This week at Scargill we have been hosting a group who have been attending the local Grassington Dickensian Festival. Accordingly our food, entertainment and reflections have had a Dickensian theme. One of the most readily identifiable aspects of the great author’s work is his interest in and empathy for the plight of the poor. From Oliver Twist to Great Expectations he wrote unsentimentally but tenderly of the struggle many people have to face as they make their way in the world. Dickens’ solidarity with the poor is one of his strongest legacies – telling true to life stories that expose cruelty and oppression and rejoice in the simple pleasures of life. This week Phil talks about something he uses to keep himself ever mindful of the needs of poor people all over the world.
Some years ago I was on sabbatical seeking to discover God in different Christian traditions and spiritualties. My journeying took me to Brazil to a place called Recife. Many of the ministers there wore black rings made from the hard shell of the seed of the Tucum Palm tree. Wearing the rings symbolises identification with the poor and a desire to live a relatively simple lifestyle. There’s a story of a bishop who presented his gold ring of power and entitlement to the indigenous Tapirapé people as a gesture asking for forgiveness for the church’s complicity in the oppression of their people. He wanted the church to no longer represent taking but instead giving. In return he was given a Tucum ring as a gesture of forgiveness. This ring was an altogether different kind of status symbol – not epitomizing high status but displaying empathy with low status.
It meant a lot to me personally because of the work Di and I undertook with single homeless in London’s East End and 22 years of being an inner-city parish priest. I was very moved when the priest who I was staying with gave me his ring and it’s not left my finger since. It has always reminded me of my desire to live a simple lifestyle and have an identity with and speak for the poor and downtrodden, those on the fringes of our society. In our Pathway Promises which make up our rule of life we promise to … ‘speak up bravely for people who are rarely heard, helping our heavenly Father to fulfill his dream of seeing the hungry fed, the sick looked after, the naked clothed and victims of injustice released from their chains.’
As we enter into the Christmas story once more we see a God who identifies wholeheartedly with the poor, the homeless and refugees. There’s nothing tinsely about the Christmas story. It’s full of God’s passion for the marginalised in a world that can be so hard and cold. This Christmas despite all my failings (and being honest about my occasional desire for wealth and comfort) this ring keeps me grounded in what Jesus was saying about being good news to the poor.
The community at Scargill is always evolving and looking to welcome new members. For more information about exploring the possibility of getting involved yourself as a community member click here. We are also specifically on the look-out for new community members to take on specific roles, those of Kitchen Team Leader, Deputy Kitchen Team Leader and a Youth Worker who would work in a split role supporting our estate team in developing our 90 acres to become a resource for future generations. If any of these specific roles or generally the idea of living on community appeal then get in touch to find out more.