john davies
notes from a small curate

    Tea Total

    Holy Trinity Parish Communion 18/5/03 (Christian Aid Week sermon)

    1 John 4.7-21, John 15:1-8

    For this sermon you will need: 1 Tescos carrier bag containing 1 box of tea bags; 1 teapot; 1 kettle containing water, plugged in and ready to boil during talk.

    I've been shopping - for the most essential item in my kitchen cupboards... TEA.


    As I hold this bag lets pause a moment to give thanks for the Checkout lady who packed this for me, and helped bring me my supply of tea.

    Some of her friends and colleagues are in church this morning - fellow-workers who, like her, will have good feelings and mixed feelings about the job they do.

    I know that my Checkout lady has good feelings about the friends she has at work; she's happy enough with her pay though it could be better; she has mixed feelings about the hours she has to do, about having to juggle home life and work, and especially when management fiddle about with her shifts, try to squeeze more out of her when she's already giving plenty.

    As the barcode scanner beeps relentlessly through her working days, my Checkout lady doesn't have much time to think about the rules which govern the tea trade and set the price she charges me for my weekly supply; but let's give thanks for her and the work she does.


    As I hold this box lets pause a moment to give thanks for the Manager of the Tea Processing Plant whose factory workers packaged this box and whose long-distance drivers supplied the shops with crates and crates, making sure that tea-drinkers like me never go without.

    He has a tough job, this Processing Plant Manager. He has to find the best imported tea at the very best price in a competitive market. He has to make sure his plant shows a good profit to the parent company. And he has to keep his staff motivated while at the same time pushing them hard. Unable to be generous to his overseas suppliers or his UK workers, his is a tough and lonely work.

    As his lorries rumble in and out of the factory below his office, our Processing Plant Manager looks at the computer on his desk, showing tea prices worldwide, and thinks a lot about the rules which govern the tea trade - how can they work best for his profit? Without this man no-one could ask me that immortal question, "More tea, vicar?" - so we give thanks for him and the work he does.

    (Did you know that.... around 3 million tonnes of tea are produced in the world each year. The UK tea market in 2001 was worth 523.6 million, 148,000 tonnes)


    As I hold this package lets pause a moment to give thanks for the Tea Exporter who goes to market every week in Mombasa, or Colombo, Calcutta, Limbe or Jakarta, where the world's tea is brought to auction. Our Tea Exporter uses his experience to find the best teas for his customer's needs, he uses his skills in haggling, negotiating, bidding to get the best price for himself.

    As Tea prices fluctuate according to the time of year, availability, quality and demand our Tea Exporter spends a lot of time thinking about the rules which govern the tea trade and how he has to struggle with them so much, weighted as they are in favour of the buyers in the West. This man's skilful work puts sackfulls of tea on the ships which supply our UK Processing Plants. Without him we'd be tea-less, so let's give thanks for him and the work he does.

    (Did you know that.... In Calcutta last week, there was a good demand for DARJEELING, according to the market report. Other sorts of tea sold at lower prices than recently, and while buyers from Western India and other local buyers were active, major blenders and packeteers were quiet.)


    As I hold this tea bag lets pause a moment to give thanks for the Process plant worker who works in the tea factory overseas, skilfully turning the plucked tea leaves into the familiar 'black tea'.

    His work is physically demanding. When the green leaves arrive he spreads them out in large troughs where air is blown through using a motor driven fan and the leaves are withered.

    Then he lays out the broken leaves to ferment on trays in a cool, humid atmosphere for up to 3 hours. Afterwards the leaves have changed colour, from their natural green to gold or orange.

    Now he passes the fermented leaves through hot air chambers, where all remaining moisture is evaporated and the leaves turn dark brown or black. He removes the stalks, grades the leaves by size and shape, and finally he packs the tea in tea sacks for export.

    He won't get much for his hard graft, this Process plant worker, and he may from time to time wonder about the rules which govern the tea trade which keep his wages so low and make his work so unprotected and vulnerable. As china cups clink in tea shops around Britain he's an essential part of the tea-drinking process. We give thanks for him and the work he does.

    (Did you know that.... 72% of the UK population regularly drink tea, and an estimated total of 163 million cups of tea are drunk per day.)


    As I pour these tea leaves into my hand, lets pause a moment to give thanks for the Grower whose hands plucked these very leaves.

    It's sociable work, for this Grower walks the fields every week, with family and friends alongside her, ensuring that only the best tips of the leaf and bud are selected from the twigs in the field.

    It's dangerous work - our Grower wears protective clothing and boots to protect her from snakes and twigs. And it's tough work, as our Grower carries the tea in baskets on her back, often having to carry heavy loads for many miles to the collection centre where the tea is weighed and she is paid.

    For many small tea growers this payment is the only benefit they receive for their tea, and our Grower may wonder about the rules of the trade which sometimes means that she works at a loss or just about breaks even, after so many back-breaking hours in her fields.

    Without her I wouldn't be holding these tea leaves in my hand. Let's give thanks for her and the work she does.

    It's as easy to give thanks for someone as it is to pour a cup of tea. Christian Aid say it's that easy to change the world, too.
    They are campaigning about the rules that govern world trade, asking them to be weighted in favour of poor countries. Their success at previous similar campaigns gives them the confidence to tell us - your signature on a card can make a difference. Can help bring this about.

    Signing a petition or a Christian Aid card can be a way of praying. Jesus said:
      This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you.
    After our next song I will invite you to join in a prayer in which we give God our desire to see the world become a better, fairer, more just place. And after that I will invite you to sign the card which reflects those prayers, which will go to Tony Blair, asking him to act to make the trade rules more favourable to the poorest.

    But first - the kettle's boiled - so as I pour this water into the pot, let's stand and pray this prayer together....


    Even as the water falls on dry tea leaves
    and brings out their flavour,
    so may your Spirit fall on us and renew us
    so that we may bring refreshment and joy to others. Amen.

    (A prayer from Sri Lanka)

    Hymn - Let all the world in every corner sing

    Prayer of commitment

    I dare to pray; Lord, let the world be changed,
    For I long to see the end of poverty;
    I dare to pray; Lord, let the rules be changed,
    For I long to see trade bring justice to the poor;
    I dare to pray; Lord, let my life be changed,
    For I long to bring hope where good news is needed.
    In the strength of your Spirit
    andd inspired by your compassion,
    I make this promise to work for change,
    and wait confidently for the day
    when you make all things new. Amen

    (at this point, Pledge Cards are signed as music plays. Children bring theirs across from the Hall)


    The peace

    Offertory Hymn - Fill thou my life, O Lord my God

    (during which, Pledge Cards are gathered up and brought forward as part of the offering)

    Prayer material taken from Christian Aid website resources
    Tea Markets detail taken from Calcutta Tea Traders Association bulletin board
    Various other Tea trade details taken from CafeDirect website