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Creating a Church Accessible to the Poor

A Note from Martin Charlesworth

It was a great pleasure to join the Hope into Action team for the annual conference in Peterborough in March. I have been linked to Hope into Action for a few years and Ed has run a stand at several conferences run by the organisation I lead – “Jubilee+” (visit us here). In fact, Matt Lambert, who now heads up the Hope into Action partnership in the Black Country first met Ed at a Jubilee+ conference!

Ed gave me a challenging seminar title How to create a church accessible to the poor. This is such an important question and one that will keep arising though the work of Hope into Action as tenants start to pursue a spiritual journey of faith and seek to link up with nearby churches. I have given a lot of thought to this question and seen many attempts to make churches accessible to poorer people.

In the seminar I discussed the important question of church culture. Every church has its central culture which determines largely how we relate to one another and how we conduct public meetings. Not many church leaders sit down and think much about their church culture. However, when people with different ways of relating together start coming to the church you suddenly realise that there is more than one way to do things! In fact, churches should reflect a number of sub-cultures in the way they function.

Alongside this, people who have suffered with poverty, long-term unemployment, family breakdown, addiction or homelessness need to be shown respect and love as they become part of church communities. Emilie Reading, who shared the seminar with me, gave eloquent testimony of the importance of this respect and love through telling her own story of coming out of addiction, prostitution and homelessness. You can see her blog post here.

Making churches accessible to the poor requires clear thinking and action by church leaders. It also involves some church members committed specifically to the pastoral responsibility of helping people from poorer backgrounds find a place in the church.

These issues are discussed more fully in the book I co-authored with Natalie Williams entitled “A Church for the Poor”. Do check it out.

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