'Providing space for our wider community to question candidates'
Rich Blake-Lobb, pastor of Yiewsley Baptist Church, reflects on the hustings hosted by his church
For the past few years as a church we have organised hustings for each of the various elections from local council and London Assembly to General Election. We have established rules (and had these checked by the Electoral Commission) for inviting candidates and how to manage when there are more than we could possibly squeeze into a debate or if any do not attend. Everything is prepared with careful attention so as to avoid bias towards or away from any candidate regardless of their political persuasion. This is part of our mission to actively engage with our local community, to provide space for debate, to hear the questions of local residents and the responses of those who wish to be elected to serve.
We aren’t a large church and we don’t have a pretty building, but we are a church who care for our local community. We care about those who are running local shops and businesses, those who provide employment, the teachers and other staff educating our children, the doctors, nurses, dentists and others providing health care, the mechanics who maintain our cars and bikes in addition to the drivers of buses and taxis, the men and women who clean our streets and maintain roads and parks.
We are grateful for our police officers and community support officers, the fire fighters, the paramedics, hairdressers, tattoo artists, the estate agents, bankers, librarians, funeral directors, the local charities, the volunteers in the foodbank as well as those who receive their services. Among all these members of our community there are those who are isolated and lonely, those struggling with addictions, suffering abuse, carers, people with health difficulties, debt and financial difficulties, unemployment, grief and vulnerability.
We organise election hustings because we want to support people in engaging with those who may have the opportunity to make significant decisions for our community. As a church we can only do so much, such as supporting the foodbank and providing occasional support. Our elected political representatives have the opportunity to make a significant impact for our society through the policies and laws they support and pass.
Martin Luther King Jnr. taught “On the one hand we are called to play the good Samaritan on life’s roadside; but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
Engaging in political debate and providing space for our wider community to question candidates is one way that as a small church we can hope to shape the road of life’s highway.
This past week it felt like the world’s press were at our doors (with cameras from BBC, Al Jazeera, and independent documentary makers as well as a variety of reporters and European news agencies) because one of the candidates in our constituency has a very high profile. That candidate didn’t turn up and the press coverage was ultimately minimal.
I’m not interested in the press or the publicity for the church, I’m interested in our community. Proverbs 31:8-9 says “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”
Whoever gets elected I hope they will care for our community for whom they are elected to serve. As a church we will work with them when we can, but we will also speak out and challenge them, whatever their social status or public profile because that is our biblical imperative and Christian mission. If the candidates who couldn’t make it last week still wants to answer questions, our door remains open and I am willing to meet them to ask the questions our community would like answered (ideally before the election so they can make an informed choice).
Image | Unsplash
Rich Blake-Lobb is the Pastor of Yiewsley Baptist Church. This blog originally appeared on the Yiewsley Baptist Church website and is republished with permission