If we claim to love our neighbour
while the hungry queue for food,
are we prey to self deception?
Is perception quite so crude?
If we sit beside our neighbours,
begging for the things they need,
we might share their own injustice
in a world that thrives on greed.
If we punish those with nothing,
blaming them for where they stand,
is this love of friend or neighbour,
do we still not understand?
Love of neighbour is not easy,
cuts us till we feel the pain,
sharing hurt that they are feeling
till they find new life again.
Love of neighbour sets us squarely
in the place where they now sit,
till the richness God has given
builds a pearl around the grit;
till each person shares the comfort
of the love of which we preach,
till we live as fact the Gospel:
none can be beyond love’s reach.
Words: Andrew Pratt (born 1948) © 2015 Stainer & Bell Ltd, London, England, www.stainer.co.uk.
Please include any reproduction for local church use on your CCL Licence returns. All wider and any commercial use requires prior application to Stainer & Bell Ltd.
Suggested tunes: Bethany (StF 25); Scarlet Ribbons (StF 131)
Written during the Manchester and Stockport District Synod, March 2015 in response to a presentation by the Joint Public Issues Team (see below). The hymn was sung at the close of Synod.
Ideas for use
Andrew Pratt described his text, written prior to the UK General Election of 2015, as an “election hymn”. Consider using it to stimulate a discussion, perhaps in a small group or following a church service. Ask yourselves these questions.
- How does a hymn such as this help me to speak and act within my community?
- How do these words help me to think about the way I might vote in an election?
Those gathered may also be invited to choose another hymn each that speaks to them about social and political values. See, for example:
- Beauty for brokenness (StF 693)
- Great God, your love has called us here (StF 499)
- I will speak out for those who have no voices (StF 702)
- Praise to the God who clears the way (StF 183)
- Touch the earth lightly (StF 729)
Andrew Bradstock is Secretary for Church and Society with the United Reformed Church and a member of the Joint Public Issues Team. Prior to the 2015 General Eelection he offered these thoughts on Andrew’s hymn .
Hymns are written and sung for many reasons, one being to help us express what we feel about issues of injustice that we confront.
In such hymns we can offer our concerns to God, express our solidarity with those affected, and pledge our commitment to act in appropriate ways.
This hymn by Andrew Pratt highlights one of the most troubling phenomena of our time – the number of people who, in our relatively wealthy country, are struggling to feed themselves and their families and perceiving, when they seek gainful employment, a system more committed to the ‘stick’ than the ‘carrot’ and a culture more willing to blame than understand.
Andrew’s words ask the singer – if they are not themselves a foodbank visitor – to identify with the person queuing for food who may feel ‘punished’ and ‘blamed’ for doing so. It’s one thing to talk about ‘loving our neighbour’, the hymn seems to say, but quite another to place ourselves in their shoes.
Authentic Christianity knows nothing of ‘cheap love’, the hymn reminds us: it is only as we “sit beside” the other and “feel the pain” that they can experience that love of which the Gospel speaks. Sharing is the leitmotif here: as we share the other’s injustice (verse 1) and ‘hurt’ (verse 2) so they can begin to share “the comfort of the love of which we preach” (verse 3).
This is a hymn which, to use a cliché, both comforts the disturbed and disturbs the comfortable – drawing connections between the hungry who queue for food and “a world that thrives on greed”, identifying the difference between talking of love and the more costly business of acting it. So often we are concerned, when speaking about the Gospel, to ‘get the words right’. This hymn challenges us to live it ‘as fact’, a much harder task.
In the run-up to the 2015 General Election I hope many congregations will have the opportunity to sing this hymn – and will also turn its words into action by raising the issues it raises with those who canvass for their vote.
The Joint Public Issues Team (Methodist, Baptist, United Reformed Church, Church of Scotland) has produced several resources relating to the core theme of this hymn: