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British bishop says the church has forgotten the poor

British bishop says the church has forgotten the poor

In a speech at the annual New Wine festival, Bishop Philip North, Bishop of Burnley in the north-west England diocese of Blackburn, says that that the church has forgotten England’s poor and working class areas.

In his speech, North said that the Church’s “mission approach…is almost entirely focused on the needs and aspirations of the wealthy. Rather than speaking good news to the poor, we are complicit in the abandonment of the poor.”


“For the past 25 years I have been delighted to see a vast and ever growing industry of evangelism that now sets the pace in the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury is passionate about evangelism and has made it one of his major priorities, backed up with initiatives such as ‘Thy Kingdom Come.’ Dioceses almost all have strong growth strategies in place. The Church Commissioners have released £100m in assets to invest in mission initiatives. Planting new congregations has become an industry in itself, even having its own bishop and backed up by the work of New Wine, HTB [Holy Trinity, Brompton], Fresh Expressions, Messy Church and many others.

“We have had over two decades of evangelical ascendency and the majority of senior leaders will now emphasise mission and evangelism above anything else. New evangelistic resources appear on the scene all the time, countless new para-church groups and agencies appear with fresh ideas or new materials. We massively emphasise discipleship to try equip existing Christians to share faith more successfully. I could go on and on. This is a vast and ever-growing industry.

“And what has been the impact? Accelerated decline. In 2001, according to census data, 71 per cent of the UK population identified themselves as Christian. In just ten years, that figure had dropped to 59 per cent. And the trend continues.”

He said: “We are all trying massively hard to renew the Church. We are working like crazy, we are praying like mad, we are trying every new idea under the sun. Yet the longed-for renewal does not seem to come. In fact decline just seems to speed up. Why? Why are we struggling so much?

“I want to suggest that the answer is quite a straightforward one. It’s because we have forgotten the poor.

The Telegraph reports that he called on an approach that specifically targets less wealthy areas.

“I am astonished at the number of people Jesus is calling to plant new churches as long as they are in Zones 1 and 2 of the London transport system.”

He added: “If you feel called to plant, we need you on the outer estates, we need you in our northern towns, we need you in areas where a majority of people come from other world faiths, we need you in those areas where the trendy coffee shops and artisanal bakers are hard to find.

Full speech here.


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Scott Knitter

Agreed, David. I notice that in several good UK forums they’re actually discussing what Bp. Philip said about the original topic; one I’ve read with interest is on Thinking Anglicans:

David Allen

I think that you all know that I’m a liberal/progressive Christian who supports the ministry of all the baptized. I didn’t support the CoE nominating +North for bishop diocesan for that reason. I think that the so-called accommodation is a joke that will never work, not on women’s ordination in England, nor for marriage equality in New Zealand. But I didn’t find +North straying into that territory with this comment about the CoE ignoring the poor. So I think it’s painting with a roller if whenever he has something to say that folks shout him down because of something else. I don’t think that it’s very Christian. That’s why I’ve spoken up.

And JC, I can’t squeeze into my head any relevance that your comment has here! ;p

cynthia katsarelis

I hear you, David. But it is also Christian to identify the source of the injustice of poverty, inequality. Serving the poor, trying to provide basic needs, is certainly loving our neighbor. But Cornel West has noted that justice is the public (or civic) expression of love. +North exemplifies the tragedy of the human condition, his empathy is spot on, his reluctance to understand his contribution to the inequality is problematic. Cue the Greek Chorus.

Kurt Hill

Well said, Fr. Lynch!

cynthia katsarelis

What is most relevant is that women and children are most strongly impacted by poverty, and the root of poverty is inequality. So +North’s beliefs about women’s inequality are relevant.

David, there are nuances to CoE’s vote for “mutual flourishing” of the pro and anti WO crowd. They did not figure out how female priests, women, and girls would flourish with a diocesan non ordaining bishop who was a leading member of the Society that insures the all male lines. Despite +North’s support amongst some women clergy, it was the women of Sheffield, the actual diocese in question, that asked difficult questions about their flourishing, and they did not get any answer at all, just a lot of male entitlement. Essentially, the women and girls of Sheffield were being asked to carry the burden of inclusion for misogynists. CoE can address the issue, but so far, they haven’t. They just blame the women rather than come up with creative solutions, like dual diocesans or something like that.

Rev. David Justin Lynch

I am an Old Catholic priest whose jurisdiction treasures and supports women in ordained ministry. We see it as a precious gift to the greater Church Catholic. No one can accuse us of being low-church. We worship in the beauty of holiness and highly value the solemnity and splendor of the liturgy, to which ordained women are inseparable part. Ordaining women is a simple matter of basic justice. There are no nuances to be entertained. Misogyny is not a legitimate theological position worthy of respect. You folks need to call out + North over and over again on this. Rub his nose in it repeatedly.

Kurt Hill

I agree with Fr. Lynch. Usually I associate opposition to womens’ ordination with knee-jerk Anglo Catholicism or “male headship” Evangelicalism. But, I suppose people can be backward on one issue, and more progressive on others. I’ll work with people on issues of common agreement, even though I may disagree with them on other issues. However, once a leader becomes identified with a particular “outlook,” it becomes more difficult…

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

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