A reflection by the President of the Methodist Conference on housing
29 September 2016
A reflection by the Revd Dr Roger Walton, President of
the Methodist Conference, at the Christians on the Left prayer
breakfast on housing
at the Labour Party Conference 2016.
5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near
the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his
journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan
woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me a
drink." John 4:5-7
Last Sunday I was participating in Harvest Service.
We took our theme from the Relief and Development Charity
All We Can, whose focus for Harvest is Make a
Splash. It is particularly focused on access to
clean water and we used information, stories and videos from
Their suggested reading was the encounter between Jesus and the
Samaritan women in John 4. Re-reading this passage with the
issue of access to water in mind meant that I read the passage
differently and noticed different features. I realised that
question of ownership is central in the passage. Whose water
is it? Who has the water and who doesn't? Who owns it? Who can give
and who needs to receive it?
In begins in the opening verses - whose well is it?
Samaritans or for all children of Jacob?
It was also the church's Jubilee Year- 50 years since it was
In the Hebrew scriptures, the Year of Jubilee was a special
It was the year after 7 cycles of 7 years.
Years were grouped in units of 7.
For six years, people worked the land, in the seventh year, the
land was rested. There was no sowing or reaping. The land had a
sabbatical, so that the earth could replenish itself, so the poor
could glean, and so wild animals could roam and graze. It was an
environmentally and socially sensitive year.
But after 7 cycles of 7 years, it was Jubilee Year.
Jubilee Year was extra special, because not only was the landed
doubly rested but all debts were cancelled and all those who had
become enslaved because of debt were released. People
remembered that the land was gift from God and no one owned the
land other than God.
In relation to housing the issue of ownership
is central too.
- When I worked in the north east of England, the Church of
England did some outreach work on the new flats down by the
Quayside in Newcastle. Many flats were bought and
deliberately held empty…so that with ever increasing house price
rises, the owner could sit on an ever more valuable asset. They
didn't want people to live in them. Yet, you would walk from the
quayside into the centre and meet many homeless people.
- What a contrast with my visit to Fair Isle in
the Shetlands, where the National Trust owns the Island and
everyone rents from the National Trust.
The Greek word for house is Oikos.
Interestingly, we developed some fairly key words from it.
- Economy = the rules of the house - the way we
rule the household
- Ecumenism = which tends to be thought of
churches cooperating but its actual meaning is much more inclusive
and means the whole inhabited earth. All who live in the house
- Ecology = the word or discourse about the
house - which in modern usage is about how we treat the planet, all
creatures and one another.
For Christians, these three words are deeply connected and
inform one another.
The biblical tradition holds that inclusive, responsible
stewardship informs the way we develop our economy, and that the
economy has a creativity loaned by God to be a benefit and blessing
The day of Pentecost resulted in a community that was radically
different in its holding all thing in common. This leads
Norman Kraus, the Mennonite theologian to write:
"In the new order of things life is no longer lived for one's
private advancement. Selfishness and greed are now recognised for
the idiocy they are! Life is together. Individuality finds
fulfilment in a community where personal relationships are more
important than individual achievement. Each brother and sister's
worth is perceived in their reflection of God's grace, not their
economic utility or social role.
There is space in the biblical tradition for each to have his or
her own space (for example Micah 4.4 talks of each person sitting
under their own fig tree and vines). But true fulfilment is
found in the interaction of all in a diverse and rich world in
which everyone has a place.
Housing is one signal that we have such a place.