19th January 2010 hosted by St.Mary's Upton
There are two girls who live on the Wirral ? Jessica and Sophie. Both eight years old, living just down the road from each other, and both knit together and loved by their Father, God. However, although they live so close their lives are headed in different directions; whilst Jessica will flourish and take opportunities life brings her way, Sophie will struggle. Money troubles and poor health will mark her life. Eventually, Sophie will die nearly ten years before Jessica. Most of their lives will be spent a few miles apart, but what different journeys they?ll have had.
The Life Expectancy project was developed in response to stories like this. People living on the Mersey side of the Wirral die, on average, nearly 12 years younger than those on the Dee side, and this shocking fact is one we cannot ignore. As Christians, we are called to particularly care for the marginalised and to respond to stories like Sophie and Jessica?s. The Life Expectancy project is one way that Chester Diocese is engaging with these issues.
The pilot project has linked two churches, from the most and least deprived areas on the Wirral, and guided them through finding out about local poverty and Christian responses to this. The church groups have built relationships and are developing ideas together for engaging with issues around life expectancy. Exciting times are ahead as the project develops and more churches explore this way of bringing their Christian faith into situations of injustice on their doorstep.
Sophie and Jessica?s story isn?t fair ? we know their Father asks those of us who see Him in them and hear His voice to act. Please pray for this project, and look out for opportunities to get involved.
The next step was this Summit to share the story of the project, and seek support for the future. Leaders from all churches on the Wirral were invited to a ?Life Expectancy Summit?. It is an opportunity to hear about the findings of the pilot project, listen to first hand account?s from the two churches taking part and to share experiences, reflections and ideas.
Text of the opening talk
An introduction by Keith Sinclair, Bishop of Birkenhead.
Thank you for giving up your morning to be here.
Today is about sharing a story and asking ?What next??
I was at Wirral Town Hall Wallasey (why, I can?t remember) over 18 months ago, but remember the casual conversation with Stephen Maddocks (Chief Exec.) and Steve Foulkes (Leader of the Labour Group and Council) like it was yesterday. They were getting a lot of stick locally (why, I can?t remember) and I asked them Why they were doing what they were doing. Both talked about the 10 year difference in life expectancy on either side of the Wirral, which in all the arguments and squabbles kept them focused on what was wrong and what they wanted to see changed.
If you know story of Joseph, well in the Psalms there is a place where it says ?the iron entered his soul?. When I heard about this inequality expressed in this difference of 10 years I was shocked and convicted. I went away and thought if the churches across the Wirral can?t do anything about this we should be shot. I knew about the inequality, but something about this bare fact expressed the wrongness of what I seemed to be taking for granted.
I?m part of the diocese of Chester, and in the diocese I chair a committee for urban ministry and mission which draws together ministers in Urban Priority Areas (I know terminology has changed, but this is still our phrase for the poorest communities across the diocese including Wirral). I shared this conversation with the group asking if they thought God wanted us to do something. I was also part of a meeting of church leaders from across the denominations (Roman Catholic, Pentecostal, Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed, and Youth for Christ) because of Hope 08, and asked them the same question.
The sense from both groups was that there was something here to explore and test. A steering group looked at a possible ways forward (see the 5 stages of the project outlined later) and believed a pilot scheme was the important next step. All this has happened over the last year. What next? We thought we ought to share with the wider church what has happened and ask you the same question. Marie Armitage, Joint Director of Public Health who has been an invaluable member of the steering group came up with the title ?Summit?!
So here we are churches from across the Wirral, and it is so good to see you here. On Sunday I was preaching from Ephesians, and thinking of today I thought of Ephesians 3:10 which says ?through the church the wisdom of God is made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly realms?. That wisdom is God bringing a church into existence of Jew and Gentile, breaking down the dividing wall of hostility, making peace by the blood of the cross. The church is the church when it is brought together in its radical differences by Jesus Christ, and that must include the church on both sides of the Wirral! Some of the churches on the Wirral are part of ?Passion for Life? in March, speaking the words of eternal life. Our words about that life will have greater power I believe as that life is lived out among us. And that eternal life starts now as we hear all that Jesus says about life expectancy and life fullness.
This is not about person/church X helping person/church Y; or about person/church Y helping person/church X. It is about person/church X & Y together learning what God wants for us all in the life he has given us.
So, Thank You for coming.
There is no blueprint anywhere about what we do next. We who bring you today believe God is in this, do you agree? If you do what next? That is our task today.
I am so grateful for the work of Janice Mason the Diocesan Director of Social Responsibility and especially Wendy Robertson and Hannah Skinner in bringing us to this point, and now I hand over to them.
LIFE EXPECTANCY SUMMIT PRAYER
inspired by Nehemiah Chapter 1 and the Gospel
Lord God of heaven,
whose promises are true
and who keeps steadfast love
with those who love your commandments
Hear our prayer
as you see us made in your image on the Wirral.
Forgive our sins of greed, neglect and indifference.
Forgive our failure to do justice,
love kindness and walk humbly with you.
We praise you
that the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ
brings us new birth,
so we may be the first fruits of your new creation.
Send down your Holy Spirit
on your people in this place.
Give us a sense of the life expectancy
and the life fullness you desire for all people.
Help us to love one another sacrificially
and specifically and give success to the Project
on which we ask your blessings.
May your will be done on earth,
on the Wirral, as it is in heaven,
and may your Name be always hallowed among us,
Through Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord.