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The debate over food banks seems to be turning into one of those ‘religion and politics’ issues. A bit like Faith in the City nearly 30 years ago, opposition to government policies has been better expressed by church leaders, like the Bishop of Warrington with his excellent Christmas message, than by other political parties.

There is a long article in today’s Church Times, reporting that over 350,000 people were given food parcels in the run-up to Christmas Day. This is a tripling of demand.

British bank notes

Malcolm Brown, the Director of Mission and Public Affairs for the Church of England, has written an interesting article about morality and the market in the economy.

He describes his experience in inner-city Southampton where

I watched “market forces” creating retail apartheid – one high street for wealthy shoppers and an alternative back street for those with little. People internalised the market mantra so that it became a fact of life rather than a set of disputed policies… money and commerce became the analogies through which all our human experiences were mediated.

Parent feeds child from bowl help by many hands
And because this of all things would rejoice his heart, let us at this time remember in his name the poor and the helpless, the cold, the hungry and the oppressed…

So prayed the congregation at King’s College Cambridge as they do every year in the popular broadcast service. It probably always was a bit of a mismatch. People who turn up to the services probably don’t think of it as an act of solidarity with the poverty-stricken, any more than singing ‘O little town of Bethlehem’ generates concern for the people who live there, surrounded as they are by the Israeli security wall.

Young children in art class

There’s a telling article by Laura McInerney in Tuesday’s Guardian contrasting the recent Pisa report on the attainment of school children with the policies of the British Government. According to the Report Britain is middle-ranking and not climbing up the scale at all, despite all the trumpeted policy changes.

Education Secretary Michael Gove and Schools Minister Liz Truss have blamed poor standards on ‘progressivist’ methods: child-centred learning, group work, allowing students to express opinions and share in decision-making. Instead, they want more rigour, especially memorising facts and ‘disciplined’ learning.

Mulled wine and candle

True story, from a non-religious friend. The family received a Christmas party invitation from neighbours who have just moved in. The invitation was to drink mulled wine and sing Christmas carols.

Sing Christmas carols? Not part of the family tradition. They had a closer look at the invitation card. It contained a biblical verse. They decided to decline the invitation.