Rector's Letter - October 2016
Over the last couple of months, I have been thinking about human dignity. I recently went to visit my friend with whom, a few years ago, I went out to Tanzania (do come and hear more about my trip on 21st October when I shall be sharing stories and photos in the Amberley Parish Room as we enjoy a curry together). She had just returned from a six-month stay, and was discussing with me how it was so important that second-hand clothes which are shipped out are of really good quality, and of the issue of choice. We have so much choice, and can try things on in different sizes until we get the exact fit, she said, but there was a temptation to think 'anything goes' when it comes to charity. Sometimes things are so desperate, that yes, it can feel that way. But one of the joys in the work we did in Tanzania - and it was the poorest part of Tanzania with dreadful poverty - was that we helped to clothe some of the children in bright newly-made clothes that made them laugh with delight. It's a message that says, you are not second rate, but deserve the best - as the advert used to say, 'because I'm worth it'! For me, human dignity is very important and part of what every human being should have - the right to be treated with dignity, no less than anyone else. This is the Gospel - good news that supports the flourishing of all human beings and all of creation. God's love which wants each of us to know in God's eyes 'we are worth it'. We are worth the very best.
When I lived in Hull I spent many years working with the homeless. One homeless man I got to know very well, and would often cook dinner for him and others. He spent his time in and out of prison, partly because he knew that if he did something wrong, he would at least get a bed and a roof over his head. Whenever he found himself in prison, he would ask the police to phone me, and I would go and visit, until he was let out, and then the whole cycle began again. If you listened to his story, however, you began to glimpse the human being behind the homeless label. A well-to-do background, a story of abuse, falling on hard times. When we take time to listen, individuals tell their story, and it can move us to see the individual behind the label. It is true of the current situation with refugees, who have fled war zones and countries where the whole town and infrastructure has been bombed out. The difficulties of labels - the homeless, refugee - is it labels as 'other', it labels as 'not me', and there is a danger it labels as 'non-human', 'not-worthy', 'not my problem.' We forget how easily that person could be you or me.
I am mindful of this when I read Bishop Rachel's Press Release about Community Sponsorship of a Refugee family - see the article in this magazine. I pass this on to you, and if anyone has thoughts about a response we might like to make as a community, please get in touch with me. If enough Minchinhampton, Box and Amberley community organisations got together, there might well be something we could offer. Whilst 10k to sponsor a refugee family within a community sounds a lot, that's 10 community organisations coming up with £500 plus 20 community organisations coming up with £250. Put that way, it suddenly feels possible.
There are times that I have not responded in the best way to a request for help because I have felt overwhelmed by need - there are times I have walked away. There are also times I have gone the extra mile to support a stranger who came looking for help. I think what I have learnt (the hard way!) as I have got some things right, some things wrong, is that whatever my discernment as to how I respond to each situation, I can always treat that individual with respect and self-worth, to help foster the dignity and self-acceptance that every human-being should have. I do not always find I can meet the need and sometimes what is being asked for is not the right thing to give or do. But to decide never to undermine who an individual is, or to judge how they got there, and to treat everyone as an equal, with respect - well that I can do. Because I have known for myself God's rescue when I have made mistakes or when tough things have come my way and I needed the support of others. I have known love and grace. If the unconditional love I receive, and on which I base my life, is where I find my own sense of worth and dignity, who am I to withhold it from another?
I have found too, when we allow ourselves to be channels of love and grace, it is we who receive in greater measure. Try as we might, we have never yet been able to out-give God.
With best wishes,