Rev Wale Hudson-Roberts writes that the Church needs to roll up its sleeve to provide greater pastoral care and practical support to those who are impacted by the current recessionary economic climate
I do not often bump into friends at Paddington train station, but there he was, watching me as I took cash from the cash point. The pleasantries began. How are mum and dad? Do they still go to church? And what about…? The names came rolling off my tongue: friends from years ago, some forgotten, others not, but all evoked memories, and good ones at that. As we caught up on this and that person, I noticed a reoccurring theme: most of our friends – professional and otherwise – had been made redundant.
When we were young, these were the individuals who had been earmarked to go places, and for a while they did. They were at the top of their game; travelled the world, and lived life in the fast lane. Invulnerable, so they thought, and scarily ambitious. But redundancy, like recession, refuses to discriminate. If a company’s budget is not being met, and reserves are rapidly decreasing, anyone at anytime can find themselves in the firing line. This recession is deep, and millions have been affected by it. Look at Greece, Asia Minor, Cyprus, Ukraine, Russia, Sicily, Southern Italy, parts of France, Spain, Egypt and even Libya. These countries were, in ancient times, originally Greek colonies, each contributing to Ancient Greece becoming the powerhouse it was, swaggering around the globe that it felt it possessed.
For a while, Greece appeared invincible. Yet today, Greece tells a different story. Fifty per cent of its young people are unemployed; it is in need of a third IMF bailout; rescue creditors are demanding that Greece’s Conservative-led government slashes a further 11.5 billion in budget costs over the next two years – resulting in a new round of wage and pension cuts – if the country is to continue getting vital loans. How the mighty have fallen.
Austerity measures have not only affected Greece, but also Rome. Rome’s past was as great – if not even greater – than Greece’s. The similarities are uncanny. Like Greece, the Roman Empire also met an inglorious end.
In April of this year, in even greater numbers, people went onto the streets in Rome to protest for more jobs, fairer incomes and a halt to austerity. Rome, like Greece, can no longer claim to be in possession of hegemony. Two former empires once occupied swathes of the globe, now, beseeching the leaders of the IMF and World Bank for billions to help them survive stormy, financial conditions. How the mighty have fallen.
Nation states are not the only ones going to banks for loans, cutting budgets, scrimping and saving, and watching the pennies. Millions of households in this country and abroad are surfing the Internet for jobs, cheaper bills, food, clothing, travel and so on. With Social Services under pressure, what can – and should – be the role of the Church in providing support?
I was never in total agreement with the Big Society idea – the flagship policy idea of the 2010 Conservative Party general election manifesto, with its stated aim of creating a climate that empowers local people and communities, building a ‘big society’ that will take power away from politicians and give it to people – but I do think that that churches can apply elements of the idea to create a fairer and more just society, helping people through the recession. Ideas such as debt management services, plans designed to help people who are struggling to repay their debts, guiding and where necessary advising people on debt repayment. Household debts have increased inexorably over the last few years. Mounting debts can be a contributor to marriage break-ups, strokes, heart attacks and even suicides. People, in and outside of the Church, are often too proud to talk about their financial concerns. If provided with a confidential and discreet financial service, they will feel greatly supported by the Church. After all, this should be the role of the Church, supporting the vulnerable and needy. Or what about setting up a small pastoral team, whose sole purpose it is to provide pastoral help and support to the unemployed? We often forget that unemployment was not a part of God’s original plan for humanity. In the beginning, God allocated work to Adam and Eve. Enjoyable work is good for the soul. The lack, worse still, absence of it can quickly demoralise the soul, affect self-esteem and send a person spiralling into depression. Churches that are aware of this, and that are being proactive in addressing this issue, are about the Father’s business. Too many of our churches simply provide a safe sanctuary. Yet churches are called to serve simultaneously as a religious and theological body, as well as a social centre.
Ecclesiastically active is the role the Church should play in our society, and there is no better time than now.
Rev Wale Hudson-Roberts is the Racial Justice Co-Ordinator for the Baptist Union of Great Britain