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Blessed are the Poor? Urban Poverty & the Church

Author: Laurie Green
Published By: SCM Press
Price: £16.99
ISBN: 978 033 4053 651

Reviewed by Gary Jenkins.

This is a deeply passionate and compassionate book that distils a lifetime’s engagement with the Church’s mission to the urban poor.

Bishop Laurie Green makes the radical suggestion that when Jesus said ‘Blessed are the poor’, he did not mean “it would be good if the poor could be blessed” but rather, taking our Lord at its word, that the poor are blessed, and, if so, we need to find out why and in what respect.

To do that, the Bishop goes on a tour of the council estates that fringe many of our largest cities and he listens carefully to what the poor have to say. He reproduces many of their comments verbatim and that is one of the strongest features of the book. The disregarded are listened to, and those on our outer estates who have come to understand the truths of God’s kingdom are allowed to bring their spiritual insights to bear.

He intersperses his findings with reflections on Scripture, particular the Beatitudes, the Lord’s Prayer, and the Magnificat. The whole book is a brilliant piece of contextualised theology and can be read with profit by anyone who is engaged in ministry to the urban poor in our country.

The book leaves me with two questions. First, as Laurie Green often points out – as many of us know so well – that Christian congregations on outer estates are often small and struggling. My question is simply: why? If Christianity is the religion of the poor, and if it flourishes amongst poorer communities in many parts of the world, why is the church in England strongest in the suburbs and in the cities that host the posher universities, and weakest in the poor areas? Perhaps that could be subject of the Bishop’s next book.

Second, the virtual collapse of strong extended families, bound together by marriage, is well known to everyone who ministers among the urban poor. Marriage is fast becoming a middle class pastime. All of this greatly adds to the impoverishing of poor communities. Shouldn’t that have been investigated, too? Perhaps that could be yet another book!

Gary Jenkins

Vicar of St James and St Anne, Bermondsey

Ministry Today

You are reading Issue 66 of Ministry Today, published in March 2016.

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