is to be the leading reason why God’s people are to respond to poverty (Psalms 10.14,18; 68.5; 146.9) Within the way that Israel was expected to function, particularly once in the Promised Land, was to be socially structured in a way that meant the poor were properly provided and cared for. So the gleaning law stopped the ‘maximisation’ of a land owner’s profit so that the poor could gather for themselves. So here the poor are given the dignity of working to provide for themselves, not simply living off goods given to them; although this was also part of the social structure (Deuteronomy 14.29; 26.12f). The Levitical law of Jubilee (Leviticus 25) provided for the ownership of land to never become so out of kilter that the poor could never get back into ownership. It is a radical law that looks at the wiping out of debt to allow everyone to start again on an equal footing. The prophets of Israel strongly condemn the exploitation of the poor by the strong. It was the king’s responsibility to ensure that the poor and the weak were properly provided for and not exploited. The prophets had to call to account not only the Kings but also those around them, those who had accumulated wealth and power, for their self indulgence, forgetting of God, and exploitation of the poor (e.g. Psalm 72; Isaiah 1.17,23; 58 Jeremiah 5.28; 7.6; 22.3; Amos 4-5,8). Thus both the laws of the Old Testament and the call to uphold them from the prophets point to the social structures being key in seeking first to avoid poverty, and then when it occurs to alleviate it. The letter to James makes it quite clear that this concern for structure and the behaviour of the wealthy and powerful remained foundational for the early church too.


There is also recognition that poverty could come about through natural disaster. This applied to individuals, as is seen in the example of Job losing everything (Job 1-2). It is also seen in the impact, for example, of earthquake, locust plagues, and drought; suffering follows for all. Jesus made it clear in referring to the innocent deaths of 18 when the Siloam Tower collapsed that we should not equate such suffering with specific guilt or judgment; in the world the way it is suffering happens. (Luke 13.1-5) Poverty can be the result of no ones specific fault. The response should be that of compassion. Such disasters may be ‘large’ in that they affect huge numbers of people. They can also be ‘small’ in that it might be the death of a family member which leads to loss for the family as a whole. Natural disasters are the result of nature at work. Although this said we should rightly check out that a ‘natural disaster’ has not actually been caused by human mishandling of water supplies, or pollution through bad mining practices, or building collapse through poor quality construction. Where this is the case then we need to take up responsibility, whether that be an individual, a company or the actions of the wealthy in humankind, as with climate change. Poverty can be caused by natural disaster, great and small.


Then there is reference to poverty coming about through an individual’s own choices, even laziness. In the book of Proverbs the ‘sluggard’, or ‘slothful’ person, is warned that this leads to poverty (Prov 6.6-19; 13.4; 19.24; 20.4; 24.30-34). St Paul has sharp words for those who will not work to provide for themselves and their family (2 Thess 3.6-12). So some poverty may be caused by a person’s own attitude and failure. However this needs to be set alongside the much harsher, and more frequent, warnings made to the rich to beware their self indulgence, failure to care for the poor and tendency to trust in their wealth rather than in God (Luke 12.13-21; 16.19-31; 1 Tim 6.6-10,17-19; James 5.1-6; 1 John 3.17) So personal responsibility does matter. A person should not deliberately choose the way of laziness. This is one reason why the gleaning laws allowed for the gleaner to have the dignity of working for themselves to gather the grain ( a story beautifully told in the Book of Ruth). But to over emphasise this as the major cause of poverty is both to overplay the biblical material on poverty, and tends to be argued by the wealthy who then conveniently ignore all the warnings on themselves, and the injunctions to be generous with their wealth.


Consistently throughout history we can find the poor being blamed for their own poverty by the powerful and rich. The theme of the ‘sluggard’, the ‘feckless’ or the ‘unworthy’ poor is repeated time and again. It is frequently seen in our own day; where the poor are too frequently named as ‘wasters’, ‘scivers’ and ‘scroungers’. Yes there are some who do not do what they could for themselves. But to make poverty primarily the responsibility of the poor themselves is to reverse the order of the causes of poverty. It is to make the minority cause the main one. This inevitably will then lead to focus responses on things that connect with individual living rather than tackling the major root causes. The primary causes of poverty are social structural ones. If we really want to tackle poverty we need to analyse these and reform them. Very often these structures favour the rich and the powerful, who therefore tend to be reluctant to make changes that leave them less wealthy and less powerful. However if we really mean it when we say we want to end poverty we will have to tackle the structures in both our own society and in matters like world trade. As we do so we will respond compassionately to those who find themselves poor through the impact of natural disasters, both great and small, and we will encourage personal responsibility. In all honesty it can seem an impossible vision and dream to believe that poverty can be over. The gulf between rich and poor seems so wide and so deep. This is whether the gap is within our nation, or the even greater gap between the rich and poor nations. However I believe that holding on to the vision matters. It is, at the end of the day, a vision from God and one that I therefore believe will one day happen. It is for us all to work to see that day come when poverty will be over and a future generation of Batwa children will not be so poor and no child in this nation will live in poor housing, health and most importantly of all not knowing love, both human and divine.

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I began my sabbatical study leave by attending an international consultation on Child Theology. This gave real space to engage freshly with theological exploration of what it means to do theology where the child is placed in the midst of us all by Jesus. Many of those attending also exercise ministry amongst poor and vulnerable children. The heart of Child Theology is to ask, ‘What happens to all aspects of theology when a child is placed in our midst?’
Then after a few days reading it was time to fly to Rwanda. I approached the researching around the projects in East Africa from a simple question: “Did these begin as a compassionate response to the needs of children in poverty and move over time into more questioning of why they were in poverty and thus towards action around questions of justice?”
The reasoning behind this was the simple observation that very often individual Christians (and indeed those of other faiths and none) see a need and respond with compassion. Only later as they discover more do some at least start asking more questions about why the situation has arisen in the first place, and then find themselves involved in advocating and working for justice. Many never move beyond a compassionate response. (This is not intended as a judgmental statement purely observational). This journey can be observed in the recent history of Foodbanks in the UK where the Trussell Trust, for example, began very simply wanting to respond to a need, and whilst continuing to do this has moved ever more into questions of advocacy and policy based on issues of justice alongside compassion. The same can be seen in the recent development of ‘Holiday Hunger’ activities taking place across my diocese during the past 2 summers.
The reality I found however was that in all the projects in East Africa with which I spent time from the outset there was not only a compassionate response but also inspiration from wanting to pursue matters of advocacy and justice. These have developed and altered through the years but every project had some root desire for justice from its inception.
The Hannah Ministries’ Tumerere Project has worked with child-headed households since 2005. It began in response to the reality of child headed households created because of the 1994 genocide and the impact of HIV/AIDS. It has always been small scale. It involves feeding, developing skills that could be used for work (haircutting, basket weaving, tailoring), and helping ensure that these families rights are protected. As Josephine Mujawyira, one of the founders put it, ‘Care and love given to these children can help produce good citizens for our country.’ Alphonsine was first helped by the project in 2006; 10 years on her memory of the first impact of the project was, ‘it gave me lots of change; I grew up, gained weight, got hope, met other children and was helped to feel that life could continue.’
The Batwa Project in Kibali has developed a great deal since I first visited it. This project was the initiative of the Anglican Diocese who have had assistance from both Christian Aid and the Red Cross. The adults talked of how their lives had improved through fewer babies and infants dying because of ill health, cold and lack of shelter. They are pleased that their children attend the local school (including the first few to attend secondary school). They also invest hope in their children, ‘They will change our lives’. The children themselves spoke positively of school; they have good relations with other pupils. They feel confident and comfortable participating. There is less stigmatisation (a major change).
African International Christian Ministry was established by Enoch Kayeeye in 1983. It runs a Vocational Training College, works in community development across the region, including some specialist work with the Batwa. They have worked with orphans care and fostering. Over 30 years there has been a consistent commitment to this work. It has been far from easy. Yet meeting a community development worker who began in 1989 with a small group of people now coordinating 88 local groups with 5,674 members is testimony to faithfulness and inspiring in regards to how things can develop and mature. Sitting with the Batwa hearing them talk of their changed lives through local community development and engagement is also deeply moving.


The Potters Village was he project about which I had heard much but had never before visited. It began in 2007 when Revd Jenny Green, a CMS Mission Partner, had had more than enough of burying babies who did not need to die. What began as a baby rescue mission 9 years ago now still does that work, although in very different ways, but also has a paediatric medical centre, a child crisis centre, a nutrition centre and works out in the community with the families into which the babies are fostered. It has 58 staff, all local except for Sue and Dr Mike Hughes who lead the work today.


The Rainbow Centre, like The Potters House, started as a response to babies being abandoned, or parents simply being unable to care for their child adequately. It moved into fostering through local families very soon after its inception. The centre offers support, training, and activities. This was founded by 3 leading church women, headed by Mathilde, wife to the then Anglican Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi. This was a local response to local need, drawn from a conviction that acting locally was probably going to be more effective, and more able to use funds well, than that originated from larger international bodies. 13 years on it continues to work with the Childrn and families that came to them first in 2003. It continues, in the midst of a nation in crisis, to operate. Visiting foster families was truly inspiring.


Alongside these 5 ‘core’ projects Rosemary and I found ourselves visiting many others that also work with and for children in poverty in these 3 neighbouring nations in all their similarities and differences. An SOS Childrens Village, vocational training, health centre, and schools in Byumba; pre-school and single parent families work, schools and college, elderly persons work in Shyogwe Diocese, Rwanda; vocational training in Kisoro; health centre, church planting and community leadership in Gitega Diocese, Burundi and key conversations with those engaged in encouraging preschool development across Rwanda, tackling the support of orphans through community fostering in Rwanda, street children in Burundi, and education and health care in Uganda.

Alongside this there was the privilege of exploring with church leaders questions of the impact of the widening gap between rich and poor in all three of these nations. The questions raised by political stability and instability on the poorest, and particularly on the lives of children.

It was simply an enormously rich 4 weeks. I met so many inspiring people, from children in deep,poverty through to those in senior leadership. There were many smiles, laughter, an enormous amount of singing and dancing, and inevitably tears and heartache. But the abiding memories are of the former rather than the latter.

So in these first two posts I hope to have offered something of a flavour of what I did and why. Moving on I want to reflect on poverty and its causes; specific issues relating to child poverty. Then something about motivation of those who work alongside children in deep need. For now I hope you have enjoyed travelling with me through my brief memories of 4 wonderful weeks.


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I last took 3 months sabbatical study leave in 1998 whilst I was Team Rector of Walthamstow. In theory I should have then taken some more 7 years after becoming a bishop; this would have been 2011. So this sabbatical study leave had felt a long time coming. Planning began when I was still Bishop of Southampton but first the move to Southwell and Nottingham, in 2010, and then to Durham in 2014, meant 2 postponements. However the idea of exploring children in poverty and some church responses to it had never gone away. The delays meant this was now being done from a different perspective – being a member of the House of Lords and actively engaged in political debates about child welfare; living in the North East with its wider range of child poverty and longer term engagement with Burundi alongside Uganda and Rwanda have all affected what I did, the reading I have undertaken and the overall approach.
Then as the 3 months came to a close I had to decide just what I would do with all the riches I have experienced and gained from this time away from the regular responsibilities of being the Bishop of Durham. I know that it will shape my thinking about life and ministry in the Diocese, as a bishop and in wider national and international matters. This shaping happens over the weeks and months that follow as further reflection happens on re-engagement with local parish and diocesan life.
Several people asked me if I planned to produce a book out of it all. Well for the present the answer to that is No. Instead I have decided to share some of the thinking and reflection through a series of blog pieces. I hope this may get some discussion going. The aim will be to publish a new piece every week for the next few. It might be that slightly more than that appears, or slightly less. I would not be surprised if I am still producing some into the New Year. Whilst I have an outline I have no master plan and the reflections that arise, and responses made, might make me change direction, or go off on a tangent. But to begin I thought I would simply set the scene of what I did and briefly why.


Ever since I became a Christian as a teenager I have engaged in working with children. Any analysis of my whole ministry shows that at the very heart of God’s calling on my life has been ministry with, by, to and for, children. I believe every Christian, and every church, has a responsibility to engage with children in some way; how else can we learn ‘to become like a child’; how else can we express God’s love to these ‘little ones’? Hence it is nothing short of a tragedy when a church has no children, or when adult disciples have no opportunity to engage with children regularly; such a lack inevitably stunts the spiritual growth of any church or individual. If there is no child in our midst then we simply miss so much of what God brings to us through them.
In society, and the world, I am ever more convinced that how the most vulnerable are viewed and treated lies at the core of what makes for a Good Society. So much of what is often written and said about the Common Good appears to be orientated around an adult world; this is all the more so when economics is allowed to be the dominant narrative of our corporate lives. The vulnerable, which must include children because of their dependence on adults, can never be the economically most productive. So how they are viewed, valued, cared for, listened to and included is central to being a healthy society. As the prophet Micah outlined, ‘God has shown you what is good … to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.’ (Micah 6v8) The responsibility of a nation’s leadership includes, ‘defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor.’ (Psalm 72v4) So children in poverty must be at the heart of all our concern.
But I also believe that some of us are called to a particular ministry role with, to and for children, and this has been a central part of my own calling. This has always had at its heart a concern for their spirituality, and their own living relationship with God in Jesus Christ. As the years have rolled on then my focus has broadened from simply the church’s ministry to, with, for and by children to a concern for all children and childhood. This has been particularly focussed around children and poverty. 2 of the blogs that will follow will explore the question of poverty in general and of child poverty in particular. For now I simply note its centrality to my own calling.


Another part of my calling has been to be engaged with the world church; in particular I have found myself called to engage with the Anglican Church in South West Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi.
Just as children were part of my engagement as a disciple from the outset of my Christian journey so too has my awareness of being a world Christian. Here I am deeply grateful to the folk of Staneway Chapel in Ewell, Surrey, and the leadership of the Christian Union at Kingston Grammar School. These were the 2 bodies through whom I came to love Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. They nurtured me in the early years of my discipleship. Both taught me from the outset that I was joined to a worldwide body of Christian believers. I have always understood myself to be a world Christian. Now this is something I really wish every Christian would grasp for it opens up the world, and the faith, enormously. I have been so enriched by it. But it was at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, during my training for ordination, that my engagement with East Africa began. Enoch Kayeeye was a CMS Study partner from Kabale, SW Uganda. He was placed in the room next to me at Wycliffe in 1981 and a strong friendship developed, which remains to this day. It is this friendship which led me, and Rosemary, to become more directly engaged with this part of God’s world and church. My curacy parish (All Saints with Holy Trinity, Wandsworth) was very engaged with the Ruanda Mission, and my training incumbent Allan Sirman was a member of its Council. On joining Scripture Union as Inner London Evangelist I was encouraged to become a member of the Ruanda Council myself. In 1994 the Rwanda genocide happened and we moved to St Mary with St Stephen, Walthamstow, a parish with Rwandan links. In 1997 I made my first visit to Rwanda; another followed in 1998, alongside Kabale, as part of the first sabbatical study leave. Leaders of the Anglican church in these nations became friends; friendships that have now lasted over 20 years. Visits happened to either or both every year. Burundi followed from 2000 onwards, but particularly from pre Lambeth Conference 2008. So our connections are now long and deep. They are primarily with Ugandans, Rwandans and Burundians, not ex pat mission partners (although we have always had good friends amongst these too). Half the population of these nations are children. Huge numbers live in deep poverty. They have taught me so much.
So the idea was to in some way put this all together. Do some concerted reading around Poverty, and specifically Child Poverty, in my own context of the UK, and the context of a world where so many children live in poverty. Spend time with Ugandans, Rwandans and Burundians who have sought out of their own love for Christ to respond to the reality of child poverty in their own midst. So the focus was on local responses rather than those made by the global organisations (although there is inevitably some overlap as will become clear in later blogs).
I have made new friends along the way and I am enormously grateful to all who have given advice, time, challenge, encouragement and support.
In Part 2 of this first blog I will outline what I did.

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I visited Burundi last week on behalf of Archbishop Justin, and personally, to encourage Archbishop Bernard Ntahoturi, the bishops and people of the Anglican Church of Burundi at this time of deep crisis for their nation. Relationships matter; face to face meeting is important in showing that we care. Prayer matters; by it we express our concern and commitment before God. In the mysterious ways of God as we pray for people thousands of miles away it is effective in encouraging others.
The House of Bishops came together for a morning to share with me what is happening around the country. Our news, where there has been any reporting, has focussed on those fleeing the country into Rwanda, Tanzania and Congo. Possibly 150,000 have now fled of a population of around 11 million. Amongst these are many leaders of the political opposition. The other focus has been the demonstrations against President Pierre Nkurunziza standing for a ‘third term’, the attempted coup of May 13th and the continued demonstrations since. The picture they painted for me however was of much larger numbers of people who are internally displaced. But they are not in camps. People have moved away from Bujumbura particularly to stay with family and friends elsewhere in the country. Imagine your home suddenly having up to four times as many people living in it. Add to that that many Burundian homes are small, the plumbing and drainage are poor (or non-existent) and food is becoming more expensive. For just how long can this internal disruption affecting many more than the refugee numbers be sustained? In talking with the pastors of churches in 3 of the most affected areas in Bujumbura on Sundays recently their congregations are down by 30, 50 and 75% simply because people have moved away. Streets that are usually teeming with people are quiet and almost empty.
In the south Nyanza Lac has seen 45% of its population cross into Tanzania. Many of these people only returned from Tanzania in recent years. As they have left they have sold many goods, including the iron sheeting from their roofs. One organisation told me their research suggests leavers have been selling their goods for only 15% of the real value. Once that money runs out on what will they live? When they return how will they rehabilitate their homes again?
But in the north some who have left have started to return and life largely goes on as normal. Here most schools are open whereas in many places they have been closed for the past few weeks. The universities are all closed; hundreds of students sleep rough opposite the U.S. embassy compound. All the boarding schools (that is most of the secondary schools) are closed too. When so many young people are simply hanging around what do they do in their frustration, anger and sheer boredom? Demonstrating can become a way of life for a period.
The word I heard most over these 2 days was ‘Fear’. There is real fear of the violence, and of how it might grow or how violently it might be suppressed. There is fear of the youth militia which appears heavily armed. There is fear of the police taking people away at night, and of torture in police and prison cells. There is fear of a return to the civil war that ended in 2003. One bishop described Burundi as no longer the land of a thousand hills but the land of a thousand rumours. Rumours circulate like wildfire, even with the closing down of social media. Unbelievable things have already happened, so why not believe more unbelievable rumours?
There is deep fear about a developing food crisis. This is not rumour, it is genuine concern expressed by all the NGOs representatives with whom I met. It was the word of a group of women in one of the poorest parts of the city. It is harvest time but with people fleeing not all the harvest will be taken in; where it is it might be hoarded rather than sold. Even greater concern is that because of uncertainty people will not plant in this next season so that there will be no harvest at the end of the year. In a nation where most people simply live from harvest to harvest this would be serious disaster. Oxfam, Christian Aid and others are already trying to plan for the possibility of major humanitarian aid being required. Inflation is rising; without a solution soon this will only become worse. The Central Burundi Bank does not have the resources to hold the Burundi Franc artificially high for very long; especially if the international community withholds funding until free and fair elections are held.
On one level it is hard to be anything other than pessimistic for the next months, whatever political settlement might be reached. So much damage has already been done. Yet I had one of the most stimulating discussions I have had with a group of young men in a long time over lunch by the beautiful Lake Tanganyika. Young Christian business entrepreneurs, young leaders of Christian organisations like Alpha all passionate about wanting to serve Christ fully. Staying put because they love their nation and believe it can have a hopeful future. They want to exemplify integrity and genuine participation for all. There was the Mothers Union group continuing to meet for their literacy and micro-finance meeting. Whilst expressing deep fears they were also expressing a determination to keep living and to keep developing for the good of their families and community. There is the remarkable broadcasting work being supported by Great Lakes Outreach. When independent radio stations have been trashed and forced off the air the Christian radio and TV stations are regularly putting out programmes talking about peace, promoting and encouraging all Burundians to work for the good of the nation, not self interest or power.
There is the quiet determination of Anglican and other Church leaders to promote dialogue and peace in all communities and at the head of the nation. There is the conviction that prayer matters; so 24-7 prayer chains are established in many churches.
For me the challenge is to stand with my sisters and brothers in prayer and to encourage many others to do so. Burundi is one of the very poorest, least significant nations on earth. This is exactly why in God’s economy it really matters. God bless Burundi.

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7.15am Ash Wednesday and the Rector, Curate, retired priest, 2 Readers and half a dozen church members walk down the few yards from St Michael and All Angels, Houghton Le Spring to the bus station. Robes are being worn; small pots of ash are in the hands of the 3 of us in priests orders. Only Sue, the Rector, has done this before and that was in Washington DC, a very different social setting.
Over the next 2 hours we have quite a number of people who ask to be ‘ashed’. The sign of the Cross is placed on their foreheads and they are reminded, ‘Remember that you are to dust and to dust you shall return. Turn away from sin and follow Christ / know the forgiveness of Christ.’
Everyone does so with proper seriousness and reverence. They potentially carry the sign of the cross through everything that they do for the rest of the day. People will ask them questions about it. So I later had a conversation with 2 Muslim boys about the cross on my forehead. There was no antagonism; plenty of bemusement and also clear indifference. Some simply wanted to talk; others asked for prayer. The latter was largely with lay people not the clergy.
Inevitably there has been criticism from some within the church (I haven’t yet had any from outside it). There is the accusation of it being a stunt. There is also an accusation of it being cheap grace.
In one sense it can be seen as a stunt but I think rather it is us trying to take out into the public realm the truth and reality of the good news. I struggle to see how this is cheap grace when the emphasis lies on our frailty, mortality and sin. Too often I think we may be in danger of underplaying the reality of sin, but not here. No one could go through this unaware of acknowledging human sinfulness and the need for turning from it to find forgiveness in Christ.
I am happy to admit that it was experimental for me. Would this work as a way of taking something of the good news out into the streets? Well the people involved have already said that they cannot wait for next year. They say they have had their confidence in the gospel strengthened; they feel more able to talk about their faith. I saw ordained ministers offering something that enabled the people of God to share their faith and minister the good news to others.
I am certainly ready to do it again in 2016 and hope others will join in.

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