A reflection by the President of the Methodist Conference on housing


A reflection by the Revd Dr Roger Walton, President ofthe Methodist Conference, at the Christians on the Left prayerbreakfast on housing
at the Labour Party Conference 2016.

5 So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, nearthe plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired out by hisjourney, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritanwoman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, "Give me adrink." John 4:5-7 


Last Sunday I was participating in Harvest Service.

We took our theme from the Relief and Development CharityAll We Can, whose focus for Harvest is Make aSplash.  It is particularly focused on access toclean water and we used information, stories and videos fromUganda.

Their suggested reading was the encounter between Jesus and theSamaritan women in John 4.  Re-reading this passage with theissue of access to water in mind meant that I read the passagedifferently and noticed different features.  I realised thatquestion of ownership is central in the passage.  Whose wateris it? Who has the water and who doesn't? Who owns it? Who can giveand 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 wasbuilt.

In the Hebrew scriptures, the Year of Jubilee was a specialyear.

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, theland was rested. There was no sowing or reaping. The land had asabbatical, so that the earth could replenish itself, so the poorcould glean, and so wild animals could roam and graze. It was anenvironmentally 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 landeddoubly rested but all debts were cancelled and all those who hadbecome enslaved because of debt were released.  Peopleremembered that the land was gift from God and no one owned theland other than God.

In relation to housing the issue of ownershipis central too.

  • When I worked in the north east of England, the Church ofEngland did some outreach work on the new flats down by theQuayside in Newcastle. Many flats were bought anddeliberately held empty…so that with ever increasing house pricerises, the owner could sit on an ever more valuable asset. Theydidn't want people to live in them. Yet, you would walk from thequayside into the centre and meet many homeless people.
  • What a contrast with my visit to Fair Isle inthe Shetlands, where the National Trust owns the Island andeveryone 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 werule the household
  • Ecumenism = which tends to be thought ofchurches cooperating but its actual meaning is much more inclusiveand means the whole inhabited earth. All who live in the house
  • Ecology = the word or discourse about thehouse - which in modern usage is about how we treat the planet, allcreatures and one another.

For Christians, these three words are deeply connected andinform one another.

The biblical tradition holds that inclusive, responsiblestewardship informs the way we develop our economy, and that theeconomy has a creativity loaned by God to be a benefit and blessingfor all.

The day of Pentecost resulted in a community that was radicallydifferent in its holding all thing in common.  This leadsNorman Kraus, the Mennonite theologian to write:

"In the new order of things life is no longer lived for one'sprivate advancement. Selfishness and greed are now recognised forthe idiocy they are! Life is together. Individuality findsfulfilment in a community where personal relationships are moreimportant than individual achievement. Each brother and sister'sworth is perceived in their reflection of God's grace, not theireconomic utility or social role.

There is space in the biblical tradition for each to have his orher own space (for example Micah 4.4 talks of each person sittingunder their own fig tree and vines).  But true fulfilment isfound in the interaction of all in a diverse and rich world inwhich everyone has a place. 

Housing is one signal that we have such a place.