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An appeal about appeals 

Elspeth Rushbrook, local Christian and author, writes her thoughts on the way churches handle charity appeals and pastoral needs.

At Christmas especially, we focus on charities and it is right to think about giving and helping, to focus beyond ourselves and those we know.

But churches can be very poor at realising that the people in front of them, their own congregants, can also have needs. In asking for support for others, it is often assumed that we are "lucky, "fortunate" "overblessed"! Can we ever have too much of God's blessing? And should we ever feel bad about what we're given?

Some of us in the pews might be feeling we know only too well what poverty, loneliness, estrangement and danger feel like. It's not we want to wallow in that and not think about others. It's not that our own struggle stops us reaching out - for suffering gives capacity for compassion. We need something to touch us to act on it, and that can be mostly powerfully through experience.

But it's angering and upsetting to have someone preach about the full bellies in the room when yours is growling as you can't afford food today, the cosy homes we have when a row with your partner has thrown you out of yours; to assume that poverty is statistics happening somewhere else when thanks to austerity, money shortage is all too common.

It's also wrong to assume we can spot those with needs. There are those who are poor who have good jobs; those with illnesses and pain you can't see.

We have a mindset of comparison and hierarchies, The Streets of London style, where we're shown someone worse that negates our own problems; a seesaw mentality. That is troubling and wall making. It is not a good pastoral policy.

We might think those in our churches know little personally of dispossession, but I know personally of a kind that we may be part of creating that happens here - which is why I wrote a novel about it

Many churches don't really know their congregations, despite talk of community and sharing. We might talk about pain but not see or offer balm for other people's - and that doesn't mean fixing, or prying.

Pastoral care is for me the No 1 duty of a church - not an aside if budget and time allows.

I'd like churches to invite us to imagine the particular needs of those on their heart - not to assume that we can't; and in their altar calls for charity fundraising, to recall all those who might struggle; to be a part of answering our own prayers, caring for those we know, those we don't; those far away, and those under our noses.

I feel uneasy about >our compassion being channelled into the donation bucket of one organisation. I ask exactly how my money will be used and about the ethos and policies of the charity. Sometimes, I would prefer to find another way to support that cause, and also to tackle the underlying issues that cause poverty, refugees, homelessness. And that's some fundamental global issues.

We need to look, to listen, to think, and to act, and we need not to make assumptions which undermine the very good we're trying to do.

Elspeth RushbrookElspeth Rushbrook is a local Christian and author of the novel Parallel Spirals 

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