From time to time I get requests from people who ring up the vicar for money. How do I respond? Many of requests clearly aren’t genuine, and it wouldn’t be right to say “Yes” the whole time. On the other hand some requests are genuine and it doesn’t seem that loving always to say, “No”. The simple business of knowing when to say “Yes” and when to say “No” is actually very difficult, and it’s one of the situations where you have to pray for real discernment. My basic rule is never to give money, but always to offer to buy whatever is needed – providing that the story checks out.
I think the number of people approaching the church for help is only going to increase over the next few years. If I have understood government policy correctly, then taxes for rich people are if anything going to be reduced, otherwise they will move abroad. (I am sure however there are some wealthy people who would be willing to contribute more, but their voice isn’t being heard.) The public debt needs to reduced, so if you can’t get more money from the rich, then you need to give less money to the poor. In practice this will mean many, many people will see their benefits reduced or withdrawn.
I am not arguing that our benefit system does not need reform, but all the evidence suggests some very deserving people will end up losing out in a big way. So the question needs to be asked: how are we going to respond at St Michael’s and St Barnabas? I am not sure I have the answer to this one.
I would only add at this stage that our starting point has to be the love of Jesus, and that we are called to meet the needs of the whole person, body, mind and soul. We cannot preach the gospel while ignoring the needs of the hungry and the destitute. But equally we cannot feed and clothe the person without pointing to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Maybe in the season of Lent it would be good for all of us to stop and think how our Mission Action Plan might work out in practice, in acts of loving service that draw people closer to their Saviour.