Abandoned CompassionThe UN’s rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Professor Philip Alston, has delivered a heart-breaking report on the impact of austerity on the UK, declaring that we have abandoned compassion and that the levels of child poverty are, “not just a disgrace, but a social calamity and an economic disaster.” The report stated that about a fifth of our population live in poverty, with 1.5 million people defined as destitute and unable to afford basic essentials.

Wherever you stand politically, it’s impossible to refute the fact that too many people are living with genuine hardship. As Archbishop Justin Welby said recently, “Jesus is recorded as giving one of the greatest challenges possible to his disciples, just before his arrest and crucifixion when he describes the judgment of God at the end of time…explicitly saying that judgment is linked to justice, namely, in the way in which we treat those who are most vulnerable and weakest.”

Abandoned compassion“For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me…Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Matthew 25 :42-45

Many working with the vulnerable know the report to be depressingly true

For many, the report doesn’t come as a surprise. Those who have experience of volunteering for Foodbanks, working with the homeless, refugees or the increasingly growing sections of our society that are vulnerable, lonely and isolated, know the report to be depressingly true. So what can we do about it?

Many churches across Cornwall are working hard to make life easier for those who are struggling, from making their spaces available to community groups to organising volunteers to meet the vulnerable where they are and offer some practical help.

How are our church communities helping?

At All Saints Highertown (ASH), Truro, like many churches up and down the county, they offer their community spaces at either reduced rates or for free to organisations like Foodbank, Singing for the Brain and Memory Café. Underpinning all they do is John 10 v 10: “Jesus came so that they might have life and life in all its fullness.”

They have taken the message to heart, so much so, that after months of talking and listening to their community, they are currently embarking on a “frightening adventure,” as Revd Jeremy Putman says. The adventure, not surprisingly called 10/10, is a building project for their church with the emphasis on community rather than congregation. They plan to build something that, “When someone walks into it, they experience life at its best, the way it’s meant to be,” says Jeremy. The frightening part is the huge leap of faith required to secure funding. If you’re looking to help, sign up to their ‘Easy Donations’ shopping which means you can shop where you might usually shop but a percentage will go to the project, or think about buying a different kind of gift from their project supporting catalogue.

“Jesus came so that they might have life and life in all its fullness.” John 10:10

In Portreath, volunteers from St Mary’s Church and the local community have been reaching out to the vulnerable in all sorts of ways, not least with their Quarterly Big Brunch which is regularly attended by over 200 people from the community. They also run their own Food Drop (Bank) at Trevenson Church every Saturday morning where anyone can turn up, just before 10.30 am, no voucher required and no questions asked, to pick up food and other essentials.

Up in Liskeard, Café Abundance continues to thrive, feeding the local community by cooking up a storm with food that had reached is sell-by date. The food is perfect but breaches supermarket regulations and would otherwise been ditched. A dedicated team of volunteers not only cooks but serves the food as if they were serving customers at the Ritz, says Jemma Morgan, chief cook, organiser and powerhouse behind the venture. How to help? Join in with the volunteers or think about doing something similar in your part of Cornwall.

How can I help?

Why not think about going along to the training sessions at St Petroc’s and find out if the sort of gift you want to give over the cold Christmas period could include shelter, a hot meal and acceptance? They are currently recruiting for their Truro Cold Winter Provision and are looking for volunteers to help from sorting out clothes donations to welcoming people into their night shelters. Click here to find out more.

If, like many, you’re currently time poor but rich in enthusiasm to make a difference to the lives of our neighbours who are really struggling, why not think about doing your Christmas shopping differently? There are many ‘good gift’ schemes out there, including this one from Truro Diocese. You not only bless the person you’re buying the present for, but someone for whom Christmas doesn’t come gift-wrapped.

A society in pain but we can do something

Our society is in pain. The findings of the UN Rapporteur are shocking, not least because he believes that compassion had been abandoned during almost a decade of austerity policies. The response to the report has been dismaying, but it’s undeniable that too many people are hurting and living lives that most of us connect with only through outraged Facebook posts, newspaper headlines and TV documentaries. But we can do something, from writing letters to MPs, like this one from Revd Jeremy Putman to Amber Rudd, to rolling up our sleeves and volunteering – and we can start today.