Suffolk’s most senior Church of England clergyman and a House of Lords member has highlighted the plight of those in need, as church and other volunteers strive to help families who are struggling in the cost of living crisis.
Bishop Martin prays in his Christmas Message that everyone facing hunger, cold and anxiety will be given warmth, food and company. In his message this year he said:
"A warm home, a good meal, friends and family gathered round while it is cold and wintry outside. We all have pictures of what a good Christmas evening looks like, and for many people it is a cosy picture of warmth, family and food. There’ll be children playing happily with their presents, and the sound of carols not too far away.
That is an image we see in our media, and particularly in the advertisements that bombard us this time of year, and for some that image is pretty close to the real thing, to what Christmas will be like. And whether it is our reality, or a dream of Christmases past or Christmases to come, it is compelling because it is a picture of security, of comfort, and above all of hope. If we have warmth, food, friends and family in the depths of winter, we can look forward with hope to whatever the next year will bring.
This year that image, that cosy picture, is far from the reality for many people though. We are seeing in Suffolk a dramatic increase in the numbers of people, and strikingly, working people, coming to top-up shops. People who would never have imagined they would be facing food poverty.
We see children coming to school hungry. And the cap on energy prices has done little for those who have little, who are simply unable to pay their fuel bills.
So where is security, comfort and hope to be found this year for so many across our county and our land?
Christmas is God coming among us as a human being, as Jesus, born into a world of insecurity, poverty and conflict, born in a stable in Bethlehem, and then fleeing as a refugee to Egypt. So God knows what people are facing, and says in Jesus, you are not alone, and I have come to help you. God is with us and for us, showing us that we are to be with and for each other, so that no one should be hungry, or cold, or lonely, here or anywhere else in the world. That would be indeed be security, comfort and hope.
The church exists to live that out, churches and community groups and people of goodwill across our county and country are living that out through supporting and volunteering for food banks, warm spaces, debt advice; through providing social space for people to have warmth, food and company. Through reaching out to neighbours and family on their own. Through taking refugees into their homes. They are stepping into the breach just as they did through the pandemic, trying to make sure people are cared for, are watched out for, saying, you are not alone, we are here to help.
God in the birth and life of Jesus has shown us the way the world could be, a world of security, comfort and hope for everyone.
My prayer this Christmas is that everyone facing hunger, cold and anxiety will receive the gifts we can all share of warmth, food and company, so they know security, comfort and hope.”
Photography: By Keith Mindham. Caption: Bishop Martin at St Thomas The Apostle Church in Bramford Lane, Ipswich, where the volunteers help those in need.