Attentive listening – the heart of organising

Community Organising, The Centre for Theology & Community l

CTC’s Congregational Development Learning Communities include Roman Catholic, Anglican, Salvation Army, Baptist and Pentecostal churches. Out of their reflection, prayer and action, some themes are emerging that may be relevant to other churches.

Community organising has had to adapt very quickly to the lockdown. Conversations with lay leaders and clergy in our churches indicate its continuing importance – in particular, the importance of

> Rooting action in attentive listening to the very different situations people are in

> Ensuring the inclusion of people who are not online – or who have less access to, and confidence with, the internet

> Reaching beyond the confines of those already in our congregations, to engage with their practical, social and spiritual needs and gifts

> Rooting everything churches do in prayer and in their wider mission

It’s instructive to compare this feedback with the hallmarks of an organised church identified by CTC and Citizens UK for our congregational development programme.

Recent CTC blogs have explored the questions of how we root our response in the wider mission of the Church, and how we ensure choices around technology and engagement do not exclude. In this blog, we will look at the particular issue of attentive listening – and how the “phone trees” can develop leaders and address the issues which come up.


Two kinds of listening

Institutions have safeguarding processes to ensure that when someone is called on behalf of the organisation, the representative has been through appropriate checks. When institutions set up phone trees it is important that this safeguarding is in place, to protect the most vulnerable. There is some helpful guidance on this here from the Caritas Social Action Network.

A possible framework for an internal telephone tree for a church is below (this is based on the one developed by Caitlin Harland at St George-in-the-East, to cover all households in the congregation)

> Introduction

Introduce yourself and explain why you are calling, on behalf of which church / organisation, how frequently you aim to call, and explaining that the conversations are not entirely confidential, i.e. any relevant information may, where deemed appropriate, be shared with the clergy and those coordinating the organisation’s covid-19 response.

> Check in questions

>> Pastoral: How are you and your loved ones doing?

>> Practical support: Do you need any practical support? Do you know other people who need support?

>>Listening to wider problems: Have your circumstances been affected? What are you worried about?

>> Volunteering: In the first conversation, do ask if there is anything that they would like to do to offer to help others? While people may be vulnerable in some respects, they may have agency and gifts which are much needed by the wider community.

>  Outlining the church’s “offer” 

This may include…

>> Agreeing a frequency of check-in (are people happy to be called each week?)

>> Talking them through how they can connect with the church (e.g. via online services and resources, or resources which can be accessed through a phone call)

>> Indicating that they are on a regular rota of prayer in church, and asking whether there is anything specific for which they would like prayer

>> A practical offer of help with supplies and deliveries (again the CSAN guidance is helpful on this)

Alongside these formal phone trees, however, good neighbourliness is needed more than ever at a time like this. When someone drops a note through a neighbour’s letterbox, or phones round isolated and vulnerable people who they already know, they are not this on behalf of the institution – but that institution (and the wider Citizens network of which it is a part) can appoint “point people” to help when needs or concerns are identified. This is the approach being taken by Shadwell Responds 

It is being suggested that people do four things while checking in informally as good neighbours

> Connect: Listen to how the person is doing.

> Discover: Ask if they need help with anything.

> Encourage: Offer some simple words of encouragement or comfort.

> Invite: Discuss with the person about whether they can also be calling people.


From listening to action

Through these listening processes, gifts, needs and challenges are being identified. When these are beyond the capacity of the listener to respond, our institutions and the wider alliance community organising alliance can help.

This might include

> Addressing practical and spiritual needs – Where the individual listener is unable to help, someone else in the institution may be able to. The listening process will help churches develop their corporate activities – their offering of worship, teaching and pastoral care during lockdown, as well as the way they offer material support to those in need. The listening process will also identify leaders for such activities.

> Signposting  – e.g. helping people raise concerns with the right person if social care packages are not being delivered adequately, pointing people to food banks and other emergency provision, pointing people to pastoral and spiritual resources

> Supporting people in raising concerns – encouraging individuals and institutions, when appropriate, to raise concerns with local councillors and MPs

> Collective action in the wider alliance – using the collective power and relationships of the Citizens alliance to co-ordinate new practical responses (e.g. pairing young people with isolated elders – an idea we are currently exploring) and to press for policy changes (e.g. more adequate delivery of meals to households on Free School Meals, or liaising with Clinical Care Groups re treatment of elderly and vulnerable people)

Citizens UK and CTC can also play a role in training the local leaders who are emerging. As the gifts and passions of more and more local leaders emerge through these processes, community organising training can offer more intentional training and mentoring – contact your borough organiser to see what opportunities are available during lockdown

Leave a Comment


Email* (never published)


Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: