Last weekend, I spent a few days in Derbyshire, helping with the SCM stall at the National Justice and Peace Network (NJPN) annual conference. This is a Catholic conference and the theme this year was ‘A Sabbath for the Earth and the Poor’, looking at the big issues of environment and poverty with reference to Pope Francis’ encyclical, 'Laudato Si: Caring for our Common Home'.
Though I am a Quaker and not a Catholic, the atmosphere was very welcoming and I came away with a renewed commitment to working with other Christian traditions. The themes of social justice, care for the environment and living simply resonated clearly with my Quaker faith, and I felt as if I was among like-minded people.
My personal highlight was the talk by Kathy Galloway, formerly of the Iona Community and head of Christian Aid Scotland (she is also a patron of SCM). Her powerful and wide-ranging talk brought together the themes of care for creation and care for the most disadvantaged. She spoke of everyday miracles, learning to love ‘the common joys’ in both wild and urban environments.
She spoke of how poorer neighbourhoods are often stigmatised and labelled as ‘ugly’ or ‘rough’. This attitude, she said, discourages pride and care for these places, and their people. From the outside, it’s easy to miss or ignore the incredible resilience and community spirit of people who live with poverty every day.
These insights tied in with other speakers, such as the panel from the Leeds Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Commissioners from all backgrounds spoke about their experiences of coming together as equals, and rejecting the ‘us and them’ mentality. Thinking of poorer people as ‘other’ is so easy to do in our deeply unequal society, where personal responsibility for poverty is placed solely on the shoulders of those who directly live with it.
In a moment of solitary silent worship in the beautiful ‘Vinery’ room, surrounded by plants inside and out, I meditated on what I had heard. Remembering my own lived experience of insecure work, the benefits system, mental health and relative poverty, I reflected that this was what had taught me to live simply, and empathise with others who seemed so different from myself.
1 Corinthians 12:26 was quoted by Kathy Galloway in her talk: ‘If one part of the body suffers, all the other parts suffer with it.’ Kathy and the other speakers had embodied this verse, living in compassion and solidarity with the struggles of poverty. Some had chosen to live in the most ‘deprived’ neighbourhoods, and the residents’ concerns had become their own.
Of course, the other part of that verse is, ‘if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.’ That, to me, is a call to share what we have been honoured with; to make sure that the rejoicing includes everyone. Sharing our time, space and skills with others enriches us all.
As I talked to people over the weekend, I heard stories of living simply by sharing: community gardens that improve living standards and wellbeing for everyone; a lawnmower shared among the neighbours instead of each house having their own; a knitting club that connects useful skills with emotional wellbeing. These are the ‘common joys’ which we can all share, and follow our Christian calling to real, lived compassion in word and in deed.
Ellie Wilde is an SCM member and recent Open University graduate. She is now working as a foster carer and freelance writer.