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Bishops pledge to End Hunger Fast

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By Jo Duckles

THE Senior staff of the Oxford Diocese are joining the End Hunger Fast and will be going hungry for 24 hours to back a campaign to end unnecessary food poverty in the UK.

Volunteers sort food donations at a Food Bank.  Photo: The Trussell Trust

Volunteers sort food donations at a Food Bank. Photo: The Trussell Trust

They will fast during a routine meeting of the Bishop’s Staff meeting on 19 March.

The End Hunger Fast campaign is calling on the Government to ensure that:

  • The welfare system provides a robust line of defence against hunger in Britain
  • Work pays enough for employees to properly provide for their families
  • Food markets function, promoting long term sustainable and healthy diets with no one profiteering off hunger in Britain.

The campaign is calling on thousands of Christians to fast as an expression of faith during Lent to bring them closer to God and their neighbour. It is inspired by the shocking statistics that in the UK more than 10 million people live in poverty and half a million are dependent on food aid.

A national day of fasting will take place on Friday 4 April and high profile figures will be pledging a full day’s fast, resulting in a fasting chain throughout Lent until Holy Week. It will culminate with a vigil in Parliament Square on the Wednesday of Holy Week where as many people as possible will gather to stand in solidarity with UK people who go hungry, and call on the Government to act.

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, said: “Being hungry is one of the most miserable experiences and being hungry day after day, month after month, with all its consequences of illness, weakness and inability to work, must be desperate. One day’s fast doesn’t seem much to remind myself of all that and to make me try by any means to end the scourge of global hunger.

“We celebrate the fact that Christians of all denominations are working alongside those of other faiths and none to mitigate the immediate effects of food poverty. However, whilst it is an imperative of our faith tradition to feed the hungry, our prophetic tradition also requires us to ask why the hungry have no food. We have therefore been carrying out our own explorations of the structural root causes of the need for emergency food aid, whilst also contributing to national research initiatives, through the work of our Diocesan Social Responsibility Adviser, Alison Webster, and her team.”

Alison Webster, Social Responsibility Adviser for the Diocese said: “Fasting has always been an important way for Christians to show solidarity with those experiencing injustice. As it says in Isaiah 58: ‘Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?’

“In Britain today the gap between rich and poor is growing ever wider. Adults and children are going hungry, and the use of food banks is growing exponentially. In this diocese all the indications are that low wages, under-employment, benefit reform and sanctions, and personal debt, are the root causes. Taking part in the End Hunger Fast campaign is a great way to highlight these crucial issues.”

She added:  “Over the last four months I have visited about a third of the emergency food aid initiatives in the Diocese, and have held a forum at which many more were represented. I have talked with organisers, volunteers and clients. It is clear that the economic downturn, and the choice to pursue an austerity agenda in response to it, have had a big impact on those in our communities that have little by way of an ‘economic cushion’ to protect them from crises.

“There seems to be a rapidly expanding gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’, and the scary thing is that the ‘have nots’ could by any one of us. They are people in transition – from employment to underemployment or unemployment, or from one form of benefit system to another.”

Background information

1. The Diocese of Oxford is co-terminus with the Thames Valley sub-region, and therefore includes some of the most prosperous parts of the UK. It is therefore a matter of particular concern that the past two or three years have seen a rapid growth in food bank activity across our area.

2. There is now a diverse range of Emergency food aid projects across our diocese, covering towns, cities and rural areas. Projects are centred in Aylesbury, Banbury, Bicester, Bracknell, Burghfield, Chesham (Chiltern Food Bank), Crowthorne, Didcot, Henley upon Thames, High Wycombe (One Can Trust, Bucks), Milton Keynes, Newbury (West Berks Food Bank), Oxford City (Oxford Food Bank, Oxford Emergency Food, Iffley Community Cupboard), North Oxfordshire Food Bank, Oxfordshire West Food Bank, Reading (Readifood), Slough, Thame and Wokingham (NB this may not be a comprehensive list).

3. The Bishop’s Staff who are fasting are: The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard; the Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Revd Alan Wilson; the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt Revd Colin Fletcher; the Bishop of Reading, the Rt Revd Andrew Proud; the Archdeacon of Buckingham, the Ven. Karen Gorham; the Archdeacon of Berkshire, the Ven. Olivia Graham; the Archdeacon of Oxford, the Ven. Martin Gorick; the Director of Mission, Canon Dr Michael Beasley; the Diocesan Secretary, Rosemary Pearce; and the Director of Communications, Sarah Meyrick.

4. The organiser of the End Hunger Fast the Revd Dr Keith Hebden is fasting for the whole of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday (5 March 2014) and ends on Easter Day.

5. The Diocese also has a special Lent course around Food and Fasting, which is part of our Food Matters campaign.

For more information, contact Sarah Meyrick on 07824 906839.