We have been living with the cost of living crisis for getting on for a year now. The Joint Public Issues Team of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church (JPIT) produced a detailed briefing back in May 2022, pointing out the context of the problem is ten years of austerity followed by a pandemic.
The statistics are sobering: 42% of UK adults had to borrow money in 2022 in the face of rising costs; 54% of UK adults have reported feeling either anxious, depressed, filled with dread or unable to cope due to concerns about their finances. [Source: The Money Charity, January 2023] Churches across the country are doing their best to respond, with practical support – food banks, energy and debt advice, warm spaces – and with advocacy for government action. They are also, of course, praying.
On Wednesday 8 February, Christians against Poverty (CAP), sought to channel all this activity into a Call to prayer. At Westminster Chapel, just down the road from the Houses of Parliament, over 100 people took part in a choreographed sequence of different kinds of prayer. There was time for individual contemplation, with sensitive musical accompaniment; for small-group prayer, enabling the exchange of personal stories and highly-charged collective prayer, which at one stage involved the whole congregation turning towards Parliament and praying with raised hands for our leaders.
There was input, too, from rousing and well-informed speakers. Owen Hylton, pastor of Beacon Church, Tulse Hill, standing in at short notice for CTE’s Mike Royal, told of the disproportionate impact of poverty on minority ethnic groups. He spoke powerfully about the power of prayer, drawing on Solomon’s prayer in 2 Chronicles 7, when God reminds his people who they are, of their need for faith and that transformation is God’s work; not ours.
Hannah Rich, senior researcher at the Theos thinktank, drew on her recent report A Torn Safety Net: How the Cost-of-Living Crisis Threatens Its Own Last Line of Defence, to describe the different kinds of economic insecurity people are currently experiencing: income, employment, housing, food and migration status. This impacts on organisations as well as households, reducing their ability to step in and help, so that we are experiencing a social recession, as well as an economic one.
Pastor Leke Sanusi, chairman and Head of Mission at the Redeemed Christian Church of God UK, called on each of us to be a Christian voice in the places we live and work, to influence for change and to make Jesus known. Perhaps his most powerful voice was that of hope, drawing on Romans 8.28: ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’.
And Paul Williams, CEO of the Bible Society, reflecting on the divided society of ancient Israel, sought inspiration in the ‘great inversion’ (1 Kings 17:2-16), in which by using a poor widow to bring help to the prophet Elijah, God’s agenda for the centre is demonstrated by a transformation on the margins. It was an epic day, but most of all it left me thankful for the individual stories shared – such as those from CAP befrienders who are standing alongside those struggling with debt. Matthew 25.40 indeed.