“You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand” (John 13:7)
For some years now, Together for the Common Good, along with other advocates of the common good, has been signalling that the current UK settlement is no longer fit for purpose.
In the past couple of years we’ve seen a decline of trust in institutions, failures of leadership and social, political and cultural division. Expressions via the ballot box have been symptomatic of a fundamental shift across the western world - a profound discontent with the dominant economic and cultural liberal consensus of the last thirty years. People are crying out for community, belonging, purpose and meaning.
But the dominant culture of individualism drives people deeper into mutually hostile echo chambers, and we are coming to a point, perhaps a watershed like 1945 and 1979, that requires a serious and ambitious plan that transcends party politics. We believe it will need to be undergirded by the principles and practices of the common good. A time like this is an opportunity – and we may yet, through the struggle and with faith, see the emergence of a new settlement. Patience is needed.
We may ask: how will we live together when we disagree about so much? How will we rehumanise systems that have lost their soul? How will communities of the left behind regain pride and prosperity? How can businesses remain free to generate wealth and jobs while also delivering on social purpose? How do we avoid burdening future generations with our debt? What needs to be done to build relationships where there is suspicion? What is the right balance for the role of the state?
So not only patience, but also perseverance is required, because how a new settlement emerges will affect its longevity. It may need to be more slow-burn than revolutionary, and more ‘bottom-up’ than ‘top-down’ - the task is cultural as well as political - and way too big for government and legislation alone. How it turns out depends on each of us, taking responsibility.
The creativity of the Christian tradition comes from the certain knowledge that God is a great deal bigger than the state or the market, setting us free from the limitations of any man-made philosophy. But this is counter cultural, and in the so-called ‘marketplace of ideas’ it’s important to be vigilant and resist being swept along by political ideologies dressed up in persuasive rhetoric and retail promises. We must be clear about our centre of gravity.
A solution that endures will build bonds of reciprocity between currently estranged groups: between the socially conservative and the liberal progressive; between old and young; rich and poor; rural and urban; people with abilities and disabilities; management and workers; business and unions; shareholders and employees; people of different ethnicities, people of different faiths and those of no religious faith…
Each of us will be able to spot points of tension - in neighbourhoods, workplaces, institutions, organisations, systems and policy: we can become attuned to the fractures that need healing and take action.
The common good is not a utopian ideal to be imposed by one enlightened group upon another. God created us with great love, to be free and authentically ourselves, not to be the same, nor to think the same. To build a common good, everyone must be included and no one left behind. It requires being willing to ‘stay in the room’, to listen and learn from each other, recognising each other as gifts.
This is the opposite of an identity politics that defines the human person through difference, like a commodity on a supermarket shelf. There can be no ‘deplatforming’ in common good thinking, no silencing because views are unfashionable. As the old saying goes, ‘do you want to stay together, or do you want to be right?’ We are in danger of reaching a point where ‘being right’ has the power to wreck our common life.
People across the churches who are engaged in the ‘bottom-up’ work of transforming society are doing so with patience and perseverance. Through building relationships between the mutually suspicious, living alongside abandoned communities, innovating good business models, bringing ethics into finance, rehumanising systems that have lost their soul, and more, they are laying the groundwork for what may become a new settlement for the common good.
Read onfor T4CG news in brief, plus our latest set of stories about common good activity across the churches, in communities, business, finance, relationship building...
We held a week-long visit in Liverpool for a group of Italian teachers to meet with their British counterparts as part of our partnership in Faith 2017, a six-month initiative involving schools and community groups. Read Teaching the common good, by Franca Gambari.
We fostered networking with a difference at our annual social evening in London for young people working in faith-based social action, politics and policy. Read this blog by William Kent - Openness to encounter.
T4CG is served by a small charity with two staff, but punches above its weight thanks to many partnerships, pro bono support and help in kind. We do a lot with very little. We are managing to continue to build relationships across the churches, respond to requests for help, offer occasional talks and articles, and engage on Twitter at @T4CG. And not least, we are preparing to pilot our new common good immersion days, for church leaders and lay people, in two locations in October.
T4CG is looking for volunteer support in graphic design, video editing, PR/comms/ branding and marketing expertise. If you could give a few hours of your time, we would love to hear from you. We are also looking for someone suitably experienced to manage a simple T4CG Friends network. Please send covering letter and cv to email@example.com.
With so much political noise in recent months we highly recommend taking a break: talk less and listen more. Perhaps the most constructive thing we can all do is to look outside our familiar territory and intentionally seek out different voices: one of the biggest risks to our common life is the silo effect of interacting only with people from the same background or who share the same opinions.
It’s important to understand the forces at play in the hounding of Tim Farron. Worth reading the views of Nick Spencer and Dave Landrum on the paradox of the new liberal fundamentalism, its intolerance and dominance.
The Grenfell Tower disaster was a transformational moment, crystallising in monumentally catastrophic terms the estrangement between rich and poor communities only streets apart. Anger was a natural and understandable response. The Bishop of Kensington, Graham Tomlin has been closely involved on the ground and reports on the importance of trust. Cardinal Nichols wisely said ‘anger is energy and it must be directed in the right way’, as its vulnerability to exploitation quickly became evident in efforts by the hard left to agitate on the streets - as shameful as they were predictable. Resourcefulness, courage and generosity at grassroots level has outshone the darkness of the tragedy. The ability of the parish church to respond quickly and provide leadership in an emergency shows the priceless value of a church deeply embedded in its neighbourhood. Working alongside other churches and faith groups they are doing what the state could not do - build community and strengthen civil society. As Giles Fraser said, the church got it right when the authorities failed.
People across the churches transforming society
The importance of strengthening civil society is only going to become greater. People across the churches are contributing in a variety of ways. Just a flavour below:
Building relationships with the excluded
“Don't measure the strength of a community by the capacity of its leaders, but by the depth of its associational life and how they welcome the stranger.”
Hope into Action, one of the projects operated through Cinnamon Network, enables training for volunteers in church communities to provide housing and mentoring for the homeless. Over thirty churches are now running this affordable housing programme.
Church leadership at its best is manifested in the ability to build a sense of family. But many clergy are reticent to get too involved in people's lives. Fr Graziano Gavioli, a young Catholic parish priest from Modena, in northern Italy shows it is not so daunting. Every day, he hosts a daily shared lunch in his home. He invites people who have been marginalised - who we might call ‘the poor’. However they are not served like in a soup kitchen. They meet in his own kitchen, prepare the food together, eat, and clear up together. Fr Graziano, who has been doing this for ten years, says 'they are my friends - often they have been in chaotic situations and have forgotten what it takes to relate well.' One ex-offender said: 'I found family here.' Watch this video to see what a church of the poor looks like.
The vulnerability of prisoners is exacerbated through isolation and estrangement from family. Visiting a prisoner is transformational work, often for both parties. Read about PACT’s Prison Advice Volunteer scheme. Many churches are now looking into community sponsorship of refugee families. Watch this video to see how your community can transform the lives of some of the most vulnerable.
Transformation through business and enterprise
Most Christians, if asked, would agree they want to ‘change the world’, ‘build the kingdom’ and generally ‘make a difference’. However, relatively few understand what is meant by ‘social reform’, ‘social transformation’ or ‘social innovation’, and even fewer are actually involved hands-on.
However, St Mary’s University is preparing to cultivate a culture of faith-based innovation through launching a new Centre for Global Public Service and Social Innovation, adding to its growing portfolio of politics and civic leadership programmes. Headed by Professor Francis Davis the Centre is pioneering new MSc in Global Public Policy and Social Innovation, with a specialist strand looking at faith based advocacy and leadership. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to attend the launch on 4 October. St Mary’s is positioning itself as a serious player in programmes inspired by Christian social teaching, such as their PGCert in Catholic Social Teaching, the only programme of its kind in the UK.
If you thought justice would be achieved through the redistribution of wealth alone, read what Luigino Bruni has to say. A serious economist from the ‘Economy of Communion’ tradition of Focolare, he addresses the issues of market societies, our modern disconnectedness, and our longing for connections.
The work of social entrepreneurs is proving there are more faith-based ways to do good: not only via charity or public sector but also for-profit businesses with social purpose, and social enterprises such as Clean for Good, that pays cleaners the living wage, and Apples and Honey nursery, the UK’s first care home nursery (watch video) based on a model promoted by United for All Ages, in which the elderly and the very young co-exist and enable each other’s flourishing.
On a global level, the Zermatt Summit looks at issues affecting humanity through the lens of Christian social teaching. This year’s meeting in September focuses on "Humanizing Innovation" and features Günter Pauli, Navi Radjou, Gilles Babinet, Tomas Sedlacek looking at innovative solutions to solving the problems of waste, energy, the evolution of work and private life, as well as the evolution of human rights and digital technologies.
Where will the transforming capacity in the churches come from?
It goes without saying that the church in the UK is changing: as Theos reported, some sectors are growing fast, while other sectors are in steep decline. Meanwhile, research shows that many Christians feel unconnected with a church. The Invisible Church by Steve Aisthorpe, argues that this “poses deep questions about how the church operates at present."
“What if the places where we live, where we work, where we spend our time, are opportunities for God's people to change the world?” These are questions addressed in a new 4 week leadership course, 'Change the World', for anyone in a public leadership role interested in transforming society. Offered in small groups by Evangelical Alliance.
What will models of church leadership look like in five or ten years' time? Different Christian traditions face different issues. For example, the C of E seems determined to prioritise evangelism as the main driver to turn its decline trajectory around. Not all are convinced, such as Bishop Philip North, who argues that individual evangelism colludes with an individualistic mind-set, and that the Church should prioritise relationships.
Change can be especially challenging for a highly institutionalised denomination, such as the Catholic Church. However, Forward Together in Hope in Hexham and Newcastle, has been courageously and successfully charting new territory, involving thousands of ordinary parishioners developing models of parish life that rely less on ordained ministry and more on shared responsibility with the laity. Fr Jim O’Keefe, who led the initiative, explains their experience in New Models for the Local Church. They have made their discernment process available to all.
At a time of serious social imperatives, it is extraordinary that churches continue to feed the media with stories of their own destruction, undermining their constructive role in society. Mission in the Church of England is being browbeaten by a campaign insistent on the relentless pursuit of sexuality and gender issues, while the Catholic Church faces another serious historical child abuse scandal.
Those church communities who continue, in spite of these distractions, to be ‘a faithful presence’ are to be commended, doing what they do often in the hardest of circumstances, often working in partnership with churches of different traditions, building relationships with poor and marginalised people: indeed, being what the church is called to be.
Click here or on the calendar for listings of events relating to the Common Good, including: Nurture Development, Theos, Housing Justice, Jubilee Centre, National Justice and Peace Network, Greenbelt, Zermatt Summit, Evangelical Alliance, Jubilee+, Locality, Stewardship… and many others. Please tell us of events you would like us to list.
Thank you for reading this far - we hope you find this newsletter helpful.
With every blessing for a peaceful summer, Together for the Common Good
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Board of Trustees: Hilary Russell, Andrew Bradstock, Alison Gelder, Richard Holman (Treasurer),
Helen O'Brien, Geoff Knott and Holly Terry (Company Secretary).
We consult with our informal Circle of Advisers. Founding director: Jenny Sinclair. General assistant: Bryony Wells.
T4CG gratefully acknowledges help-in-kind and pro bono support from a wide range of people and partner organisations, too many to list here. Our sincere thanks go to the Sisters of Mercy of Great Britain for so kindly hosting us in their building.
We are grateful for financial support from CCLA, the Passionists Grants Fund, Hymns Ancient and Modern, Westhill, the URC Vision Mission Fund, AllChurches Trust.
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