February 24, 2021

Sunday Worship Service for 28th February 2021

Passage: Micah Chapter 6 verses 6-8

Opening Prayer
Jesus, when we receive you and believe in your name,
You give us power to become children of God.
When we are lonely,
help us to remember
We are the children of God.
When we are scared,
help us to remember
We are the children of God.
When we are hurting,
help us to remember
We are the children of God.
When we are sad,
help us to remember
We are the children of God.
Fill us with the power of your love,
Now and always.

Reading: Micah Chapter 6 verses 6-8

A Sermon for Fairtrade Fortnight by Rev Peter Lyth
22nd February until 7th March is Fairtrade fortnight. It is a time when the whole idea of trading fairly comes to the forefront with the focus on the products that are sometimes fairly traded, together with some of the thousands of individuals and groups who grow food, mine gold, weave cloth and many other things. With the Pandemic over the last year, we have had less focus on this, yet the Fairtrade movement continues, with many of its producers adversely affected by global events.
The focus this year is also on climate change – another subject that has taken a back seat to a certain extent over the last 12 months. It is one that has great implications for producers elsewhere on the planet. We cannot either ignore the disruption caused by the Covid-19 which has played havoc with producers across the globe.
But often, these seem abstract ideas. But often these producers are individuals or small companies or co-operatives, very different from the faceless conglomerates that seem to control a lot of what we buy.
Many men will have bought roses for their beloved on Valentines day 2 weeks ago. Although the Netherlands produces nearly half by value of the world’s cut flowers each year, one of the other significant producers is Kenya with exports worth 7.5%. Now we are familiar with Kenyan tea and it is no surprise to learn that tea is Kenya’s biggest foreign exchange provider. But what do you think is their second biggest? That’s right it is in fact flowers. It brings in more than $500 million per year and provides vital income for 2 million people. Traditionally the workers are largely women, poorly paid and housed. But things are changing and the Fairtrade movement is at the forefront of that change. Rosemary Achieng, a flower worker in a small town called Naivasha has worked on the gender committee in a company called Panda flowers ltd. The committee has promoted gender equality an a largely male dominated environment and has reduced bullying and harassment. Fair trade ensures that workers receive fair wages for their work, rights as individuals and a premium is paid to allow them to develop their communities with such things as schools as well as investing in farms, factories and workshops. Interestingly, despite the longer journey to our shops, the carbon footprint of the flowers is much less than those grown in the Netherlands, because the greenhouses need vastly less energy.
Another spending on Valentines day might have been gold. You don’t think of fairtrade gold but yet it is important. 90% of gold miners work in small mines. 100 million people worldwide work in small mines of all descriptions making it the second largest industry to agriculture. But working in these mines can be hazardous as many are unregulated. These gold mines can be hazardous places, with miners working in structurally insecure pits, without protective gear and using harmful chemicals such as mercury to recover gold, which can contribute to health problems and contaminate local water supplies. But those involved in Fairtrade meet what is called the Fairtrade standard strict requirements on working conditions, health and safety, handling chemicals, women’s rights, child labour and protection of the environment including water sources and forests. Peru has 15 such mines. They have been greatly affected by the Covid Pandemic with mining suspended for a time. The country was in long term lockdown and, when production resumed, the gold could only be transported through government approved couriers, restricting amounts and inflating costs. Now transportation has returned to normal, but miners have to be tested for Covid and wear PPE. Social distancing is required and medical professionals have to be on site. Obviously, this means reduced production. To reduce the spread of Covid between the mines and the mountains, increased accommodation has been provided on site for the workers. When miners return from a visit to their homes, they self-isolate in the quarantine facilities provided.
Mindful of the effect of the rules on family life, the Fairtrade mines have installed internet so workers can keep in touch with their loved ones. They have also launched a set of activities to support miners’ mental health, ensuring time for rest and wellbeing. When operations were disrupted in Peru, Fairtrade certified mines continued to pay miners with their usual salary, even though they had to reduce their working hours in the face of site closures and government pre-conditions for operating. They have also worked with the mines to develop Covid-19 prevention measures and share information on how best to keep miners safe.
In a similar vein, markets have been affected for flower producers as Covid has disrupted supply chains and again, workers have had to work socially distanced and with PPE, often housed onsite. In Uganda for instance Fairtrade has given financial support to workers laid off because of the Pandemic.
But there are also long term climate change issues to take into account. Some of the Fairtrade premiums go in precautions to take account of climate change. Africa is the continent most susceptible to climate change, yet the carbon footprint of a worker is one twentieth of someone in the UK. As the heat increases, the likelihood of drought goes up and crop yields fall. Higher temperatures also lead to more crop disease. If farmers receive a fair price, they are more resilient and can take measures to cope with the changes.
There is much more I can say, but really, all this boils down to two issues that we could describe as theological. The first is social justice – something that the prophet Micah was talking about as he prophesied in the latter half of the eighth century BC. In the quote that we heard, the writer asks, just what God requires for worship, given the context of the time where ritual sacrifice was the norm. The response is “to do justice, to love kindness and walk humbly with your God”. The root of the Fairtrade movement is to provide justice for the many workers around the world who could be exploited or their plights ignored.
The second issue is care for the earth. From the very beginning of time, in the book of Genesis humanity is given rule over the earth. That could mean exploitation, but the key is “made in God’s image”. That reminds us that we care for the earth and all that is in it in the same way that God does. In fact, the translation known as “the Message” expresses it better – instead of rule or dominion, the word is “responsibility”. We are responsible for the earth and all in it – accountable to God.
On this Fairtrade fortnight we are reminded that caring for the earth and its climate also means caring for our brothers and sisters across the world. It is a matter of justice as is the price we pay and the way that they are all looked after. And we are responsible to God for the way in which we do so.
A Fair Trade Prayer
As I enter the street market
wheel my trolley at the superstore
leaf through a catalogue, or log on to the internet:
be with me and help me.
When I spend money
be with me and help me
to see the market place as you see it
as wide as the world you love so much.
Be with us and help us
to share the markets we share
for all people.
As we live under your steady gaze,
so we can change, by your gracious love.
A Prayer of Hope
God of hope,
where things seem to be one big tangle of pain and unhappiness,
intervene with your saving love;
where people are in conflict or locked in a stalemate,
release them from the cycle of war;
where your name is outlawed and your children are forced to hide,
break through their darkness and be God-revealed to them;
where despair takes centre stage and depression and anxiety
sharpen their claws,
fill those situations with unexpected peace and joy.
God of hope,
God of all time and of every place:
may the earth be filled with the knowledge of you,
and may your light flow over the world like a covering,
bringing protection from the darkness
and from the evil that often frightens and wounds us.

Prayers 1 and 3 are © ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2020. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com
Prayer 2 is courtesy of Christian Aid

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