I’ve been thinking about the concept of ‘Welcome’ recently. Welcome and hospitality are concepts deeply ingrained in the life of the Church, we are to practise both, for doing so, as the saying goes we occasionally entertain angels. I remember being horrified when as a young incumbent in Manchester I heard stories of exclusion from parishioners. Leaving family and friends in the Caribbean must have been a very difficult thing to do, to arrive and experience the hostility of many members of the public, institutions and even some churches, well, I can only imagine how isolated and lonely many people must have felt. I heard a story only last week from a young Italian guy, who has come to London to work and improve his English. He was looking for a room to rent, some letting agencies whom he visited demanded a months rent off him in advance before they even showed him the room. It’s exploitation of the vulnerable and it’s a sad reflection of many peoples attitudes. A little kindness and a little understanding go a long way, it builds up trust and cements friendships. I hope that when our building works are complete we will continue our great tradition of welcome and hospitality, for in doing so we recognise in the other their inherent dignity as a children of God.
Last week I went to the cinema to see the highly acclaimed film ‘I, Daniel Blake’, directed by Ken Loach. The film won the Palme d’Or prize at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year. It explores the experiences of two very different individuals in Newcastle encountering the bureaucracy of our benefits system, overseen by people struggling with their personal integrity while administering a system that is clearly deeply flawed. Some might wish to quibble with certain minor details in terms of the validity of their claims, but the message was perfectly clear. It was the story of people exhausted from pounding the streets looking for non-existent jobs. But it was also the story of ordinary people showing great kindness to strangers. The most shocking scene takes place in a real-life foodbank located in a church hall (although there is no mention of the Church in this film). Real-life volunteers are shown going about their daily tasks, working under great pressure, but offering respect, love and practical help as they do every day.
Ken Loach was also the director of the film ‘Cathy Come Home’, screened fifty years ago, which highlighted the plight of the homeless, and played a large part in the launch of the housing charity Shelter. I would like to think that his latest film will have some real influence on those in positions of power and influence in our society today and be a catalyst for change in our benefits system.
In the meantime, I feel very pleased to be associated with a church that is involved in debt counselling and also supports our local foodbank. I do urge you to give generously – all donations can be left at the back of church on a Sunday.
On a lighter note, and bearing in mind Father Simon’s sermon on Sunday, I saw this quotation recently, supposedly seen in a local bookshop: ‘Post-apocalyptic Fiction has now been moved to our Current Affairs section’.
With every blessing