I was asked on a panel, about The Church, at this year’s Summer Madness Festival what the Church had achieved in the last ten years and what I thought it should be concentrating on in the next ten years. The mood of the panel had been quite negative. The tone of the question suggested that we, the four Church leaders at the front, would struggle to come up with something. I had no problems. Fair Trade! I can remember, and yes perhaps it was a little over 10 years ago, when a few Christian students went into the nearest Tescos (It was called Stewarts in N. Ireland then) and on the back of our receipts for coffee signed our names and requested they stock Fair Trade coffee. I thought it was a pretty futile effort. How wrong was I!?
I can still remember the first time I saw the coffee on the shelves. I bought four jars to try and convince the manager, all the while thinking that if I was the only one buying them what good was it to buy four at once! Indeed, as I write this I wonder if it was this campaign that made me a coffee drinker; I had to do something with all that coffee! A little over a decade later and Fair Trade is everywhere and I am on at least four cups a day! Most of our Christmas presents this year, given and received, had the Fair Trade logo in the corner. It is a rare travesty to be in a cafe that isn’t Fair Trade. My children see it is as a given. The joy, just this year, of seeing that symbol on Cadbury’s Dairy Milk was such a rush!
I still hear conversations where people question the usefulness. Why we are so quick to knock the movements that change the world has to be something deep within our fallen nature or simply the forces of evil kicking back. I have been to Fair Trade projects and can declare how I have seen over the years the social and psychological changes, never mind the economic ones, of those who benefit from this strategy for justice; it is a spiritual thing! The Church has been at the forefront of this movement and I am proud to say that it is a social action that we have made great impact with. I think it is time to ask how we can develop it more. I pray the next decade will not see a Fair Trade tiredness but innovative ways to make it deeper and wider than the success it has been.
The next decade? There are many challenges for the Church. A real dilemma within is that most people are now seekers but not belongers. Younger people, and I am speaking under 50s not under 15s, are less committed to Church for many social, cultural and spiritual reasons. How does the Church, and myself as a pastor in that Church, care, disciple and evangelize in such a soulscape?
Outside the Church and maybe crucial to turning around the number of joiners will be how we as a Church take the Fair Trade model and begin to address all kinds of other social issues. After the debacle that was the environmental summit at Copenhagen this year when instant gratification and selfishness won over long term sense, we need Christians to stand forward in the care of the planet. We need to up the theology of how green issues are Biblical issues. Christians need to, whether they believe the prophecies of thinning ozone layers or not, start looking after their Father’s artistic masterpiece.
There are a plethora of injustices and human crisis for the Christian to start taking a lead. I believe that evangelism in the next decade will be all about our impact on society. About a year ago The Guardian, renowned for its anti-God stance, defended the Christian God against the Richard Dawkins onslaught because of the work that Christian Churches were doing in England’s inner cities. When we rekindle our vision for the marginalised, that Jesus called us to follow him amongst, and seek justice and shalom for those disenfranchised we will “declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his glorious light.” In ten years we will stand or fall on our obedience to “let justice roll down like rivers and righteousness like an never-failing stream.”