Filled With Good Things

Homily at St Philip Evans on the Third Sunday of Advent, Year B.

The Seven Word Sermon: Support Living Wage Employers. Shop at Aldi!

It’s ‘Rejoicing Sunday’ – and it struck me this week that one of the best things about being a parish priest is that, every so often, I get to speak wonderful, life-changing words which fill other people with joy.

For instance, ‘I absolve you of your sins!’ – if you want to hear those words, bring your sins and your repentance along on Wednesday evening at 7.00 pm.

Or, ‘This is my Body’ – and suddenly Jesus is present among us.

But I was thinking particularly of other words, words I get to say less often, perhaps only once a year; words that I have been able to speak in this and other parishes which employ staff. The wonderful words are these: ‘I’d like to give you a raise!’

Catholic leaders have long been concerned with making sure workers get fair pay for their work. In the 1890s, Cardinal Manning of Westminster supported London’s dock workers in their protests for fair pay, and Pope Leo XIII also wrote about the importance of a just wage. More recently, the Labour Government of 1997 brought in a National Minimum Wage for the UK, but that hasn’t solved the problem – the cost of living in the UK is so high that even a full week of work at the National Minimum Wage will not fund a single adult to an adequate standard of living.

In our Scripture readings today we heard our Blessed Mother, overwhelmed with joy at God’s presence, declaring that ‘God fills the starving with good things, but sends the rich away empty.’ But do we see the starving being filled, or going hungry? Last weekend, the Archbishop of Canterbury declared himself more shocked at children going hungry in Britain than in Africa. Earlier this week, the Church of England and the UK Parliament issued a report about food poverty. Why are we declaring that God is filling the starving, when so many people around us are going hungry?

In past months, Deacon Steve and myself have preached about the importance of donating to our local Foodbank and buying fairly-traded goods. Whenever we make choices to use our own resources for the good of others, God blesses the poor through us. We might remember of St Teresa of Avila once said that Christ has no hands and feet to do his work, but ours. But relax – this is Rejoicing Sunday and we are all stressed out by Christmas. Today is not a day when I am going to appeal to you to spend more, or to give more. I know many of us are doing a great deal already – though if your conscience is reminding you to do sonething about a decision you’ve already made, I offer this as a nudge to put it into practice.

If we, the consumers, don’t have money to spare, and even our Government is running a huge budget deficit, who can afford to fill the hungry with good things? Follow the money! Businesses can – at least, those businesses which are turning a large profit can. If they give less money to shareholders and more to their employees, that is good for their employees, and good for the places where their employees shop!

Each year, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation calculates the minimum income which could give a full-time employee an adequate quality of living; last month they announced the current such living wage, outside London, is £7.85 an hour. Here in Cardiff, our local Citizens group has been campaigning for some of our key employers to pay all their workers the Living Wage. Cardiff University and NHS Wales have already pledged to pay all their staff at least the Living Wage – Citizens are now calling on the Welsh Rugby Union and Millennium Stadium to go Living Wage in time for the Rugby World Cup in 2015. With Ashes Cricket due to pay a rare visit to Cardiff, Sophia Gardens could be the next target!

Not all of us are able to sign up to be campaigners for Citizens. A few of us may employ people directly, or be on governing bodies which set pay; with the Living Wage in mind, can we utter those wonderful words, ‘I’d like to give you a raise’?

What about the rest of us? We may not be employers, but we are consumers, and we have the power to choose where we spend our money. At the start of this week I wrote to the managers of ten large supermarkets close to our church, including all the big names and the discount retailers. I am now pleased to be able to announce that the following stores have told me that they pay all their employees the living wage, including external contractors…

Aldi (Dartington Drive, Pentwyn) were the first (and so far, only) to respond, with the excellent news that all their staff receive £7.90 per hour or above!

God will fill the starving with good things. It will take time, but God will do it, and God will do it through you. All you need to do is to spend your money wisely. If your usual store doesn’t pay the Living Wage, next time you shop, ask the Manager why they don’t. After all, why would you spend your money in a store which uses the profits to buy corporate jets, when you could spend it in a place which gives your next-door neighbour a living wage instead? Shop at a living wage employer, and when you hand over your cash at the till, imagine yourself saying to the shopworker, ‘I’ve just given you a raise!’ – because you have! Rejoice!

The following stores were also sent letters on Tuesday 9th December 2014 and were invited to respond by 4 pm on Saturday 13th December to indicate that they paid directly-employed and contracted staff the Living Wage:

  • ASDA, Dering Road, Cardiff Gate
  • M&S Simply Food, Newport Road
  • Iceland, Albany Road
  • Tesco, Pengam Green
  • Morrisons, Newport Road
  • Sainsbury’s, Colchester Avenue
  • Waitrose, Pontprennau
  • Lidl, Colchester Avenue
  • Farmfoods, Pentwyn