Friday, 5 June 2015

Sandwell Churches Link is Securing its Future

Dear Everyone,

If you attended our annual conference, you will know that Sandwell Churches Link is in the process of changing its structure and governance at the moment.

Up to now Sandwell Churches Link has been an unincorporated organisation with a small management committee and a seconded part time development worker.  The management committee draw members from a range of churches in Sandwell and up until recently has been chaired by the Venerable Hayward Osborne, Archdeacon of Birmingham.

Sandwell Churches Link is an organisation that endeavours to support churches and networks in their ministry to tackle poverty and disadvantage across the towns and neighbourhoods of Sandwell and to help ensure they are connected into the necessary partnerships that facilitates communication with the local authority and other public bodies and other voluntary groups.

The management committee have been working closely with Thrive Together Birmingham and Transforming Communities Together as well as the three dioceses that Sandwell falls into, Birmingham, Lichfield and Worcester in order to help secure the future of Sandwell Churches Link so that it can become an effective organisation. They are therefore in the process of seeking charitable registration and securing appropriate resources so that it can serve churches of all denominations across the borough and work with other regional and national organisations, such as the Church Urban Fund, Church Action on Poverty, Safe Families for Children and Children's Society etc and draw on some of their knowledge and expertise.

The new trustees need a little time and space to form the new organisation and put together a strategic plan and secure the funding and resources.  We are therefore asking if you could bear with us.  You should hear from us again in the Autumn.  If you can, do continue to keep an eye on our Facebook page to find out about ongoing relevant news and information.

Yours sincerely

Rosie Edwards
Chair - Sandwell Churches Link                        

Smart Network - Smarter Choices Project Offers

Liz Wood from Centro writes:

The Smart Network, Smarter Choices Project is a wide-ranging project that is making a difference in the West Midlands by helping community groups travel more sustainably, encourage healthier communities, reduce carbon emissions and tackle congestion.
The Smart Network, Smarter Choices programme offers free activities for people over 16 years 
of age;
  • Free bus/train/metro tickets for job seekers (WorkWise)
  • Free 4 week bus/train/metro pass for people who are about to start a new paid job after a period of unemployment
  • Level 1-3 cycle training (minimum group of 6)
  • Ride Leader Training
  • Led cycle rides
  • Bike Instructor Training
  • Cycle maintenance sessions training
  • Personal Journey Planning for community groups
  • Sign-posting for walking support
Liz Wood is the Community Engagement Officer for the project, working with community groups and organisations to ensure they are well supported when accessing sustainable transport services. Liz works directly with community groups, matching their unique travel needs with the offers provided through the programme.

Liz has been working in your community since 2013 and is highly knowledgeable in the sustainable travel offers available in your community.


Is your community group or organisation eligible for the programme? The Smart Network, Smarter Choices Project is available on the following corridors:

Birmingham and Solihull
  • A34 Walsall Road
  • A41S Warwick Road
  • A45 Coventry Road
  • South Birmingham Technology Corridor
Black Country
  • A4123/A459 Black Country West
  • Route 4
  • A34 Walsall Road
  • Pensnett Trading Estate
  • Coventry North
Email Liz and find out about the Smart Network, Smarter Choices offers and how they can benefit your group today

Smart Network, Smarter Choices site:

The Big Lottery - Awards for All Programme

The Big Lottery Fund is encouraging voluntary and community groups that are considering applying for an Awards for All grant to attend one of the webinars held by funding officers from the Big Lottery Fund.
The Awards for All programme offers grants of between £300 and £10,000 to help pay for project costs for social and environmental projects that benefit local communities and make a difference in the lives of those most in need. The programme is open to applications from voluntary and community groups, charities, not-for-profit organisations, and statutory bodies, including schools and town councils in England.

The webinar provides an introduction to this small grants programme, as well as guidance on eligibility, programme criteria, examples of how best to evidence need for the project and top tips on achieving successful outcomes.

Webinars run every week and last approximately 30 minutes to an hour. Questions can be asked throughout the presentation through a live chat panel.

To join an Awards for All webinar, please email or telephone 0345 410 20 30 to book a place.

Further details can be found on the Big Lottery Fund website
Source: Big Lottery Fund, 17/04/2015

Acts 435 Event

Thrive Together Birmingham are hosting an event to promote a website called Acts435 that enables people to give directly to people with a particular need.
It may be a useful resource for your church to be linked to.
 Monday 29th June from 6pm – 9pm
 Balsall Heath Church Centre 100 Mary St, Balsall Heath, Birmingham. B12 9JU
A light dinner will be provided
Acts 435 is a website that enables people to give directly to support a person or family with a specific need. Churches and projects act as the go-between, advocating on behalf of someone, placing a request of financial support for them, receiving the money and supporting the person in need to spend it on what it is intended for.
Currently there are no churches and projects registered as advocates in the West Midlands and so Acts 435 are keen to recruit in Birmingham, Sandwell and Solihull.
This event is an opportunity to hear about this resource and how it works, and how to sign your church or project up as an advocate able to place requests on behalf of people in need in your neighbourhood.
For more information visit the website:
Dinner will be provided so please register for the event so that we know how many to cater for.

To register for the event contact Debbie at or call 0121 426 0442.

Monday, 30 March 2015

Christian Reflections on Poverty and Wealth

The Ven Hayward Osborne, Archdeacon of Birmingham kindly gave the keynote address to our download a pdf via a dropbox file.
annual conference on Thursday 26th March.  We have reproduced the address below or you can

Hayward Osborne writes:

Sandwell Churches Link is a group committed to helping churches address issues of poverty, in the belief that where there is prosperity, opportunity and resource, it should be shared and made accessible to all.  And I have been asked this morning, as a backcloth to the later discussions, to reflect and share a few thoughts from holy scripture and current Christian statements related to poverty, and its flipside: wealth.

The first thing I want to observe is how the teaching of Jesus reflects his awareness of poverty and wealth in the world around him.  He doesn’t make great political statements about global injustice and inequality, but he does have a canny perception of how people use money and what it does.

He knows about family fall-out over money - the story of  the Prodigal Son wanting in advance what would be his inheritance (Lk 15), the man who wanted Jesus to command his brother to divide the family money fairly (Lk 12).  He knows how people can engineer justification for hanging on to their money (declaring it to be Corban, Mk 7).  He knows about taxation (to give or not to give to Caesar) and any way he spent time with actual tax collectors.   In his parables he has people being entrusted to use money creatively so that it does some good (the parable of the Talents, Lk 19), and to open doors to secure a future (the dishonest steward, Lk 16).  He knows people can get disgruntled about pay rates (labourers in the vineyard, Mt 20).  He knows real financial sacrifice when he sees it (the widow’s mite, Lk21).  And he knows that when people have a change of heart, like Zacchaeus, they change how they plan to use their money (Lk 19).

I say Jesus doesn’t make political statements about global injustice, but he confronts us with an acute sense of the divine mission “to bring good news to the poor, to release captives and to let the oppressed go free” (Lk 4.18).  He does warn people who neglect the poor (“I was hungry and you gave me no food”).  “But when you give a banquet, invite the poor” he says (Lk 14.13),  and he tells the sad fate of the rich man blithely enjoying his lifestyle while the poor man sat at his door, his sores even being licked by dogs (Lk 16.20).

We have to acknowledge that there is some tension in the Bible over whether wealth is a good thing or not.  The Old Testament is laced with references to riches being a blessing:
But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth (Deut 8.18)
            The Lord will make you abound in prosperity (Deut 28.11)
Wisdom says: “I walk in the way of righteousness, along the paths of justice,  endowing with wealth those who love me, and filling their treasuries.”  (Prov 8.20-21)
All your children shall be taught by the Lord, and great shall be the prosperity of your children (Isa 54.13)

And this is just compounded by the example of Job who, after being blighted with catastrophic loss of livestock, the death of his servants and massive bodily ailment- when he had stopped complaining about the injustice of his situation, he knew he was at peace with God again because he was blessed with prosperity.  “The Lord restored the fortunes of Job and gave him twice as much as he had before... sheep, camels, oxen, donkeys, money, gold rings.” (Job 42.10f)

These texts can be read as suggesting that if you are prosperous, you are living the right way, pleasing to God;  if you are left behind, you are lacking somehow, in righteousness, in faith.  You must have done something really wrong.

There are some religious leaders - particularly in the US - who propagate a “prosperity gospel” - saying that God wants us to be rich, we should aim to increase our wealth, and that increased material blessings are an indication of our righteousness and a clear sign of God’s favour.  If you are not prosperous, it reveals a lack of goodness, or faith, or something.  It must be your fault.

But even in Old Testament times other people knew that this was simplistic and false.  Some of the psalms wrestle with the issue of unjust wealth - asking God why it is the wicked who get rich, while the upright remain poor and downtrodden.

I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
For they have no pain;
their bodies are sound and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
they are not plagued like other people....
Such are the wicked;
always at ease, they increase in riches.
So in vain I have kept my heart clean
and washed my hands in innocence.  (Psalm 73)

And the prophets of the Old Testament over and over again (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Zechariah...) give the clear warnings to those who glory in their wealth, or who hoard it, or who turn a blind eye to those who are poor.  These prophets are in no doubt about where God positions himself.  They roundly condemn those who knowing the hardship of the impoverished, do nothing to alleviate their plight - who use their economic strength to ensure their own security and take advantage of the poor.

Which raises the question - if we in the image and likeness of God share in his creativity - who is wealth creation actually for?

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, involved as he is in discussions on finance and the banking sector, has said he’s “strongly in favour of the creativity of wealth and jobs and risk taking and all that goes with that....  [But] with wealth comes power and with power comes a temptation to misuse power. There's a reality of the human condition, which Christians call sin, what the Bible calls sin - don't misuse the power you have through wealth.” (BBC interview February 2015)

So not surprisingly Jesus is very guarded about the virtue of having money.  “How hard it is,” he says “for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle”.  And to the rich young man asking about attaining eternal life, Jesus tells him to sell all he has and give to the poor.  He sees that his money has actually imprisoned him, and he needs releasing from it.

Because people can be entrapped by poverty, but they can also be entrapped by wealth.  Being rich can be as much an enslavement as being poor.  Poverty excludes and penalises folk, but affluence lures people into a sense of self-sufficiency.  Both conditions distort relationships; both undermine community; both militate against a just society in which all can share.

That is why the Epistles in the New Testament warn against the seduction of wealth -  “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.”  (Hebrews 13.5)  “Those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.”  (I Tim 6.9)

That is why a vast swathe of Christian tradition urges generosity and almsgiving by individuals who have more money than they strictly need to live.  Wealth should not be frozen, locked away, but fluid, redistributed as a means within society of making opportunity and well-being accessible to all.  Prosperity is to be shared.  Money, as the Church of England report “On Being Human” said, is an “instrument of establishing relationships”.  It does after all enable interaction and exchange between people, trade and development, and the means of providing a basic level of material security for living.

And so we find theologians and church leaders down the centuries saying that these principles must be applied to public policy.  Rulers of a Christian country in their law-making must act justly towards all its citizens.  So St Augustine (5th century) looking to what constitutes the “city of God” said good government exists for the common benefit of its subjects; the ruler must consider the advantage of the people and not his own. (Epistolae 104.7).  So Thomas Aquinas (drawing together Greek philosophy and Christian tradition in the 13th century) said that a just ruler or government must work for the "common good" of all - a phrase which figures very much in present day Catholic social teaching.  And there have been Christians in every age offering a critique of government when it failed to remember the poor.

Peter Selby (Bishop of Worcester 1997-2007) wrote and spoke a great deal about money and indebtedness in our society today.  He wrote that excellent book “Grace and Mortgage” (Grace being the life-giving gift of God, mortgage by derivation meaning a “death-grip”).  He said: “Money has now become not just an instrument, it has become also an economic goal in itself.”   He called money “God’s principal rival”   He noted how, for Christians, the human economy is to echo the divine economy of inclusive grace.  After all, Jesus said: “You can’t serve God and mammon” (Mt 6.24).

How significant, then, was the Pope’s choosing the name of Francis just two years ago this month - something that previous Popes hadn’t dared to do - perhaps because they were aware of the perception that the Church was rich.  He said he wanted “a church of the poor, for the poor”.  It was the Franciscans and the Dominicans (religious orders which arose in the 12th and 13th century) who adopted the three vows of chastity, obedience and poverty.  They emphasized Poverty in a way which it hadn’t been headlined previously.  They were not glorifying destitution, but they were showing solidarity with those on the breadline and also reminding the church at large what its vocation was. 

Such religious communities are worth pondering.  Monks and nuns right down to this day have little or no possessions in their own name.  They are reliant on one another, and on the generosity of outsiders who support their communities.  The religious communities are an antidote to the lust for personal wealth, and a counter to individualism.  At their best, they model the shared life and communal ownership, interdependence, corporate belonging.  No one has greater possession, no one has superior claim.  The life is shared, the material possessions are communal.

Not all of us are Franciscan or Dominican friars, but we do all live in religious community.  We affirm this by our participation in the life of the church, by our heeding the scriptures, by receiving the sacraments, by virtue of our baptism.  We are one body in Christ, and so my welfare can never be a “me” thing, it is a community thing.  That is why the receiving the sacrament of Communion in church is a great leveller - rich and poor side by side - the same need, the same gift to each. 

And this is the point: are we individuals or are we community?   Just this month the Church of England House of Bishops issued their pastoral letter “Who is my neighbour”.  It’s quite a letter: 50 pages long even if it is in big print - and it asks church people to think carefully as we approach the General Election about what vision we have for our country.  The Bishops tackle this issue of community and individualism. 

The individualism of consumer economics and political life today makes the individual sovereign. In Christian theology, God is sovereign and the individual and the community are the focus of God’s choice to love and nurture his people.  Because God chooses to love every human being equally, and demonstrated this love in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, it matters when material barriers are erected which divide people and communities.  (para46-47).

It goes on
There is a deep contradiction in the attitudes of a society which celebrates equality in principle yet treats some people, especially the poor and vulnerable, as unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed. It is particularly counter-productive to denigrate those who are in need, because this undermines the wider social instinct to support one another in the community. (para 62)

In 2013 there was a report from the Baptist, Methodist, the Church of Scotland and the URC called “The lies we tell ourselves: ending comfortable myths about poverty”. As well as unpicking oft-repeated untruths (eg people on benefits are all work shy scroungers), the report commented:

When Jesus said “The poor will always be with you” he did not then add “So that’s all right then”.   This Bible quote has been used over the centuries to justify an acceptance of the injustice of poverty and complacency in the face of the poor, but it is really a challenge that our responsibility as individuals, and as a society, to those most vulnerable never goes away...  [Jesus’] response is to comfort those on the margins, but also to challenge the dominant “truth”.

This is echoed by Julia Unwin (Chief Executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation) in the newly published collection edited by Archbishop John Sentamu book “On Rock or Sand?”  

“To treat people in poverty as somehow different from everyone else, and to demonise those who receive benefits as scroungers and shirkers is to turn a blind eye to the evidence.”

Which brings me back to my starting point:  Sandwell Churches Link is committed to helping churches address issues of poverty, in the belief that where there is prosperity, opportunity and resource, it should be shared and made accessible to all.  This is a work built on the foundation of scripture and theological thinking.  It is to proclaim the values of the Kingdom, and reflect the divine economy: the loving generosity of God himself.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Becoming More Active Together - Conference 2015

It's that time of year again when we have the annual Sandwell Churches Link conference.  It is usually a good opportunity to meet other church members and leaders from across the borough and here about the projects and initiatives that are going on to try and tackle poverty within our communities and to see how we can work together better in order to serve the people of Sandwell.

As ever it will be held in the council chamber at Sandwell Council House in Oldbury.  The initial talk will be given by the Ven Hayward Osborne, Archdeacon of Birmingham.  He will begin framing the day with a Biblical and Theological reflection on some kingdom values about how we stand in solidarity with the vulnerable in our daily practice.

We will then be able to find out about and contribute to a range of anti poverty activities across our towns and neighbourhoods.  These will include thoughts on:

  • Places of Welcome
  • Financial Inclusion
  • Food Poverty
  • Homelessness
  • Near Neighbours

The conference will take place in the Sandwell Council Chamber at Sandwell Council House, Freeth Street, Oldbury, B69 3DB.

The council house has free limited parking with a long stay in Dudley Road East which is for both visitors and council staff and Oldbury has two pay and display car parks.  Central Oldbury is on several bus routes, just visit the journey planner on the network west midlands.

Refreshments and Lunch will be provided.

The cost is only £5.00 per person.  Please encourage as many as possible to come along.

You can pay on the day and request and invoice, but do please register and email me if you have any dietary or disability needs.

If you want any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me, Chris Florance via: or call 07803 057622.

Below is video made at last year's conference.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

The Costs of a Funeral

I have had one or two conversations recently regarding the costs of funerals and the burden it can place on
families and friends.  The feeling was that that burden is getting worse.  Costs have increased and people's income is under greater pressure than ever. There has been a reported increase in, to use a horrible phrase 'paupers funerals'.  The average funeral can cost anything between £3,000 and £5,000 and average levels of savings are approximately £7,500, so it can have a considerable cut in the deceased person's estate.  For those that qualify there is limited help from the Social Fund, of up to £700 plus the actual cost.

Some will have prepaid for their funeral through a long existing scheme through the Co-op or other funeral directors, but for many it will come as a very big cost at what is often a difficult and challenging time.

It would be good to have the thoughts and experiences from others in Sandwell, perhaps to do a little research.  Like many things, it is possible to do funerals in other ways, which can reduce the costs, but are also dignified.