Jennie Pollock
The Bishop and the urban poor

Jubilee+: What has been the cause and development of your heart for the poor? Is it a commitment that has been with you as long as you can remember, or has it grown up more recently?

Bishop Philip: It was in part the Church of England ‘s report ‘Faith in the City’ published in the 1980s which drew attention to the plight of many of our urban areas and which called for a new generation of young church leaders to commit their lives to areas characterised by deprivation.

Another big influence was Barbara Harrison, my university chaplain, who had a brilliant nose for a vocation and told us all that we needed to commit our lives to poorer areas. Where most university chaplaincy groups went on trips to the beach or the countryside, Barbara would take us to the big social housing estates of Birmingham and the Northeast!

After university I spent a year on an estate in Sunderland working with a wonderful priest called Mark Millward who had such a deep knowledge of his community and such confidence in the role of the church to make a difference to lives. After that I was hooked!

J+: What does that commitment look like practically for you? How does it work itself out in your day-to-day life?

BP: As a Parish priest it was easy! I have spent most of my ministry in large social housing estates in Sunderland, Hartlepool and Camden. I am a member of the Company of Mission Priests - a dispersed community of priests who live to a rule in order to free themselves up for ministry amongst the poor - and that has a been a huge source of support and inspiration to me.

Since being a Bishop I have not been involved in such hands-on ministry and the question is harder to answer. I see it as part of my role to give a voice to the urban church and especially the people they seek to serve. I have tried to remind the wider church that if we are not present to serve and proclaim in areas of poverty, we are no longer the church of Jesus Christ. I have tried to ensure that urban churches are better resourced and staffed. I chair the C of E Renewal and Reform group on Estates Evangelism which has recently launched a strategic plan which seeks to renew the urban church on the grounds that if we can rebuild strong churches on estates, we will renew the church everywhere.

J+: That sounds like a challenging task, and these kinds of locations are often hard places where we know the road will be long and the challenges complex. What drives you? What keeps you going when the task seems overwhelming?

BP: I have worked in such areas because I love being there and find the ministry rewarding and highly enjoyable. There are times when it can be tiring. On those occasions you need strong networks of good relationships, an effective team around you and loads of prayer!

J+: In your message at New Wine last year you spoke about how revivals and renewals have always begun with the poor, and how if we want to see the church renewed in our day, we need to start there - are there any encouraging signs of life you are starting to see? 

I keep finding amazing new churches on estates in different part of the country. Oldhams Church in Bolton and Freedom Church in Mereside are the latest – wonderful communities of love and service, real church families. I am convinced that God is doing something massive on our estates, and it is essential that we join in.

To catch more of Bishop Philip's heart and passion for the poor, and his vision for the church's involvement in housing estates and deprived urban areas, book in for the Churches that Change Communities conference at Everyday Church Wimbledon, on Saturday, 10 November today.