Stop trying to fix the poor says Methodist Vice-President
02 July 2016
- Photos of Rachel Lampard MBE at the
- Video of Rachel's address is available here
- Audio of Rachel's address is available here
The newly inducted Vice-President of the Methodist
Conference, Rachel Lampard MBE, has called for the Church to stop
'problematising' and trying to 'fix' the poor, but "address the
problems and pain that not having enough money
Speaking to the Conference gathered in London today, Rachel
Lampard said: "We live in a world where we need 'oceans of
justice', where in the UK more than 1 in 4 children live in
poverty, and 2 million people die each year because of a lack of
safe water or sanitation.
"When we look at the poor and those in need of justice, do
we see a problem - or do we recognise the face of Jesus Christ?
Sadly we have 'problematised' the poor so much that we choose to
look for their faults rather than address the problems and pain
that not having enough money brings."
Ms Lampard celebrated the Methodist desire to get 'stuck'
in to help people and encouraged them to tackle injustice, not by
trying to 'fix' people, but by listening and learning from people
who are seen as 'fragile'.
"We are all fragile. Deep down, or perhaps not
so very deep, we have flaws, fears, hurts, struggles. God doesn't
come along and say 'Right, I'll sort you out and make you into a
line of perfect Christians.' Rather God chooses vulnerability,
"By holding each other's fragility and vulnerability we
tread into precious, holy spaces. It is then that we see the
thousand hidden injustices in our world.
"The Church is committed to justice. This isn't
some optional extra. This is part of the mission of the Church. To
be involved not only in the alleviation of human suffering, but
also in the eradication of the roots of that suffering."
Ending her address, Ms Lampard issued the challenge:
"A commitment to justice and holiness changes us
and will change the Church, if we have the
The full text of the address follows:
Mr President, members of the Conference, I rang my husband Steve
last year from Southport to tell him that I had been designated as
Vice President. After the initial congratulations and shared
excitement, there was a pause. And he said "you know it feels
a bit like it did when you told me you were pregnant. I'm very
excited, and a bit scared. I know we've got about 9 months to get
used to the idea. And, although it's going to turn my life
upside down, I'm conscious that you're the one who's going to go
through most of the pain."
And just like pregnancy and bringing up children, I feel the
vice presidency is going to be a family affair (though hopefully
with fewer nappies). My children will be at home skyping me
or hopefully occasionally travelling with me to see bits of
Methodism beyond their home church; my husband, friends, parents
and parents-in-law will be offering invaluable help with the
childcare and school runs to let me travel; and then there is the
wider family of Methodists and Christian sisters and brothers who I
know will be praying for Roger and for me as we embark on these new
roles which have been entrusted to us. Thank you.
Before I start let me tell you about what my children call "my
shakies". I have a condition called an essential tremor,
which means that my hands shake, often quite a lot. You'll
find this week and this year that I'm not good at holding papers
without a lectern, I can't distribute the elements for communion,
my colleagues will tell you I'm lethal if you give me a cup of tea
and a saucer. And you really don't want me offering to do
brain surgery on you. Give me a lectern and a mug, and don't worry
about me - I'm fine.
At the beginning of this year's Methodist Conference, I'm
mindful of the words of the prophet Amos who offers a serious
reflection for the faithful on how we should use the gift of our
time together (and here I'm using words from The Message)
"I can't stand your religious meetings.
I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.
I want nothing to do with your religious projects,
your pretentious slogans and goals.
I'm sick of your fundraising schemes,
your public relations and your image making.
I've had all I can take of your noisy ego music.
When was the last time you sang to me?
Do you know what I want?
I want justice - oceans of it
I want fairness - rivers of it.
That's what I want. That's all I want."
And we live in a world where we need "oceans of justice".
- In the UK more than 1 in 4 children live in poverty, and
300,000 of them faced destitution, the severest form of poverty we
thought had been banished
- 1 in every 122 people in the world is a refugee or
is internally displaced and more than 3,700 refugees are
thought to have died crossing the Mediterranean in 2015
- Water scarcity affects 4 in 10 people, and climate change
is making rainfall more variable
- Every 90 seconds a child dies because of a water-related
disease , and 2 million people die each year
because of a lack of safe water, sanitation or
- and we know that there are places around the world where
people of all faiths face persecution, torture and death because of
- and today, just outside where we are meeting, thousands
of people are protesting about the referendum. However you
voted we live in a society that appears divided, ill at ease with
itself and uncertain of the future. And where people who look
or sound different from the majority population are reporting that
levels of abuse are rising.
So what should we as Christians, and what should the Methodist
Church, be doing about the injustices in our world? And why
is it important to hold
together holiness and justice, the theme which Roger
Walton and I have chosen for the year?
If one understanding of holiness is those times, places or
people where we recognise God breaking through, then I had a
profoundly holy moment walking down Oxford Street as a
teenager. It was the late 1980s, at a time when the numbers
of people who were homeless was visibly growing. Walking past
all the glitzy consumerism, I was following a man. He was a
rough sleeper, carrying two large bags, a shabby coat tied with
string, shuffling along the street, oblivious to the bustle around
him. He stopped by a bin, and started fishing inside
it. He pulled out the packaging from a fast food restaurant,
and opened up the carton. Inside were the remains of some
chicken bones. He put a bone in his mouth and started to gnaw
I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach. I felt the
roar of the prophets - this is not right! This is not how God wants
it! This person is created in God's image - and God wants justice,
oceans of it. At the time I was worshipping at the Hinde St,
the West London Mission, and later spent time during my year out
before university volunteering at its Lambeth Walk In day centre,
where I met and drank hundreds of cups of tea with many more people
like the man on Oxford St. Each one of them infinitely
precious and created in God's image.
We sometimes worry about what makes up the Methodist DNA.
We joke about our love of committees. But a large part of our
DNA is just getting stuck in. We respond to the need we see
around us. According to our statistics for mission, there are
over 7,000 examples of Methodist churches around Britain involved
in community projects, many of them supporting people who
experience poverty or are marginalised, such as running foodbanks,
nightshelters, and drop-ins for people in need. We support
charities with Methodist roots, such as Action for Children and All
We Can. And of course we don't just do things with a
Methodist label - each of us responds to the need we see around us
with and through people and organisations of all faiths and
none. But Methodists do things, we get
stuck in. We see things are not right, and we act because we
are responding to people who are created in God's image.
This is why for me "holiness and justice" is such an exciting
one to be able to explore. These things are not polar opposites -
the holy huddle versus the activist justice-seeker - but they are
inescapably intertwined. We are delighted to have worked with the
artist Ric Stott on the booklet, Holiness and Justice, which
explores the intertwining and challenge of our presidential
It's not a matter of loving God first and then as an outcome
loving our neighbour: it's less linear and more
circular. Responding to God's love for us, seeing the
sacredness of creation because God loves it, we love
God and love our neighbour. In loving
our neighbour, and seeking justice for them, our love for God finds
concrete expression, is enriched, and we find a closeness with
God. Because God has commanded us to walk with God "in the
way of righteousness, along the paths of justice". And it is
that closeness, that drawing nearer to the being of God that is
holiness. The inner and the outer manifestations of God's
love cannot be separated or take place sequentially.
I have attended a Methodist church all my life, been a member
for nearly 30 years, and have been privileged to worked for the
Methodist Church for over 15 years. In my work I've been challenged
to focus on what it means for God's people, gathered together in
the Methodist Church, to do justice, specifically in the context of
politics. I know the Church is committed to justice. But
today I'd like to offer a challenge: how we embody God's command
to do justice?
When we look at the poor and those in need of justice, do we see
a problem - or do we recognise the face of Jesus Christ?
Let me take the risk of starting with a bit of politics and talk
about poverty. I think our society, our government and our
media have increasingly problematised people living in
poverty. It has become common to talk about the "pathways to
poverty", of family breakdown, educational failure, worklessness
and dependency, addiction and serious personal debt.
It's true that you will often find these problems amongst
families who experience poverty. But you will also find the
same problems amongst families who are wealthy. There are
undoubtedly problems in our society. Problems that can have drastic
consequences - especially for poorer families. But these are
not causesof or pathways to poverty; in reality they are a
mixture of causes, effects and the messiness of life that rich and
poor alike must face.
And have you noticed that they are all presented as the fault of
the individuals? Your relationship broke
down; you failed your exams; you don't
work; you are addicted; you are in debt.
Being in poverty is no longer about being poor. It's about being at
Listen instead to someone in poverty describe what poverty means
to them: "Poverty is not being able to do things that are
necessities. Things that are important like gas and electric,
showers, bus fares, and having to worry that your daughter has a
hole in her shoes. She needs new shoes and I don't have the
money. What do I do? Do I get the gas or do I get shoes?"
We have problematised the poor so much that we choose to look
for the mother's faults rather than address the problems and pain
that not having enough money brings to her.
And surely this is at the heart of our challenge in responding
as Christians to God's passionate call for justice. In the
Bible we read that we would encounter Jesus in three ways: through
the Holy Spirit, through bread and wine, and through the poor -
"Truly, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are
members of my family, you did it to me."
We tend to be quite good at the first two of these. But
when we see people in poverty do we see the face of Jesus Christ,
and want to listen and learn - or do we see "them" as a problem, do
we want to fix "them" and sort "them" out? Fixes that cost "them"
and not "us"; that change "them", but fail to transform "us"?
Around the country we are seeing the emergence of Poverty Truth
Commissions. The first one was in Glasgow, and took its motto
from post-apartheid South Africa - 'nothing about us, without us,
is for us'. In Poverty Truth Commissions, two groups of
people are brought together as commissioners: some of an area's
most influential citizens, and people who experience the daily
grind of poverty. Titles are left at the door, everyone's
experience is welcome. The Commissions work on the basis that
unless the people who experience poverty are able to shape the
solutions, and not just be the recipients of the uninformed ideas
of others, then nothing will really alter. So they have
looked at the reality of the poverty gap - why things actually cost
more when you're poor, they've looked at welfare reform, and why so
many people who are in work are nevertheless still in
poverty. Everyone gets a space in the room and everyone is
able to contribute to solutions.
And the Poverty Truth Commission in Scotland has been helping to
change the way that nation approaches poverty. The Scottish
Parliament published a report on poverty in Scotland, for example,
in conjunction with the Truth Commission - can you imagine a
government co-publishing a report with people who were poor?! The
report put the stories of people living in poverty stories
alongside the data about poverty. And senior officials in the
Scottish Government's Social Justice Team each have a mentor who
has direct experience of poverty - which perhaps helps them to have
a clearer understanding of the realities of lives lived juggling
sparse financial resources.
Martin Johnstone, one of my colleagues at the Church of
Scotland, says we often talk about people and communities which we
think need sorting out as "fragile". And he tells the story
of his great grandmother's wedding tea set, always kept safely in
the cabinet at home. One day his mother was dusting and she
handed young Martin a china cup to hold. "Take care with
that. It's fragile," she said. Something being fragile
didn't mean that it was worthless, or needed fixing, or turning
into something else. Being fragile meant that it was
wonderfully precious in and of itself, to be treasured and held
Isn't this marvellously incarnational? We are all
fragile. Deep down, or perhaps not so very deep, we have
flaws, fears, hurts, struggles. God doesn't come along and
say "Right, I'll sort you out and make you into a line of perfect
God chooses vulnerability, precariousness,
fragility. He cradles us, like a precious, treasured piece of
china. And sent his son, both divine and fully, fragilely,
human, to show us how to treasure and love one another. In
the amazing poetry of Charles Wesley, "Our God, contracted to a
span, incomprehensibly made Man".
John Wesley had a fierce heart for people in poverty and said
some things which are deeply challenging to us, to our politics and
our Church today. He said that "one great reason why the
rich, in general, have so little sympathy for the poor, is, because
they so seldom visit them." And by the way, a person was
"rich" by Wesley's standards if they had "food and raiment
sufficient for himself and his family, and something over".
God's love was for absolutely everyone, and early Methodism
appealed strongly to those who were poorer. Pope Francis has issued
a challenge to today's church, not just to be a
church for the poor, but a church of the
I wonder if we as Church sometimes struggle with the urge to fix
people, to sort them out, rather than be a church of the
poor? And how much does this relate to our desire to be the
host of every party? Hospitality is a good thing. We
can give freely, we can share what God has given to us, often
sacrificially, to others who have need of it. But being the
host also puts us in a place of control. Our house, our
rules. My bat, my ball. Do we really know and
understand what it costs sometimes for people to step over the
threshold, accept our hospitality, our agenda? What would it
mean for us to become guests instead? To receive rather
than to be in a position of power, where we assume we only need to
give? What does doing justice look like when we put ourselves into
the hands of others?
Well perhaps it means that we can have a deeper understanding of
what people really want and need. We've got better at doing
this in our justice work in countries other than our own. Christian
Aid, for example, are good at making sure that we hear more clearly
the voices of people from the southern hemisphere, and brought
people from countries directly affected by climate change to the
recent climate conference in Paris. The Methodist charity All
We Can identifies partners with whom it wants to work, and then
instead of telling them its own priorities, asks them "What
do you need to do?" Then it works alongside them to help
them achieve their own goals.
Earlier this year I was privileged to visit the Church of
Pakistan. I arrived knowing the stories from the western
media about the country, but left with a profound awareness of
bigger story, a truer story. The story of a Christian people who
are often poor, misused and facing the threat of violence - indeed
the appalling Lahore park bombings took place only a fortnight
after my visit. Yet it's also the story of a people who have a life
or death commitment to building peace between faiths. We met
senior Muslim and Christian leaders who are committed
to faith, friendship and honest inter-faith
dialogue in a country where this can bring the threat of
death. One young man said that without inter-faith relations,
his country simply has no hope.
How did that encounter challenge me? In many
ways. I am still wrestling with two challenges I received
during my visit. We heard that Muslims were welcomed to say their
prayers in one of the Cathedrals during an interfaith meeting
because that was thought to be a sign of absolute hospitality, even
though Christians are a vulnerable minority. We still
struggle with that as a Church which is part of the majority faith
in our country. And secondly I was challenged about whether we fail
to speak up for Christians in Pakistan because we are worried about
fragile inter faith relations at home. How do we hold those two
together? The stereotypes I had previously held were
challenged by meeting Christians and Muslims in Pakistan. I
became more aware of our interconnectedness. I became more
aware of the injustices that people are facing. And I realised that
I needed to be challenged by the very people that previously I
might have dared to speak about.
It is through getting to know people, listening to them,
offering practical help and support, that the justice questions can
most helpfully emerge. When we move past the "what fault can I fix
in you" question to the deeper "why" questions:
Why are people sleeping on our church steps
Why are people attending our lunch club so deeply in
Why can't mums afford to buy school uniform for children,
even though they are working?
Why are so many people lonely?
Why don't young people have anywhere to go of an
Why do some people feel they have no stake in the economy
or political system?
And these are just questions prompted in this country.
We are helped to find answers to these questions over a
thousand cups of tea, through knowing people well enough so that we
can ask and they can answer with the knowledge that they will be
heard, by holding each others' fragility and vulnerability as we
tread into very precious, holy spaces. It is then that we see
the thousand hidden injustices. Injustices which are deeply
rooted in the way we organise our society and our world, from the
way we talk about people without material resources, to the
desperate future faced by the world's poorest crushed by the impact
of climate change.
Perhaps we can be cautious of interpreting
too literally the proverb "Speak up for those who cannot speak for
themselves." Should we be speaking
up for those who cannot speak for themselves
- or ratherenabling those who, for whatever
reason, cannot speak, to find their voices, to speak for
themselves? I hope we can then have the audacity to speak
out together for justice in our shared world.
Because the Church absolutely does have a role in speaking
out. I have been very honoured to work within the Joint
Public Issues Team which this year will mark its tenth
birthday. Baptists, Methodists, the United Reformed Church
and now the Church of Scotland working together on issues of
justice and peace - a really effective example of how we can make a
difference together ecumenically.
Last year our Churches worked together on the
"Rethink Benefit Sanctions" campaign. Why did our
denominations start talking about an obscure bit of welfare policy?
It was precisely because we heard from local churches running
foodbanks about the massive increase in the number of people who
were hungry because their benefits were being stopped.
Conversations with foodbanks, and most powerfully with people who
affected, led to new research and policy work. The foreword
to the report was written by people who had themselves been
sanctioned. And as the Churches publicly aligned themselves with
those who had been sanctioned, with those who were being blamed for
their own poverty, more people spoke out. Friends and
colleagues had the courage to say that they too had been
sanctioned. We obviously wanted to talk as well with the
people who could change the system, with MPs, but at first we
couldn't get a look in. That was until people from local
churches started to write to their MPs as part of the campaign.
Then we started to be invited into meetings, we began to get a seat
at the table. Over the last year there have been marginal
improvements to the sanctions regime, but this is a long game and
we're keeping up the pressure. But it's the encounters with people
who were the most affected by this situation that gave rise to the
justice work of our Church.
This is just one example from my own experience. You will
have others. Those times when your encounters, your deep
conversations have caused you to ask the question "why?".
Where the justice questions break in, through - and because of -
the practical actions of our churches.
Because this isn't some optional extra. This is part
of the mission of the church, the kingdom of God coming on earth as
it is in heaven. The mission of the church, God's mission, is
to be involved not only in the alleviation of human suffering but
also in the eradication of the roots of that
suffering. Pity and compassion are vital
responses, Christian responses, but this experience should
also provoke within us the justice response, the
But isn't this just one more thing for our churches to do when
we're already struggling to hold it together? Many churches
are already involved in this "justice" mission in a variety of
ways, perhaps unconsciously so. From the full scale foodbank
to the drop in coffee morning which has turned into a haven for
exhausted mums or people seeking asylum. To the church members who
have a chat with the young people who hang around on the church
wall instead of seeing them as a threat or nuisance. To the prayer
group which holds different people in the community before God in
prayer in week.
And then perhaps, like the mustard seed, someone in the
congregation asks that why question about someone they meet - why
are they hungry, or homeless or lonely? - and it becomes like a
grit in the oyster, something that can't be ignored, and which can
As Dr Helen Cameron of the Salvation Army describes in her
book, Just Mission, four ways in which we encounter
justice through our church life:
- in worship we meet a
God whose nature is just; in our scripture and discipleship we
encounter God's anger at injustice and the response God
- in our
hospitality we build deeper relationships
and in our pastoral care we sit alongside those who have been
wounded by life, and perhaps start to ask why;
- in our acts of
compassion we reflect upon the needs we see
around us and the injustices that underlie those needs;
- and through our
life as God's people in the Church we
testify that grace and hope fly in the face of the anger,
denial and despair that injustice can generate.
And if we are a Church where justice flows, we will be a
place where more people will want to be, where more people will be
able to respond to God's call in their lives.
As we seek to draw nearer to God, to see God in the faces of
those around us, and particularly in the faces of those who are the
poorest and most in need of justice, then our longings for holiness
and for justice will go hand in hand.
A commitment to justice and holiness changes us and will
change the Church, if we have the courage. The courage to be a
guest at the party, instead of the host. The courage first to
listen instead of speak, to first ask why instead of rushing
to offer solutions. But then together to speak and act
boldly. The courage together to join in the mission of God
that he invites us to share. And we do it all in the knowledge
that, by God's grace, anything can be possible.
Do you know what I want?
I want justice - oceans of it
I want fairness - rivers of it.
That's what I want. That's all I want.