Jennie Pollock
The party is saved by the poor

In November 1998, Simon Pettit gave a powerful, prophetic, game-changing talk at the Newfrontiers leaders’ conference. It was entitled ‘Remember the Poor’, and urged all those seeking to follow a biblical model for apostolic church planting to follow the example of Jesus and the first Apostles, and remember the poor (Galatians 2:10).

Twenty years later, at the Jubilee+ Churches that Change Communities conference 2018, Bishop Philip North gave an equally prophetic and compelling message urging us once again not to neglect the poor.

Speaking on the parable of the banquet in Luke 14:15-24 he argued that the renewal of the church is not just possible, it is inevitable, and that renewal will begin among the poor and the marginalised. As an Anglican, he spoke of his experience in parish ministry and of the disparity between the amounts invested in middle class areas and those invested in church planting onto estates on the margins of our cities. The wealthier you are, the more investment is made in reaching the wealthy around you. Yet those wealthy parishioners respond just as the rich guests did in the parable of the banquet: too busy, need to prioritise their relationships, need to focus on…pretty much anything else. And just as in Jesus’ parable, the party will be saved by the poor.

And this is what Bishop Philip is seeing on estates around the country as visionary leaders step out of their comfort zones and invite the marginalised to the banquet. They are seeing adult conversions, people set free, and fruit growing in people's lives. They are seeing a hunger for deep community and loving relationships. They are seeing indigenous leaders raised up and released into contextualised ministry. They are seeing churches back in the hearts of their communities, offering love, compassion, justice and truth.

It takes time, dedication and humility, but it is, after all, what Jesus called us to do.

All this built on the foundation of Martin Charlesworth’s message in the morning session. He had managed to get hold of an original copy of the Beveridge report from 1942 – the blueprint for the British welfare state. He explained that it was never designed to take the place of the social structures that existed in the 1940s, that it never imagined the breakdown of the family or the life expectancy of a healthy population. Beveridge’s system was simply incapable of carrying such a load, and the cracks we are seeing in it now mean we need to up our game. "It's time for the church to think and act strategically to bring about community transformation," he said.

The seminars in the morning and afternoon, and the stands in the breakout areas, all served to put some flesh on the bones of what this might look like. How can we best meet the needs of older people, the homeless, refugees? How can we help people out of debt, addiction or slavery? What would it look like for the church to truly remember the poor?

Two decades almost to the day after Simon Pettit first issued his challenge, it was encouraging to see just how much has changed, and how much is being done. Listening back to his talk today it seems incredible that he felt hesitant about bringing his message. Yet much remains to be done. We are seeing very encouraging signs, and seeing a groundswell of united passion to not only meet the physical needs of the poor, but to truly be a church for the poor. As Bishop Philip said, our mission requires “the marriage of proclamation and service. We can't preach if we don't serve people, but if we serve without ever preaching we subject people to the greatest deprivation of all: deprivation from the life-saving message of Jesus.”

Rise up, church, and invite the poor to the banquet that has been prepared for them.

The main session talks should be available on our website later this week, and the seminars will go online next week. Check out our Facebook page for photos from the event.