BOOK FIVE of Ten that have Shaped my Life. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

Pioneering and planting on an urban council estate in 1980s Teeside, privileged to see many people coming to faith, baptisms and church growth there was no disguising the fact that we were living through a period of devastating injustice and crippling unemployment. The implementation of Thatcherite policies saw the closure of steelworks, shipyards, engineering works, foundries and manufacturing plants. I saw firsthand the impact of political dogma on the lives of individuals, their families and the community. The disregard for the urban poor and the lack of compassion for those disadvantaged stirred our hearts as a church and moved us beyond simply preaching the gospel and focusing our efforts solely on the church growth. Evangelism, charismatic renewal and social action belonged together. The Good News is not good news if it is not good news for the poor.
Privileged to be part of an amazing church community who were prepared to put people before programmes, relationships before reputation and who to this day continue to live among, share and serve those who most churches have neither the heart or ability to reach.
It was during this time that I came across Robert Tressel’s book. It tells the story of a group of hard-working men who are joined one day by a journeyman-prophet who shares with them a vision of a society where justice and compassion reign. His denunciation of the greed and dishonesty of the capitalist system ignites and inspires his fellow men from their passive acceptance of things as if nothing can be done to resist or change them.
It’s a classic piece of writing that combines humour and political passion. Together with my reading of Scripture and living in an urban north-east community suffering the consequences of the government’s economic policies, it propelled us into a whole series of initiatives and actions that would be deemed now as political.
For me personally, the book heightened my interest in politics and the belief that the church has a prophetic role to play within society, that prophecy is more than bringing an insightful or helpful word to an individual within the church worship context and is more about speaking truth and justice in the public realm.
Interestingly, I’m writing this on the day that Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury who has written for the Daily Mail, (don’t get me started on that toxic, dangerous newspaper..). The Archbishop has strategically written for the Mail a piece that will inevitably invite a mixed response as his article is headed: ‘Why I believe we need to tax wealth more’: In a bid to help lower middle income earners, a controversial declaration from the Archbishop of Canterbury. see:…/Archbishop-Canterbury-says-nee…
Thank God, for someone of his position and influence, together with his background working in the city, to speak out on such an issue.
Maybe he too has read the Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. A must read book.

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