This morning we focused on prayer, taking time to bring before God our concerns for ourselves and our loved ones and the world, and then focusing on a number of awareness campaigns happening on October. We have included below the text of the prayer we offered for Israel-Palestine, but for the awareness campaigns we have simply shared a little about them, and invite you to offer your own prayers.
Bringing Our Concerns Before God
The news feels particularly heavy at the moment, not least because of the devastating events in Israel-Palestine. The situation is complex and sensitive, and we cannot ignore the history of occupation and oppression that lies behind the escalation of the past week, but no violence is justified and all of it must be condemned and lamented. There has been unimaginable pain on both sides, and ordinary people who have played no part in causing the violence are suffering deeply because of it. Many of us will have struggled to find the words to pray, but we can be assured that God hears our wordless cries, just as God hears those of the people of Israel-Palestine. And yet sometimes we do need words, and so we offer a prayer written by Lynn Green, the General Secretary of the Baptist Union:
Lord God, it is with shock and horror that we witness the devastating violence and loss of life in Israel-Palestine over recent days.
We come to you as the source of all comfort asking that you send your Spirit to surround and uphold all those who are grieving, all those who are suffering, all those in fear, and all those in captivity. May the arms of comfort and compassion, overwhelm the arms of war.
We come to you as the source of all peace asking that you send your Spirit to strengthen and uphold those pursuing an end to violence, embolden those with a heart for truth and justice, and amplify voices of wisdom and restraint. May the light of peace and reconciliation, overwhelm the darkness of destruction.
We come to you as the source of all hope, asking that you send your Spirit to bring about a future, where neighbours embrace despite their differences, where love conquers hate, humility surpasses pride, and where forgiveness is treasured as a fundamental strength. May the hope of a day when weapons of conflict will be transformed into tools of reconciliation be realised soon, so there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away. Amen.
As we continue to pray, let us remember the final verses of this reading from Philippians, which call us to think on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable. There is still much in this world that is good, and we need to rest in those things to give us hope. We were not made to watch endless news cycles of horror, and we are not betraying our suffering siblings if we look away for a time to gentler things in order to sustain ourselves. In fact I think it is necessary for us to do so, as if we can see good then it is easier to be good.
The Jewish Talmud says: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” The writer L R Knost commends us: “Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break. And all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally. The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.” And novelist William Brodrick encourages us: “We have to be candles, burning between hope and despair, faith and doubt, life and death, all the opposites. That is the disquieting place where people must always find us...by being here, at peace, we help the world cope with what it cannot understand.” And so as we bring our concerns for the world in private prayer, let us hold those concerns together with a hope that is rooted in all that is good and with a commitment to do justly and to love intentionally and to be at peace.
Black History Month is observed throughout October, and aims to recognise the challenges and celebrate the contributions of people from African and Caribbean backgrounds. This year’s theme is ‘saluting our sisters’, recognising the vital role black women have played in shaping history and inspiring change and building communities, and paying homage to black women whose achievements have so often been ignored and whose voices have so often been unheard. Women such as Amy Ashwood Garvey, who established the Afro-Women’s Centre in London before returning home to Jamaica, where she advocated for women’s and workers’ rights and independence from colonial rule, and organised the first Jamaican National Arts Festival.
Our society is far from equal when it comes to matters of race and ethnicity. Black minorities are significantly more likely to experience unemployment, live in overcrowded housing, and be stopped and searched by the police. Black women are five times more likely than white women to die in pregnancy or childbirth, and the ethnic differences in deaths from COVID-19 were alarming. Black people are massively underrepresented in professions such as education and healthcare. Against this background, Black History Month is an opportunity to better understand the ongoing forms and impacts of racism, and to open up conversations about discrimination and what still needs to be done to address it.
World Mental Health Day is marked on 10 October every year, and this year’s theme is ‘mental health is a universal right’. The website for the Mental Health Foundation says “it is a day to talk about mental health and show everyone that mental health matters. It’s also a day to let people know that it’s okay to ask for help, no matter what you’re going through.” Of course every day should be a day for those things, but it does help to have a reminder from time to time.
One of the most important things to remember about mental health is that we all have it, whether it is good or bad. And because we all have it, we all need to take care of it, looking after ourselves and one another. But it is also true that around one in eight people will receive specific mental health treatment, and that certain groups are more likely to face problems. Children and adults in the lowest income bracket are two to three times more likely to have mental health problems than those in the highest income bracket, asylum seekers are five times more likely to have mental health needs than the general population, and 38 percent of people with severe symptoms of mental health problems also have long term physical conditions.
National Coming Out Day is celebrated on 11 October, the anniversary of the National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights, a date chosen to honour the bravery of LGBTQ+ individuals who decide to come out and live openly. Since the first National Coming Out Day in 1988, there has been huge progress for the LGBTQ+ community, with legislation on same-sex marriage, discrimination laws and educational reforms all helping to protect and support LGBTQ+ people. Many more people do feel safe to be open about their gender and sexual identities, and yet homophobia and transphobia have persisted and are increasing once more.
Uganda recently passed one of the harshest anti-homosexuality laws in the world, with steep penalties including life sentences for “aggravated homosexuality” and jail terms of up to 20 years for “promoting homosexuality”, forcing gay Ugandans into exile or hiding. Here in the UK, while polls suggest that the general public are largely unconcerned about trans issues, the media rhetoric around transgender people is full of scaremongering and misinformation, leading to rising hate crimes and proposed regressive legislation. Conversations around gender and sexuality in the church are not always edifying, and leave many of our LGBTQ+ siblings feeling unwelcome and unloved.
The International Day for the Eradication of Poverty is a United Nations initiative marked on 17 October, and this year’s theme is ‘putting dignity in practice for all’, calling for decent work which empowers people and provides fair wages and safe working conditions, and for social protection to guarantee income security for everyone. The theme is also a call to political leaders and policymakers to use human dignity as the guiding compass in all decision making processes, to ensure the advancement of fundamental human rights and social justice over the pursuit of corporate profits. The ultimate goal is to eliminate poverty entirely by creating the conditions for everyone to live with dignity.
If there was any doubt about the need for such a day, by the end of 2022, 8.4 percent of the world’s population, or as many as 670 million people, were thought to be living in extreme poverty, defined as surviving on less than $2.15 per person per day. In response to the cost-of-living crisis, 105 countries and territories announced almost 350 social protection measures between February 2022 and February 2023, and yet an estimated 7% of the global population, around 575 million people, could still find themselves trapped in extreme poverty by 2030.