This month Bishop Lee reminds us of the thousands of children who have little experience of a loving home and asks how the gospel can help us engage with such a challenge.
One of the most moving stories I heard recently concerned a lad called Jack. Jack came from a difficult family background where there had been no settled father figure and little experience of love and care at home. As a teenager Jack found himself getting into trouble with the police and eventually he was arrested in connection with a series of burglaries.
When the police officers came to interview Jack they expressed their puzzlement about his activities. It seems he would break in but nothing of much value ever went missing. What was Jack doing in these homes? Sometimes, he answered, I just sit on the settee in front of the TV and imagine this is my home and my family.
In the UK we are seeing a worrying rise in the number of children who have little or no experience of a stable and secure home life. Statistics reveal that at any one time in England there are 60 000 children being looked after away from their home, with 89 000 being cared for at some point in any year. A child goes into Foster Care every 22 minutes and there are 4000 children waiting to be adopted.
The majority of children enter care because of abuse or neglect, and about 45% have a diagnosable mental health condition. Anxieties generated by the case of Baby Peter have led to an increase in the number of infants being taken into care. Councils are struggling to meet the needs with around 9000 new foster carers needed in 2013.
At our recent Diocesan Clergy Conferences, Bishop Gordon Mursell was helping us to reflect on ways of speaking about God in contemporary society. One of those was being at home - in God, with God, and with his people. The Bible also speaks in Psalm 68 of God being a father to the fatherless who sets the lonely in families. These are two compelling reasons for Christians to wish to engage with such deep needs in our society but how might we do so?
A first way might be to put the challenge of being good news for vulnerable children before our congregations. Home for Good, a national joint initiative has been founded to help Christians engage with these very issues (www.homeforgood.org.uk).
A second and very simple step would be to support those already involved in foster care. According to Krish and Miriam Kandiah, who have fostered children for many years, one of the key needs of carers is for respite. Giving foster carers time out is precious because caring is a difficult and demanding vocation. I have heard it said that having people who are prepared to come back and babysit is a gift in itself. With the appropriate checks in place churches might offer this to foster carers in their local communities as well as to those within congregations. Local councils would be likely to welcome such support.
When I shared Jacks story with a group of church leaders one of them came up to me afterwards. Thats the kind of background I had, said one of our younger clergy, but God turned it around. At the heart of the gospel are themes of adoption, family and finding our true home. It is a powerful good news story which connects deeply with contemporary need. How can we give it flesh for today?