In two separate messages for Christmas, The Right Revd Paul Butler, Bishop of Durham and The Right Revd Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow each reflect on hard hitting issues that are particularly poignant this Christmas.
Bishop Paul reflects on the image of excited children awaking on Christmas day to presents, brightly decorated trees, family fun and laughter – a reality that is not shared by all in this season of togetherness and goodwill to others. The message reflects on a time of year, that for many is accentuated by loneliness, grief, debt and the stark reality of rising child poverty.
He says: “The rising reality of child hunger in this, still one of the richest nations on earth, causes increasing concern. Child poverty is not just a scandal now it anticipates long term issues for those children’s overall life chances and expectancy … It is not as horrific and awful as other scenes from across the world this Christmas … but it is a serious wrong. All of these should make us weep, cry out in anguish, yearn for justice and some hope in the face of it all, and play our part in bringing about change.
”The true story on which all of Christmas is founded speaks both to our joy and our sorrow. It leads us to celebrate and to weep – Jesus’ birth is caught up in both.
Christmas celebrates this extraordinary birth that changed the world. It is filled with pain and yet also joy. Joy at the good news that God is involved with us; that in and through everything God does care.”
In contrast Bishop Mark speaks on the issues of homelessness and reflects this in to the Christmas Story saying: “Over the years people have often – rightly – talked about Mary and Joseph being homeless. Yet they were not sleeping rough.
“One of the things I have learned over the past year is that you be homeless without sleeping rough. You may be in rented accommodation. You may be in a B&B. But you are still homeless. You do not have a place to call your own as so many of us are lucky enough to be able to do.
“Some research published this month about the North East tells that many homeless people living in this sort of accommodation, live in rooms without any proper locks, their showers and toilets may be not working for long periods of time. They may have completely inadequate heating. They may have to share rooms with strangers and may be locked out of these places for long periods. In some cases they will be abused in all sorts of ways by the people who own the building.
“Shelter the housing and homelessness charity tell us that on Christmas morning 90,000 children – the equivalent of three in every school – will wake up homeless – and many will live in the conditions I describe.
“I find it almost impossible to imagine what living life like that would feel like to me. I find it almost impossible to imagine how I would feel if I were a dad waking up on Christmas morning in those conditions.”
He talks about his work as a supporter of the De-Paul Nightstop project working to give homeless young people a bed for the night in other people’s homes and the impact this work has had on him. He says: “The Christmas story tries to say that God who made the world becomes a human being to show that every single human being is of equal and absolute worth to God.”
Bishop Paul ends with a particularly poignant message: “May this Christmas be one of much joy but also of deep awareness of where joy is missing. May it be one where generosity marks us all. May it be one where together we commit to a better future, especially for those in most need in our society and across the world.”