I've been reading a bit recently about our new Government's position on 'social inclusion'. This is now my 12th year of working in social services in The Salvation Army and it has become clear to me that social isolation is both widespread and devastating in its effects upon the majority of people that we work with. When family and friendship networks fall under stress and break down, those left behind find themselves alone and vulnerable to all sorts of pressures which may not have previously bothered them.
When I read the gospels, I see Jesus calling people into an alternative vision of community symbolised by what he called the Kingdom of God. Again and again, Jesus breaks down the barriers which divided his society between the rich/poor, clean/unclean, sick/healthy, (self) righteous/sinner, male/female, Jew/Gentile. My concept of church is one that continues to uphold Jesus' vision - a community of real grace. This is at least as much a challenge for the church as the Government's social inclusion agenda will be. May God help us all in our efforts to reach out and embrace the poor, the marginalised, the vulnerable and all of those who have become the victims of our society.