A Mansfield vicar is set to begin a 40-day fast next week as part of a bid to highlight food poverty around the UK.
The Rev Keith Hebden, vicar at St Mark’s in Nottingham Road, will begin his water-only diet on Wednesday, 5th March, as part of the national End Hunger Fast campaign.
The national drive aims to highlight the issue of food poverty and the rise in food banks, and comes after forty-three Christian leaders, including 27 Anglican bishops, signed a letter urging Prime Minister David Cameron to ensure people get enough to eat.
Rev Hebden’s fast will begin on the first day of Lent and run until Thursday 17th April.
Rev Hebden said: “Like many Christians, along with people of other faiths, I’ve fasted before and in different ways, but I’ve never done anything like this.
“There is a Christian tradition of going without food for forty days that goes all the way back to Jesus and has been practiced by a few throughout the last 2,000 years. In a sense what I’m doing is nothing new.
I wouldn’t call it ‘hunger’ when you fast for forty days because hunger, to me, is when you don’t know where your next meal is coming from.
“We need not accept foodbanks as a permanent part of our political landscape - the gap between rich and poor has continued to grow during these times of so-called austerity.
“The government talk of falling levels of unemployment but they don’t talk enough about under-employment or the proliferation of zero-hour contracts.”
The End Hunger Fast campaign is calling on everyone to take part in a national day of fasting to highlight the plight of those living in food poverty.
The letter written to the Prime Miniter, which was published in national newspapers, states: ““One in five mothers report regularly skipping meals to better feed their children, and even more families are just one unexpected bill away from waking up with empty cupboards.
“We often hear talk of hard choices. Surely few can be harder than that faced by the tens of thousands of older people who must “heat or eat” each winter, harder than those faced by families whose wages have stayed flat while food prices have gone up 30 per cent in just five years.
“Yet beyond even this we must, as a society, face up to the fact that over half of people using foodbanks have been put in that situation by cut backs to and failures in the benefit system, whether it be payment delays or punitive sanctions.”
A campaigner for social justice, Rev Hebden last year appeared in court following a break-in at RAF Waddington as a protest against the use of drones in ongoing world conflicts, and campaigned to save the Mansfield branch of the Nottingham Credit Union to combat high street loan sharks.
He added: ““With some trepidation, but with careful medical consultation before and during, I’m looking forward to the spiritual challenge as much as the physical one.
“I have spoken to many people who have undertaken similar fasts and hope, by God’s grace, to see it through. However, I will not do so to the long-term detriment of my health.”
Speaking about the criticism of government policy, A Downing Street spokesman said: “Of course many families are facing tough times as a result of the worst recession in a century.”
He added that the welfare reforms were “about building a country where people are not trapped in a cycle of dependency but are able to get on, stand on their own two feet and build a better life for themselves and their family”.
For more details on the End Hunger Fast campaign, go to www.church-poverty.org.uk/endhungerfast.
PICTURED: Rev Keith Hebden taking part in a protest at an arms fair last year (top) and the Rt Rev Tony Porter, Bishop of Sherwood, who signed the open letter to the Government.