Late last year Keith Hebden and I were among those invited to a gathering of key influencers on poverty and the Church, convened by CAoP to consider Pope Francis’ urging that we become a Church of the Poor. I blogged afterwards on a suggested process of change that could be taken to move us from where we are now, a Church to the poor, as I would see it, to being Church fully and authentically of the poor.
So, having that debate fairly freshly in mind, I was interested to read Keith’s post recently which posed the question ‘is #poorface a thing in the church?’ I was interested because the answer to that is yes. Once #poorface had been highlighted to me in that way – akin to ‘Black face’ among past generations of performers – #poorface in the church is most definitely a thing. The habitual placing of middle-class clergy into poor, working class areas in the assumption that coming from an entirely different class, background, socio-economic group and milieu makes no difference whatsoever to their depth of engagement or effectiveness. In fact we’re made to feel it’s good of them to take such areas on.
And, I do see that. I do see humble, bright, good-hearted middle-class clergy who with great goodwill take up challenging, deprived parishes and it is very much to their credit. But in continuing to do so they become part of the disease and not the cure in terms of the Church’s calling to be agents of transformation in our poorer communities.
I’d like to see the generation of middle-class leaders we have now on estates and in areas of deprivation commit to being a gateway generation that actively strives to foster indigenous leadership. The continued deployment of middle-class clergy in these places only serves to perpetuate the issue of #poorface and area/leadership divide.
I’d suggest such estate parishes take a pledge to be indigenously led in a decade or in twenty years, phased nationally. That process would catalyse a wider power and infrastructure dynamic because of the changes that would then be needed in training pathways etc. And all of that would, of course, need overseeing as a national programme with support for incumbents provided and headed up, I’d suggest, by a Bishop for Urban Mission and Ministry.
So #poorface no more…to evangelise the poor we need apostles from the poor.