Community Organising

Happy birthday, TELCO!

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On March 9th, The East London Citizens Organisation (TELCO) celebrates its twentieth birthday. CTC Director Angus Ritchie writes about the achievements of Britain’s oldest community organising alliance, and our Centre’s deep roots in its work…

In two weeks, we will be going back to the building where it all started. Twenty years after TELCO’s founding assembly in York Hall in Bethnal Green, 1200 local people will gather to celebrate all that has been accomplished and commit to organising together for another two decades.

Engaging well with social media

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CTC is running the London Witness programme for the Diocese of London – equipping lay Christians to engage with the media in ways that are confident and constructive. Each week, a participant will be blogging on their experience. Here Frankie Webster writes about week two – which saw the group looking at the finer details of social media; how to utilise each platform to their best advantage, the art of creating a tone through each, and what it looks like to engage well with social media as a Christian.

Assets not Burdens: Using church property to accelerate mission

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Tim Thorlby is CTC’s Development Director and he leads our work on research and enterprise. Here he blogs about our new report on how churches use their buildings and the enormous potential they have for mission.

I recently visited a church in north London.  Its congregation was small , elderly and gradually declining. The pastor was not hopeful about the future. “What can I do?”

A summer of organising

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Richard Springer, the Director of our Urban Leadership School, blogs on our summer internship programme. Applications are now open: might it be right for you or for someone you know…?

For over a decade, CTC’s Summer Internship has given a remarkable opportunity to young people interested in developing their own capacity as Christian leaders and directly participating in church based community organising in London.

Making London A Fairer City

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Tim Thorlby is CTC’s Development Director. He leads our work on enterprise and is also a Director of Clean for Good. Here he blogs about the latest step on the journey to launching Clean for Good…

We’re nearly there.

For the last two and half years I have been involved in helping to shape, support and bring to fruition a brand new business for London. We are now on the home straight to launch.

Clean for Good is a cleaning company, but one which is different. It is a business with a social purpose. Our aim is to reinvent cleaning and the way that cleaners are perceived – and we want to challenge the rest of the cleaning sector to do the same.

Church planting and community organising

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Angus Ritchie (Director of CTC and Priest in Charge of St George-in-the-East) blogs on two new church plants which are using community organising to make disciples and challenge injustice…

Through our research and our work with inner-city congregations, we are increasingly seeing a connection between community organising and numerical growth. Churches are likely to make new disciples when they are both willing to work with their neighbours for the common good and intentional about becoming more inviting and accessible to those who want to explore the Christian faith .

Celebrating a milestone

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profile-Tim-TIn this blog, our Development Director, Tim Thorlby highlights a major milestone reached on our first social investment project.

The London Missional Housing Bond was first launched in early 2013 as a pilot. After 3 years of work, and two Bond issues, we have now raised nearly £1m of capital for missional housing in London and provided two growing churches in London with missional properties to support their work.

Preparing for Advent

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Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 17.28.46A Word from our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny OA, as we prepare to enter the season of Advent …

“You know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed ….” (Romans 13.11).

The Church invites us during this Advent Season to “hold ourselves ready” for the coming of the “Son of Man” – an expression that Jesus used when speaking of Himself. He insists there is no way of telling when this time will be, so the only attitude we can have is “to hold ourselves ready”.

After Trump… where now?

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photo(10)Last night, Selina Stone (Director of our William Seymour Programme) was one of the speakers at an event at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation entitled ‘Trump and Brexit: What’s your take?’ The event began with reflections by Selina and by Giles Fraser, and in this blog she shares her reflections, and the way forward…

I am going to reflect on the impact that these two political moments have had on a range of levels, from the personal to the global: the disturbance of ‘progress’, the exposure of prejudice and the revelation of a shallow democracy.

Priests as “agents of the Spirit”

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Fr_Simon_-_Version_2Last month our Chaplain Sr Josephine and Co-ordinating Fellow Fr Simon Cuff both attended a conference on ‘Priesthood in a great world city’. On the opening night, Sr Josephine offered her reflections on priesthood from a Roman Catholic religious perspective. Fr Simon reflects on what he learned about priesthood in London and what impact the ordained priesthood has on the ‘priesthood’ and ‘praxis’ of all believers.

Living Wage Week is nearly here…

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Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.09.48Living Wage Week runs from Sunday 30th October to Saturday 5th November. CTC Director Angus Ritchie blogs on the ways your church can get involved…

The Living Wage Campaign has had a huge impact on the lives of low-income families, putting over £200,000 extra in the pockets of people in poverty and helping at least 45,000 low paid workers and their families. From being dismissed as ‘impractical’ and ‘unrealistic’, it has now grown into a national movement supported by the leaders of all the main political parties, implemented by the Mayor of London, and recognised as having a robust business case by companies such as Barclays Bank and KPMG.

Pentecostalism, power and organising

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photo(10)Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.09.48Selina Stone directs CTC’s William Seymour Programme – increasing the engagement of Pentecostal churches in community organising. Here she and CTC Director Angus Ritchie blog about their recent seminar on Pentecostalism, Power and Community Organising.

Last Tuesday,we visited the University of Roehampton at the invitation of Dr Andrew Rogers to present a paper to his postgraduate Research Group in Ministerial Theology. It was an exciting opportunity to engage with a group involved in both reflection and action on the issues we were exploring.

Enthroning a new Mayor…

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img_5041Josh Richards – one of CTC’s new Buxton interns – blogs on an unusual piece of political negotiation in Hoxton…

A crowd had gathered in the hall of St John’s, Hoxton to watch a special presentation as part of the church’s harvest shared lunch. Our special guest was addressed by Vera, a member of the congregation: “In light of your success in the Hackney Game of Thrones, we want to present you with a throne of your own”.

Dressed as a knight, seven-year-old Lewis emerged to present Phil Glanville (the newly elected mayor of Hackney) with the aforementioned throne. It was a fetching toilet seat. Amidst applause and laughter, a slightly bemused mayor posed with Lewis for photographs.

Embedding vocation

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img_3973img_5027Francesca Webster and Dunstan Rodrigues (pictured) describe an exciting project about vocation that emerged from this year’s CTC Summer Internship – and invite you to get involved…

Moving from one stage of life to another can be extremely challenging.  The future appears scary and unstable; pursuing one’s passion feels too risky; status and security are very luring. It is easy to be swayed in different and conflicting directions by the pressures of friends and family.  Very few, if any, people listen without giving advice that confuses more than it illuminates.

My first week in Shadwell…

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img_5130Last Saturday, Richard Springer inaugurated his ministry as Director of our Urban Leadership School and Assistant Priest at St George-in-the-East. Here he reflects on his first week with us…

It has been a long time coming getting to Shadwell. Not just because I was interviewed at the beginning of the year and licensed as Assistant Priest to the parish of St George-in-the-East some 8 months later – just last week in a wonderful service.

Introducing this year’s Buxtonians!

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photo(10)Having been one of its first participants, Selina Stone now co-ordinates CTC’s Buxton Leadership Programme. In this blog she introduces this year’s participants.

The Programme has kicked off its fourth year with energy and excitement! We have three brilliant interns who are going to be with us for the whole year practicing community organising in local communities while also working in Westminster.

The next stage of an exciting journey!

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image1On 10th September, the Revd Richard Springer (left) will begin his ministry as Director of our Urban Leadership School, and will licensed by the Bishop of Stepney as Assistant Priest at St George-in-the-East. It’s the next stage of CTC’s pioneering partnership with St George’s – the church in whose crypt we are now based. You are warmly invited to join us as we welcome Richard to the team.

Richard brings a wealth of experience of inner-city ministry, both as a lay person and as Curate of St Peter de Beauvoir in Hackney. In particular, Richard has experience of overseeing a residential Christian community, and more generally of working with young people in inner-city contexts. This provides a strong foundation for both of his new roles: an important part of the renewal of St George-in-the-East has been the establishment of a lay community of young Christians.

Summer Internship Stories: Putting my theology degree into action!

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969196_10200126123056055_285313070_nIn this final in our series of blogs by our summer interns, Zoe Mathias writes about what she’s learned…

HOW THEN SHALL I LIVE? – By the end of my second year of university studying theology this question weighed heavily on my mind. I had many eloquent ideas about how the world should be and had repeatedly seen the stark contrast. It was this tension and the pressing question of how I should respond to it that drew me towards this internship.

Summer Internship stories: Crossing the road in Tottenham…

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meEvery summer at CTC we introduce a group of young people to church-based community organising. This year we had a fantastic group. Here, Rachel Cook blogs about her placement at Holy Trinity, Tottenham….

Having been involved in various voluntary projects and charity work, for example cooking meals for homeless people, mentoring school children, the main reason I wanted to do this internship was to better understand how to tackle poverty and injustice on a larger scale.

The Church’s War on Wonga… And what happened next

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profile-DavidDavid Barclay, who’s spent the past four years developing our work on credit, debt and money blogs for us about the successful pilot of the Church Credit Champions Network

The Church hasn’t always followed through on good intentions. But at a recent event in St Paul’s Cathedral, CTC brought together churches and credit unions to celebrate the way that Christians in London have been making good on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s famous ‘War on Wonga’ comments made back in 2013.

The Church Credit Champions Network was set up by CTC in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s intervention because we believe local churches have resources which, if unlocked, can increase the capacity of credit unions to provide access to savings and responsible credit. The Network has been become one of the major projects to come out of the Archbishop’s initiative, and we marked the end of its two year pilot in London with a special evaluation event.

Ramadan – building relationships and breaking bread

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IMG_20160523_113700[1]Our Near Neighbours Co-ordinator Sotez Chowdhury blogs on his first month at CTC, and how Christians can use Ramadan to build relationships and act with Muslims on issues of common concern:

It’s four weeks since I’ve joined the team here as the Near Neighbours Co-ordinator and it’s already been quite a time. Being managed by priests, based in a crypt, getting to grips with what an archdeacon actually is … Many have asked what is like to work in such a context. I answer that what has been remarkable is the way I have been welcomed so warmly. I see the love of my Christian colleagues for Jesus and God, and I see compassion for others in their way of life – now even more so as we have just entered into the Holy month of Ramadan.

A weekend of hearts

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Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.09.48This weekend, Roman Catholics have been celebrating two important feasts of the heart. Our Director Angus Ritchie blogs on their meaning, and what they can teach all Christians…

For Roman Catholics, and indeed for some Anglicans, this is a weekend of hearts. On Friday, they celebrated the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, and on Saturday the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Growing up in a Highland Manse, neither feast loomed large in my childhood. I only began to ponder them when I was a Curate in East London. My parish was dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The Catholic church across the road was dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. What, I wondered, were these feasts about? What did they have to teach me?

Church at the heart of community fightback against Ripper Museum

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CTC logo markWhen a promised museum about women’s history in east London was turned into a celebration of serial killer Jack The Ripper instead, many local people were unhappy. Here we look at how community organising helped turn the anger into action – with the church at the heart of the response…

The outrage which met the opening of the Jack The Ripper museum was understandable. Having been promised a vibrant celebration of women’s contribution to east London, it was a bitter blow to be told that a man who murdered several women would be celebrated instead. Almost immediately, protest sprung up.

But with museum owners showing no sign of remorse, the energy needed to be turned into action. A series of one to one meetings between campaigners raised the need to take action, rather than just protest. Soon, the idea of a pop up exhibition of women’s history was born.

Meet our new team member – building for the common good in east London

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0e4cfc7The newest member of the our team is Sotez Chowdhury, who has just been appointed Co-ordinator of Near Neighbours (Eastern London). In this next phase of Near Neighbours in our area, there will be a particular focus on “micro-organising” – that is, building sustainable long-term local alliances. Sotez is well qualified for this work. He’s an experienced community organiser and has worked with churches, mosques and other faith institutions as well as teaching at Queen Mary University. Here he tells us about his experiences and his hopes for his new role at CTC…

“I’ve spent the last six year working for Citizens UK – aiming to unify communities by building relationships with people from all walks of life, training community leaders and building civil society alliances to campaign for the common good. Times are tough here in east London and elsewhere – there are plenty of challenges that face us. However, I have been inspired by the potential of individuals and groups to make an impact – and that’s where Near Neighbours comes in, allowing people to fulfil their potential, innovate and make change.

Join the Church to rehumanise the world!

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Our Director, Angus Ritchie, preached at St Paul’s Cathedral this morning on the calling of the Church to help us “learn together how to be more fully human, and how to make a more human world.” Here is the full text of his sermon…

Ascension Day, which we celebrated last Thursday, is one of the great feasts of the Christian year. But it isn’t the easiest festival to understand. When we think about the other great feasts, it’s fairly obvious what they teach us.

Credit Union Month: London churches unite for fairer finance

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Tom Newbold photo cropWhat are credit unions? How can churches support them? Why are they important for churches? Tom Newbold explains all…

The Church Credit Champions Network, which we have been running here at CTC since 2014, has been helping churches answer these questions through a mixture of theological reflection, practical resources, and expert training events. The Network was set-up in response to the Archbishop of Canterbury’s famous ‘War on Wonga’ comments, and has so far engaged with over 200 churches in London alone, helping sign-up 2,000 new credit union members in the process!

Exodus: From the power of markets to a culture of neighbourliness

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In this blog, our Development Director, Tim Thorlby reflects on how deep some changes need to be if we are to build momentum towards the common good…

I was asked a lot of questions this week about the Living Wage – the independently calculated wage which people can actually afford to live on (currently £9.40 per hour in London). Why should an employer pay it? How will they afford it? Won’t higher wages mean that more businesses want to move abroad?

These are not bad questions. Debating these kinds of changes is important. But I really wanted to ask a different question.

Well, why not pay a Living Wage?

Resurrection! The Bishop of London on east London church planting

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Screen Shot 2016-03-26 at 12.43.43The Bishop of London, The Rt Revd Rt Revd and Rt Hon Dr Richard Chartres, writes an introduction to our new report, released today: Love, Sweat and Tears: Church planting in east London

It is fitting that this report should be released at Easter, for it tells a story of renewal and resurrection. This careful study dispels some common myths about church planting and offers grounds for thankfulness and hope.

The narrative we are so often told by the media (and by some within the Church) is that our congregations are in terminal decline. Church planting is one of the ways in which across the diocese we’re telling a different story – that churches can have a new lease of life and flourish at the heart of London’s diverse communities. The following pages tell the story of how that has happened in a few square miles of east London.

Holy Week: The Cross revealing God to us

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Our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny OA, offers a short reflection for Holy Week…

The wisdom of God is found in the cross.

Jesus heads towards Jerusalem – He is walking ahead of the Disciples.

They follow in a daze.

The crowd is bewildered.

He is heading for death – everyone knows that…

Wisdom lies in going towards our suffering – not running away from it.

Green shoots of growth springing in an east London parish…

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Our Director, Angus Ritchie, blogs about our exciting partnership with a historic east London parish – and what it means for the future…

Last May, CTC embarked on a pioneering partnership with St George-in-the-East – the church in whose crypt we are now based.

The parish was between priests and, owing to its declining congregation, the Bishop of Stepney decided to review its pattern and provision of ministry. St George’s shared some of our passions – being a place of prayer; working with and for its neighbours, and growing numerically – but the challenge of maintenance (of a Grade I listed building with a Sunday congregation sometimes under twenty) made it hard to engage in much mission.

A manifesto we can believe in: Jesus (and Nehemiah)

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David Barclay blogs about the kind of change we can believe in…

We’ve become pretty immune to manifestos these days. I wonder how many people read any of the Parties’ manifestos before the General Election last year, let alone how many can remember what they said. Ed Miliband even carved half of his manifesto into a giant stone and people still didn’t take it seriously!

However if we’ve become jaded, we’d do well not to laugh off Jesus’ manifesto – in Luke 4. Fresh from his baptism and his time in the desert, having had 30 years to consider what his ministry might look like, Jesus chooses to kick it all off by making Isaiah’s words his own – “the Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release for the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.”

Why, for Lent, I’m taking up cleaning…

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profile-Tim-TOur Development Director Tim Thorlby blogs about the progress being made with our ethical cleaning company, Clean For Good…

If I say the word ‘cleaning’ to you, I wonder what your first reaction is?

For many, it’s a hassle, perhaps something we’d rather not be doing with our time. A growing number of people ‘contract out’ their cleaning at home now for this very reason – it’s something we’re often happy for someone else to do.

And yet we all clean.

When I get up in the morning, one of the first things I do is to have a shower. I clean my teeth. I put on clothes I’ve washed earlier in the week. Cleanliness is an important and essential part of our lives. More than that, it is something which actually brings satisfaction to us – the minty fresh breath after cleaning my teeth, the well-scrubbed face staring back at me in the mirror.

Into the desert… How Jesus’ example can transform us this Lent

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IMG_6892Our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny OA, helps to guide us into Lent with a brief reflection on Jesus’ time in the desert…

“Jesus left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit through the wilderness, being tempted there by the devil.” (Luke 4:1)

We sometimes speak about “going into the desert” as if it were some sort of “time out” or form of escapism in order to enjoy our spiritual life in a different way… and hopefully it becomes just that. But we need to remember that the desert is where Jesus encountered the “devil!”

Teaching (and learning from) social justice in Hong Kong

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Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.09.48Our Director, Angus Ritchie, blogs on our efforts to teach (and learn from) other parts of the world…

London is one of the most diverse cities on earth, in terms of ethnicity and of religion. That’s one reason community organising is such a valuable practice – as David Barclay has argued, if we are going to build relationships across deep difference, we need to first build “political friendships” on issues of common concern.

Community Organising in so many different cultures and communities creates some exciting international opportunities. When people from various diaspora communities encounter the practice, a question often asked is: “what might this have to offer in our home country?”

Why would God become homeless?

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Sarah HuttSarah Hutt, who is leading our work on housing, blogs on the astonishing reality of the incarnation – a God who is homeless…

In the glittery celebration of Christmas, we observe that Jesus breathed his first air in a grotty, forgotten stable but in reality it doesn’t often resonate with the mood of Christmas. Our cultural traditions urge us to do the opposite – we celebrate his birth with our families and communities in homes.

As Christmas moves onto Epiphany and exposes us to January (what a slog of a month!) perhaps now is the best time to take a second look at the stable and consider just how profound this act of God is.

Epiphany: Three vital lessons the Church can learn

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Our Director, Angus Ritchie, blogs on three simple ways the Epiphany can shape our ministry in 2016…

As many people return to work after a Christmas break, the Feast of the Epiphany – “the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles” – is a timely reminder that, for Christians, 25 December was the beginning of something, rather than just the end of a period of waiting for our presents.

There are three features of the Epiphany which are of particular relevance to the Church today, as we begin another year of ministry and mission…

To preach or not to preach? The Carol service dilemma…

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Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.09.48Our Director Angus Ritchie blogs on a topical debate…

Should clergy preach sermons at Carol Services?

I’ve just been reading the two sides of the argument – presented by the Bishop of Manchester and Ian Paul.

At Sunday’s Carol Service, my own church took a very Anglican middle way. We had some short interviews interspersed among the readings and carols. This innovation grew out of CTC’s own storytelling project – and Caitlin Burbridge’s excellent guide to how churches can use stories, which we published earlier in the year.

Advent: Come, Lord Jesus

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IMG_6892Our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny OA, brings us a short reflection for the start of Advent…

“If there are days in life when everything goes well, each one of us has also known the experience of the desert, or days when we have had to live through a stormy period when the future becomes a source of anxiety and questioning. We have had to “find a foothold” once again.

God the builder: a counter-cultural hope in the midst of the housing crisis

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Sarah HuttLast week, CTC published a new resource to help churches get to grips with the often intimidating issue of housing. Here, our Housing Coordinator, Sarah, reminds us that small beginnings might also be cause for great rejoicing…

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin, to see the plumb line in Zerubbabel’s hand.” Zechariah 4.10

‘Participate, don’t just commentate’: a slogan comes to life at the ‘Show Up Weekend’

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The 6th-8th of November saw the first ever ‘Show Up Weekend,’ hosted by Christians in Politics for over a hundred delegates – involved in or exploring a role in politics – from across the UK. Selina Stone attended the cross-party initiative on behalf of CTC, and explains what made it such a momentous event…

“Christians in Politics (CiP) seeks to equip Christians to engage positively in party politics and government by presenting the biblical basis for participation, as well as practical resources and networking opportunities. They are committed to building relationships across party lines, practising servant-leadership and recognising the importance of the Church. It sounded good to me!

Seeing Change: Get churches talking about money this Lent

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Tom Newbold photo cropCTC has been at the forefront of the Church’s fight for economic justice. The Church Credit Champions Network is part of CTC’s effort to engage churches will the difficult issues of money and debt. Tom Newbold is the CCCN coordinator for the Diocese of London. Here he talks about our Seeing Change course, an exciting resource to get churches talking about money. Why not use it this coming Lent?

“We’ve not yet reached Christmas, but with only three months to go, have you thought about your Lent course? The Seeing Change course has been developed to resource and equip churches to get thinking and talking about some difficult, but significant biblical topics: lending, credit, and debt. 

Seeing like the Saints: working together towards ‘the world as it should be’

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Fr_Simon_-_Version_2The Revd Dr Simon Cuff is a CTC Research Associate and Curate at Christ the Saviour, Ealing. This week, he delivered the 2015 Jellicoe Sermon at Magdalen College, Oxford. Delivered on All Saints Day, Fr Simon reflects on how we might see the world as the Saints did; as it is, and how it should be…

“Michelle Obama once told of an outing with Barack Obama early on in their relationship. The romantic Barack had taken her to a meeting of local community leaders he’d worked with after leaving college. The future President stood up, she said: ‘and spoke words that have stayed with me ever since. He talked about “The world as it is” and “The world as it should be,”‘ a distinction often made by community organisers in America, but also those working in this country through the diverse alliance of faith and civil society institutions known as Citizens UK.

Join in with justice: celebrating Living Wage week in your church

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Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.09.48CTC Director Angus Ritchie was one of the founding leaders in Citizens UK’s Living Wage campaign. Here he reflects on what has been accomplished – and how churches can get involved in Living Wage Week, November 1st-7th…

The roots of the Living Wage campaign are here in east London – where leaders from churches and mosques, schools and trade unions in TELCO (the local chapter of Citizens UK) met to work out how to tackle low pay together. The issue of poverty wages had come out from listening campaigns in their organisations, with many stories of parents having to choose between earning enough money for their families and having enough time for them.

For Christians, economics is in the end a question of stewardshipHow do we use the resources God has given us to enable all his children to grow into “life in all its fulness?” (John 10.10) Fulness of life involves having time for relationships – with God, with our families and with our neighbours. Poverty pay makes this impossible – because workers have to take second and even third jobs.

Building powerful congregations

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photo(10)After a successful pilot last year, CTC and Citizens UK have partnered to launch a second cohort of the Congregational Development Programme. The year-long process supports churches and leaders seeking to act in public life through broad-based Community Organising. Selina Stone explains what the programme is all about and what the leaders can expect…

Relational power is the foundation of broad-based community organising. Relationships are developed between individuals through one-to-one conversations and also between institutions through joint action for justice. However, in order for these connections to be truly powerful, individuals and institutions must be continually developed. The Congregational Development Programme has been created to help churches to renew the inner life of their congregations through community organising practices, so increasing their capacity to act in public life.

Love, grace and hope – Archbishop tells trainees they’re a credit to the Church

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ABC profOn September 29th, Archbishop Justin Welby commissioned 45 new Credit Champions from churches across the UK, at St George-in-the-East. Our Church Credit Champions Network is part of the Archbishop’s initiative on responsible borrowing and saving.

Here is some of what he had to say…

“Here we are for the commissioning of the Credit Champions. It’s humbling to see that because it is a movement of God’s Spirit among us.

To those of you who are shortly going to be commissioned as Church Credit Champions, you have heard God’s call, as the whole church has in recent years, to be a church of the poor for the poor; to seek justice and the common good for all in our society. You have set up credit union access points in your churches, brought new people onto the boards of local credit unions, supported people struggling with debt through signposting them to debt advice resources. You have seen the need, and you have met it with love, grace and hope.

Church Credit Champions Network: a way for fairer financing

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Tom Newbold photo cropTom Newbold has recently joined CTC as the co-ordinator for the Church Credit Champions Network (CCCN) in the Diocese of London. Here he reflects on the Church’s role in engaging with fundamental issues of money and debt…

When the Archbishop of Canterbury announced his ‘War on Wonga,’ it really excited me. Not only was it a sign that the Church was engaging with important issues, but also had real potential to make effective, positive change. It said to my non-Christian friend that the Church was doing something relevant and meaningful.

I’m passionate about seeing the Church thrive. Meaningful engagement with issues of exploitative lending and finance, to me, is evidence of life in the Church. It is a missional, energised Church that challenges injustice and stands up for those in society for whom the financial system isn’t fair. It’s evidence of a Church that is standing up for the oppressed and being good news to its many local communities.

Housing and Social Justice: building up people, not just bricks

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Sarah HuttSarah Hutt is a new addition to the CTC team, working on an exciting new housing initiative. Here, she reflects on why housing is a fundamental issue in our quest for social justice…

From the moment I began working on housing, I was completely convinced that it was… not that interesting.

I’ll be honest, I was 24. I cared about poverty, injustice and other emotive issues that tug at your heartstrings. Housing brought to mind dull conversations about settling down (why would you when you could travel the world?), men in brown suits talking about construction and a distinct lack of anything to do with people. Still, my previous job had been in pensions. It was a step up.

“Another world is possible” Reflections on the year-long Buxton Internship

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isaac mug 1Isaac Stanley recently finished the year-long Buxton Leadership Programme. Here he reflects on his time in Parliament, and in a number of Hackney churches, and what it means to work towards a better world…

“Another world is possible.” In this refusal to accept the world as it is, what would it take to get to this other world? What would it look like?

The last year as a Buxton intern, where half my time was spent in Westminster as a Parliamentary assistant and researcher with Frank Field MP, and the other half in Hackney as a church-based community organiser, has given me a rich opportunity to engage with an important tension in how to reach this other, better, world….

How you and your church can help ease the refugee crisis

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CTC’s Caitlin Burbridge blogs about how churches can play a decisive role in easing the refugee crisis…

This past few weeks we’ve seen an extraordinary change of mood in the British psyche. Church leaders, along with those of other faiths and none, are calling for us to capitalise on this and become a far more hospitable country for those fleeing conflict and persecution.

For the last year, churches in Citizens UK have been working on a campaign to resettle refugees in this country. Citizens UK and the campaign group Avaaz have together been gathering specific and concrete commitments from congregations, individuals, local councils and landlords to house and welcome refugees.

Turbulent times: learning lessons for the future of the Church

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Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 12.07.49CTC’s latest exciting publication, Deep Calls To Deep is about monasticism in east London and what we can learn from Religious Orders today. Dr Damian Howard, a Jesuit priest, academic and friend of CTC blogs for us about this new resource…

There can surely be no doubt that we are living through a time of transition from one historical period to another; it is as turbulent and traumatic as it is challenging. Such epochal shifts have always been marked by a re-imagining of the Christian life as radical discipleship, by a seeking-out of new ways to position oneself as a disciple in relation to the social mainstream, and by the quest for a more thorough integration of the ‘outward’ life of work and community with the ‘interior’ journey into the mystery of God. The sharp decline of the forms of church-going and Christian identity which have served us so well for over a century tells us that we in our turn will need to find something new, to experiment and to take risks, if we are to fashion forms of life which are truly adequate to the emerging context and which will bear lasting evangelical fruit.

Monasticism for the city: CTC’s new publication

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Our Director Angus Ritchie blogs on an exciting new publication and event taking place next week…

On Tuesday 1st September, you are warmly invited to join us, as we launch a pioneering new community, and a new report on what the wider church can learn from monasticism in east London. The two launches are deeply intertwined, as the shape of the new community has been influenced by the findings of our research.

The report is called ‘Deep calls to deep: monasticism for the city.’ One of its central messages is that monasticism is far more than a set of ideas. It is always embodied in living communities. For this reason, it is a complete misunderstanding to see monasticism as “other worldly.” Religious Orders teach the wider Church and society how to live – here and now – in the light of eternity. Those of us who are not called to the monastic life can learn most from it by face-to-face engagement with members of Religious Orders, and by considering how their wisdom and values can be embodied in the rhythms of our daily life.

2014-15 – So much to celebrate in our annual review!

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profile-AngusCTC’s Director, Angus Ritchie, blogs about some of the exciting projects contained in our annual review for 2014-15, Changing Places

One side of the CTC annual review tells the story of our activities in 2014-15. The other displays a great poster which partner churches can show off, containing the entire text of our “Just Church” report, and a striking quote about the Living Wage campaign. You can download the poster here!

When we chose this design, we had no idea the Chancellor was going to rebrand the minimum wage as a “national living wage” – a sign of the impact of more than a decade of community organising in inner-city churches, and one that we have been responding to in the press.

Cake and Conversation: A month of listening in east London

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FSCN0392Jess Scott was one of our Jellicoe Interns during July. Here she reflects on the joy of building relationships with people who have called east London home for all their lives…

Running away from approaching buzz bombs… strict priests disciplining unruly teenagers… children being born, partners dying… pubs closing… immigrants coming, a new Overground train station opening. These were just some of the stories I had the privilege of hearing over the last month – something I found unexpectedly hopeful. Memories have about them a kind of chaos – they tell of things going wrong, but things going right too. Ros told me of her husband’s financial difficulty, and in the next breath of the astonishing generosity of her neighbours. We live in a world, it appears, that is unfairly unjust, but unexpectedly kind too – a cause for hope.

Open Wide Ye Gates (and invite the community in!)

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Our Faith in Public Life Officer, David Barclay, blogs for us about one Tower Hamlets church which is thriving in a multicultural context…

If you’re having a debate about whether multiculturalism has failed in Britain, it’s usually not long until Tower Hamlets makes an appearance in the conversation. With rapid gentrification, political corruption and the recent tragedy of schoolgirls joining ISIS in Syria, the east London borough appears to be a microcosm of all the unease that modern Britain feels with itself. Against such a backdrop, it’s easy to lose hope that different religious and ethnic groups can truly forge a common life together.

Inter Faith Encounter in our Super Diverse City

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CTC logo markDr Julia Ipgrave is a Senior Research Fellow in the Institute for Education at the University of Warwick. Here she blogs for us about her new report, published by CTC…

This summer saw the launch of a new CTC report, Grassroots Theologies of Inter Faith Encounter. The publication was introduced in Hamburg at a conference on inter religious relations in north European cities organised by Hamburg University Academy of World Religions. The CTC report contributed perspectives from Londoners on their experiences and understandings of encounter with neighbours of different religions and cultures in this super diverse city. In accordance with the ethos of CTC the report seeks to break down the idea of ‘theology’ as the preserve of a particular group of experts by putting the voice of those who live and work in deprived and diverse communities at the heart of conversation in theology and public life in general.

Our Common Heritage: time to work together to tackle the Housing Crisis

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The Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, Bishop of Gloucester, blogs for us on the importance of the Church getting stuck in to help tackle the housing crisis…

Across the UK, we face a growing housing crisis. There is a serious lack of affordable housing in many different areas. All too often, housing is seen simply as a commodity to be bought and sold. In fact, homes are much more than that. The pattern of housing provision shapes the life of our communities for good or ill. A vision of the common good needs to be at the heart of housing policy.

Tackling the housing crisis: time to renew an old partnership

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Our Development Director, Tim Thorlby, blogs on the launch of our new report ‘Our Common Heritage’ which explores the potential for churches and housing associations to transform the lives of many…

In the UK today more than 5 million people rent their home from a housing association. These not-for-profit voluntary sector housing bodies are a feature of almost every community in the country. They now provide more than half of the UK’s affordable homes for rent, with local councils providing the rest.

It was not always so.

Pentecost: When the spirit comes, the world is transformed!

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Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.09.48In place of our weekly blog, we bring you a sermon preached by our Director, Canon Dr Angus Ritchie, at Magdalen College, Oxford, for Pentecost. In it he covers the Holy Spirit, Social Justice and one of our heroes… Fr Basil Jellicoe.

“Bishops are often told to stick to spiritual matters, and to stay out of politics and economics. Such advice is half right: the Church and its leaders certainly should focus on to spiritual matters. After all, that’s why Bishops get to wear such funny hats. The curious shape of the mitre is modelled on the flames of the Spirit that descended on the Apostles at Pentecost. They remind us that Bishops are “spiritual” leaders, and indeed that the mission of the whole Church is a “spiritual” one.

The problem comes when we assume that political and economic questions – the quality of people’s housing, the wages they are paid, the way a country treats refugees – are somehow not “spiritual” issues.

Clean for Good – the new London Cleaning Company using Justice to shift the grime…

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Our Development Director Tim Thorlby blogs about an exciting new project taking off in the City of London, with a little help from CTC…

Last September I blogged about a new ‘ethical cleaning company’ that we were helping a City church to set up. Well, six months of hard work later I’m pleased to say that London’s newest cleaning company is nearly ready to launch!

The vision for ‘Clean for Good’ is simple:

We will provide an excellent cleaning service to customers in London but we will do so in a socially responsible way. We will pay our cleaners properly and treat them decently.

Easter: run to the tomb!

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Here we share a beautiful short Eastertide reflection from the Assumptionist order in France which has been translated by our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny – herself an Assumptionist…

Run … Run … Run …!

Mary Magdalen ran. Peter ran. The other disciple ran. The stone rolled back from the empty tomb caused everyone to run. “We dont know where they have put Him.” The question is posed and the mystery remains. The gospels tell us nothing of the actual moment of Resurrection. They only report the experience of men and women who had followed Jesus, and had discovered that all did not finish at the cross and the tomb.

Easter: Liberation from oppression and injustice!

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Screen Shot 2015-02-18 at 11.09.48Our Director, Canon Dr Angus Ritchie blogs on Easter and how it changes everything…

The Church always seems rather better at keeping Lent than keeping Easter. We have forty days of Lent – and many people give up or take up something for the season. But after Easter Day, all too many of us simply go on holiday. (I’ll be away for the next six days, since you ask…)

What would it mean to keep the season of Easter as fully as we keep the season of Lent?

Wasting our life on God – a reflection for Holy Week

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IMG_4481Theo Shaw, who co-ordinates our Church Credit Champions Network in Southwark, blogs for us on John 12: 1-11…

As we journey through the most sacred week in the Christian calendar, we as Christians are encouraged to go through various emotions. It’s a week filled with a range of feelings, as we move from the adulation of Palm Sunday to the desolation of Good Friday and onto the joy of Easter.

One of the reasons I love Holy Week is that it takes us on a journey and we are encouraged to go on this journey in the various services we attend in our various churches. I particularly love the hymns during this season, so to begin our staff Bible study this week, we listened to the hymn ‘When I survey the Wondrous Cross’ by Isaac Watts, before reading our Gospel passage from John 12: 1-11.

Breaking out of the Westminster Bubble – the Buxton 180 Club is launched!

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Our Faith in Public Life Officer, David Barclay, blogs on the latest stage of our plans to break open the Westminster Bubble…

Monday 23rd March saw the first ever Buxton Parliamentary Reception, celebrating our unique Leadership Programme which is helping a new generation of young people to break out of the ‘Westminster bubble’ and reconnect politics with inner-city communities and the local church. The Buxton Leadership Programme is a year-long scheme which gives talented young leaders a combination of time in Parliament working for an MP or Peer alongside a church-based community organising placement.

Politics is broken. Help us play a part in fixing it…

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Co-ordinator of our Buxton Leadership Programme, David Barclay, blogs on how we’re helping to reshape the way politics is done – and how you can join in!

Politics in the UK is broken. As politicians and parties vie for attention, a recent survey suggested that almost half the population is now so disinterested, they haven’t even registered that there is an election this year. Less than one in five of us now expect politicians to tell the truth, and most of us trust bankers and estate agents more than our Westminster elite.

When the spirit leads us into the desert: a Lenten reflection

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IMG_6892We begin Lent with another brief but profound Lenten reflection from our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny OA…

To live Lent is to allow ourselves be led by the Spirit into the desert – a place of passage rich with potential if, like Christ, we consent to be who we are: children who receive their life from the Father, marked with a certain void but aspiring towards fullness.

When God addresses Moses “Speak to the whole assembly of the sons of Israel and say to them, “Be holy, for I, the Lord your God am holy,” the invitation might frighten us were it not for the fact that it is followed by a list of things we should avoid in order not to hurt our neighbour and thereby arrive at holiness (Lev.19, 1-2, 11-18).

Church Credit Champions Network gets started – in Liverpool!

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CTC logo markJulia Webster, Network Co-ordinator for the Church Credit Champions Network in Liverpool blogs about the exciting expansion of our work bringing together churches and community finance providers…

I think that we are all aware, on a superficial level, that much ‘good work’ goes on in many churches across the country. But it is incredibly powerful to actually visit projects and speak with the many unsung heroes who truly put their faith into action on a daily basis. I have also found the willingness of others to share their experiences and to offer their help and commitment to the Church Credit Champions Network to be inspirational.

After Paris: Christians, Muslims (& others) and the Common Good

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profile-AndyOur Communications Officer Andy Walton blogs about our work both before and in the aftermath of the Paris attacks…

It’s impossible to fully make sense of mass murder. Whatever reason is given, the sheer horror of the murder of 12 French people in their own capital city will always be tinged with the simple thought… why? As I mulled over the events in Paris with colleagues, our minds turned quickly back to an event we’d been part of exactly a week prior to the shootings.

Why I’m passionate about the Church & Community Finance…

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IMG_4481Theo Shaw recently joined the CTC staff team to help expand our work linking up churches and Credit Unions. Here she tells the story of why she’s personally so passionate about making credit work for people…

On Monday 27th October 2014, I was proud to walk with members of the Copleston Centre Church in Peckham to deliver nearly 150 membership applications to the London Mutual Credit Union. It was amazing to see the local community so involved in actively promoting London Mutual, with people from both the congregation and local community taking part in the march.

The church has clearly set an excellent example by signing up its own members and others in the local community, which I hope will resonate throughout the Diocese of Southwark and beyond. My prayer is that other churches will be encouraged to also take active steps to address financial issues affecting their communities, as well as promoting ethical savings. It is only through this approach that we can collectively begin to create long lasting change, re-establish a saving culture that benefits all members of society, and ultimately create a financially just system that reflects God’s command to love our neighbours as ourselves.

Asking the big question at the start of 2015…

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Stephen Atkinson was one of our Jellicoe interns in the summer of 2014. Here, he blogs about one of the biggest questions of all…

Context: For the last few months, I have been investigating the social-economic-political issue of food waste. Many, many questions arise – why does food waste exist? what can we do about it? etc. etc. But one question stands out from the crowd…

I have been captivated by this one question recently. I have called it ‘the meta-question’, the question which encompasses most other questions. And it goes something like this: to what extent are we to hope for and expect a better world on its way, and to what extent are we to ‘grin and bear it’ and learn of God’s love within our suffering world? Put another way; to what extent is the gospel of Jesus a message of systemic societal change, and to what extent is it a message of perseverance and resilience in the face of suffering? And, of course, everyone knows the answer. It’s both. It’s both to the ‘social transformation’ camp, and it’s both to the ‘resilient heart’ camp. But both means quite different things in these two camps. It is really difficult not to endorse one answer over the other. And I am choosing, after a lot of thought, to endorse the latter, hard-nosed, ‘both’.

He’s behind you! Advent and Pantomime in east London…

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Nick Coke on the assemblyOur good friend Captain Nick Coke from Salvation Army Stepney offers us his thoughts on Advent… and Pantomime!

Back in the hazy days of summer, our small church community decided to take on another activity for the Advent season. A community pantomime! As we lay under the summer sun in Stepney Green Park on our annual picnic it seemed a great idea. Yes, we would be busy – after all, we’d still do our carol services, nativity at Stepney City Farm, the Christmas lunch, fundraising with the brass band and various parties – but it would be worth it. (Oh yes it would!)

Two weeks ago, sitting in a meeting with Christian leaders I announced that our panto was approaching fast. Handing around leaflets for ‘Aladdin Trouble’ (see what we did there?) I added that all were welcome. It was then that I heard the words – ‘will there be any spiritual content?’ Looking back I suppose there were a thousand different responses I could have given. But in the moment, and slightly embarrassed by the setting, I failed to take it on. So here’s my chance to make a proper response.

Advent, Hackney style…

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profile-CaitlinCo-ordinator of our eastendspeaks programme, Caitlin Burbridge, writes about the build up to Christmas as a community organiser in Hackney…

Advent. It’s a time for waiting.

But what does waiting actually look like? What are we waiting for? It’s interesting to think that as the Shepherds were watching and waiting, they became expectant. When they were watching their sheep an angel showed up, and just as they were walking to Bethlehem to meet Jesus, they were expectant of something good (if perhaps a little terrified?). In waiting and watching we are open to discovering God in the lives of those around us.

It’s been a busy time for Hackney Citizens this last few months. We’ve been gathering in small clusters across the borough to train people in how to listen to one another, to listen to those in our congregations, and in our schools, and also to those who live in our neighbourhoods. I’ve been considering the significance of this.

No room at the inn? Let us buy you one…

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Our Development Director, Tim Thorlby, blogs on Christmas, housing, and how you can help us change the world…

“Christmas is built upon a beautiful and intentional paradox; that the birth of the homeless should be celebrated in every home.” G.K. Chesterton

Christmas is traditionally a time of generosity. Even Scrooge eventually got the hang of it. As families and friends gather together to celebrate, we are encouraged to think of those who may not be so fortunate. Homelessness in particular resonates at Christmas. As GK Chesterton observed, this is not just because it’s hard to celebrate Christmas without a home, but because Jesus himself was born without one.

Living counter-culturally: An Advent reflection…

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IMG_6892Following on from her very popular Lentern reflection, our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny OA, brings us a short reflection for the start of Advent…

If ever the liturgy invited us to live counter-culturally, it must surely be during the season of Advent. In an age of speed-reading, texting and immediate response, we are encouraged to re-read Scripture texts reminding us of our ancestors in the faith who really knew how to wait in hope.

Organising Ordinands: CTC teaches at leading theological college…

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photo(10)Selina Stone is a Church-based Community Organiser at CTC. Earlier this month, she was part of the team teaching community organising to final-year ordinands at St Mellitus College

CTC and Citizens UK were delighted to be invited to deliver six teaching sessions at St Mellitus College on the theology and practice of churches’ engagement in community organising.

For many students, community organising was a brand new concept. Stefan Baskerville, lead organiser for West London used the first session to teach the students the some of the fundamental principles and practices of Citizens UK. The students wrestled with the idea of ‘power’ as something to be welcomed (when it is ‘power with’ and not ‘power over’ others).

We’re winning! Just Money campaign taking steps forward…

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profile-DavidDavid Barclay, our Faith in Public Life Officer, blogs on another great week for our Just Money campaign…

The last month or so has been quite a time for CTC’s work on money – with action, success and new initiatives coming thick and fast!

Firstly, the Financial Conduct Authority announced the level of the cap on the cost of credit which will come into place from January. This will limit the amount that payday lenders can charge, and make sure that nobody will ever have to pay back more than double what they initially borrowed. This is a huge step forward in the fight against exploitative lending, and one that CTC has been calling for as part of Citizens UK since right back in 2009! On the Today Programme that day the Bishop of Stepney explained that those in the Church should celebrate this win without thinking that it will by itself solve the problems of debt and financial insecurity in our communities. He referenced CTC’s Church Credit Champions Network (of which he is the Chair of the Steering Group) as an example of how the Church is not just fighting against bad practice in the financial sector but also promoting more ethical alternatives like credit unions.

CTC’s 10 years. Reflecting… And looking forward!

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Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 16.19.18Our good friend Bishop Moses Owusu-Sekyere of the Apostolic Pastoral Congress preached at our 10th anniversary celebration last week (28th Oct). He was joined by the Bishop of Stepney and our chaplain Sr Josephine Canny as ecumenical representatives in a packed out church.

We hosted the event at St George-in-the-East – where our new offices were based. Along with some great stories of our work over the last decade, we celebrated the new offices and our change of name.

Following on from the reading Matthew 13, Bishop Moses gave a short reflection, as follows…

Much still to do, but much to celebrate on International Credit Union day…

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profile-DavidOur Faith in Public Life Officer, David Barclay, blogs about our expanding and exciting work with Credit Unions. Today (16th October) is International Credit Union Day…

After a high-profile launch in May, CTC has been getting on with the vital task of building a network of churches engaging on issues of money, credit and debt in their community and working with local community finance providers like credit unions.

The project, called the Church Credit Champions Network, is part of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s initiative on responsible credit and saving, started after his high-profile comments on Wonga and other payday lenders.

First Missional House opens – Bishop of London visits to give his blessing…

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profile-Tim-TCTC’s Development Director Tim Thorlby blogs on the celebration for our first London Missional Housing Bond, and the launch of the second…

Earlier this week we were delighted to welcome the Bishop of London to Bethnal Green to celebrate the London Missional Housing Bond.

What began as an idea a couple of years ago came to fruition as the Bishop visited the property – which we hope will be the first of many.

We raised nearly £400,000 from individuals, churches and purchased the house in Bethnal Green, which is now home to two missional workers. Now, the second Bond is seeking £2m in crowdfunded social investment for the provision of affordable rented housing for key church missional workers.

A new chapter at CTC…

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Our Director, Canon Dr Angus Ritchie, blogs about a new season at CTC…

As the summer finally begins to turn to autumn, it’s definitely a time of transition for us – with a new name and a new location. Behind these are some deeper changes, as we focus more intently on a few core areas of work.

The name: CTC now stands for the “Centre for Theology and Community” (rather than the “Contextual Theology Centre”). This is a small shift, but emphasises that our focus is not primarily academic, nor are we a “think tank.” We grow out of the life and mission of inner city churches, and our aim is to equip them to transform their communities.

The location: We are very grateful to the Royal Foundation of St Katharine for a decade of hospitality – and their generous financial support for our Congregational Development work in the year ahead. But we are keen to move to a location more obviously rooted in the neighbourhood – and to free up space at St Katharine’s for their growing retreat ministry.

Community Organising: One church’s story of success, in a year!

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Revd Dr Simon Cuff, Assistant Curate at Christ the Saviour, Ealing and a Research Associate at CTC blogs on the different Community Organising has made in just a year in his parish…

It’s hard to believe that it’s been a year since our first foray into the art of Community Organising. In September 2013, Andy Walton from CTC introduced the concept of community organising and led a listening session at our ‘Kids in the Community’ youth group. We listened together to the needs of our young people and their concerns about the local area. It was here that we first heard how our teenagers often felt unsafe travelling to and from school on public transport.

Fast-forward to the end of April this year, our young people had shared their concerns with those of students from the nearby William Perkin Church of England High School, and we were all gathered at a West London Citizens accountability assembly.  That evening, the candidates for leader of the local council were asked to do four things. One of them was to host and fund meetings with schoolchildren from across the borough and key stakeholders in public transport.

Cleaning up: CTC helps ethical business scoop Dragon’s Den award

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profile-Tim-TCTC’s Development Director Tim Thorlby blogs on a promising project at a City of London church…

Our latest project brings together an unlikely mix of big business, local government, an ancient city church and the communities of east London. The connection? Dirt and rubbish.

The story starts with the Parish of St Andrew-by-the-Wardrobe – a 13th century institution in the City of London, now home to decidedly 21st Century global businesses like Baker & McKenzie. The new Vicar, Revd Guy Treweek, has been working to re-establish the church as a base for serving the community. So, as well as regular church activities, it also now home to “Suited and Booted”, a charity which provides smart clothes and interview training for the long-term unemployed and the church has also recently become a collection point for the Hackney Foodbank.

Citizens Hong Kong: Community Organising across the world

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profile-AngusCTC Director Angus Ritchie is spending August in Hong Kong – where he is helping to train local leaders in community organising. In this blog, he reflects on the opportunities and challenges of organising in new countries and contexts…

Broad-based community organising (as practiced by Citizens UK and CTC) has its roots in the Chicago of the 1930s.  As times have changed, and as it has been taken up in different contexts, it has had to adapt.  But the core principles remain the same: building a more relational culture; being positive about power (so that people in the poorest communities build relational power – ‘power with’ – as a counterweight to the dominant power – ‘power over’ – exercised by a privileged minority); developing grassroots leaders through action, and through all of this, strengthening the institutions of civil society.

Inspired by the experience of the diaspora communities in London, there is now interest in broad-based organising in a number of African countries.

Near Neighbours Grants Fund re-opens

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profile-Tim-COur Near Neighbours Co-ordinator, Revd Tim Clapton, blogs on the new money available to apply for in eastern London…

Near Neighbours has been running successfully for the past three years. Here at CTC, we’ve had the pleasure of co-ordinating the training and grants to the diverse communities of eastern London. So many amazing small projects have been boosted by receiving funding.

That’s why we’re delighted that £1.8 million in small grants has been made available over the next two years, for diverse local communities to develop relationships and transform neighbourhoods for the better.

This money is split between various centres across the country, offering financial support to gather local people to make a positive and lasting impact in their communities.

Making the most of our assets? The new London Churches Property Forum

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profile-Tim-TOur Development Director Tim Thorlby blogs on the first meeting of London’s newest Forum – the London Churches Property Forum – which the Contextual Theology Centre helped to set up. The Forum will help churches to network and share good practice about (and maybe begin to co-ordinate) how they manage their properties…

In May, in a packed room, a brand new Forum was established, organised by the Contextual Theology Centre and its partners. The London Churches Property Forum brings together the key property decision-makers from nearly every major Christian denomination in London, as well as a number of Christian Housing Associations and other Christian charities with an interest in property. The Forum provides an opportunity to share good practice and co-ordinate decision-making and even – eventually – investment.

Staff pilgrimage leaves us inspired…

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profile-SusanneSusanne Mitchell, the Co-Ordinator of our Presence and Engagement Network, blogs about a recent staff away day – to a place with a long spiritual history…

On a Saturday midway through Lent, CTC staff boarded the 9.00 from Liverpool Street station bound for Norwich: home of Julian, Anchoress, writer and mystic.

Led by our Chaplain, Sr Josephine Canny, we sat in a cell-like chapel and learned about this remarkable 14th century plague survivor famous for her “Revelations of Divine Love.” This is indeed a prayerful, peaceful, ‘thin’ place. Unlike Nuns, Anchoresses remained in the world – their cells were designed with a window into the main church, where Mass was said, another window to communicate with a maid who saw to their practical needs and, most importantly, a window to the outside world. It was here that people came with their anxieties and requests for prayer.

Success! Money raised for first house by our Missional Housing Bond

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profile-Tim-TOur Development Director Tim Thorlby blogs on a major milestone reached in our first social investment project. In 2013, a new partnership of Christian organisations, including the Contextual Theology Centre, launched the first ever London Missional Housing Bond. We can now reveal that this first Bond successfully raised nearly £400,000 of capital, and that we have selected the location for our first ‘missional house’…

The London Missional Housing Bond has been developed and launched by a partnership of Christian organisations – the Contextual Theology Centre, the London Diocesan Fund (Diocese of London), the Eden Network and Affordable Christian Housing.

The Bond was launched in 2013 by the Bishop of London. Nearly £400,000 has been secured in investments from individuals, churches and charitable trusts. Investors put their money in for up to five years, in return for which they earn up two per cent interest per year.

The GP Practice caring for the whole person

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profile-HelenHelen Moules, the Co-ordinator of the Shoreditch Group, blogs about an exciting pilot project on whole person care taking place in east London…

If you are a church or community leader you are warmly invited to join us at The Mission Practice on Thursday 20 March from 8:30am – 9:30am for a networking breakfast, with a focus on sharing the progress of a whole person care project currently being piloted in Bethnal Green.

The Mission Practice is a Christian-run GP surgery in Bethnal Green. It has been successfully operating for many years, but recently decided to branch out more in the the developing area of ‘whole person care.’ The idea is very simple – to effectively enable people to live “life in all its fullness.”

For the poor or of the poor?

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profile-Tim-TOur Development Director Tim Thorlby blogs on our latest seminar for local church leaders which looked at how churches can best serve and include homeless people…

This week, a team from West London Mission helped us to explore two important questions. Firstly, how can churches include homeless people, not just serve their material needs? And how can Christian charities retain their distinctive identity and serve the spiritual needs of their ‘clients’ without losing their professional credentials? These are important issues that affect many churches and Christian charities.

The latest of our new programme of seminars ‘Theology for the Local Church’. These seminars – which are hosted at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine in east London – aim to equip churches and Christian charities with the latest theology and practice on a key issue and then to provide the space for discussion and reflection.

Gangs and Street Violence: theology, practice and the local Church

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profile-Tim-TOur Development Director Tim Thorlby blogs on what happened at the first of the Centre’s new programme of seminars for local church leaders.

The seminar tackled the challenge of ‘gangs and street violence’ and also saw the launch of our latest report Taking Back the Streets: Citizens’ responses to the 2011 riots.

On Tuesday 12th November, the Centre welcomed a diverse group of local church leaders and practitioners from across London to take part in the first of our new programme of seminars on ‘Theology for the Local Church’.  These seminars – which are hosted at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine in east London – aim to equip local churches with the latest theology and practice on a key issue and then to provide the space for discussion and reflection.

What’s Theology got to do with Children’s Welfare?

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profile-AndyOur Communications Officer Andy Walton blogs on the Children’s Society’s annual lecture which was delivered by our Director as part of our ongoing partnership…

CTC Director Canon Dr Angus Ritchie gave this year’s annual Edward Rudolf Lecture for the Children’s Society. One of the key questions he asked the audience to consider was: “how did we make theology so boring?”

Sowing the seeds of community…

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profile-Tim-CNear Neighbours Co-ordinator Revd Tim Clapton blogs about a group of HIV positive African men who’ve benefited from a grant and the support offered by the programme…

‘Near Neighbours’ is a Government funded initiative being delivered through the Church Urban Fund. Our aim is simple – to resource groups of local people to enable them to develop relationships between people of different faiths and ethnicities. We hope these relationships will develop into some kind of local social action or civic engagement. As the Co-ordinator of Near Neighbours in Eastern London I have met some amazing people and visited some fantastic projects. There are many I could choose to share here, but I will focus on Boniface and his gardening project.

The New Cosmopolitanism: Global Migration and the Building of a Common Life

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THE NEW COSMOPOLITANISM: A conference considering GLOBAL MIGRATION AND THE BUILDING OF A COMMON LIFE.
CTC’s Research Co-ordinator Caitlin Burbridge writes about this exciting event taking place on 14/15 October.

The global expansion in migration means large cities like London are becoming home to new waves of migrants. This change has instigated new ideas about social interaction, religion and cultural identity. In October, the Contextual Theology Centre will be partnering with the Kroc Institute of International Peace Studies to host an interdisciplinary conference sponsored by the Contending Modernities project.
The conference, which grows out of our work in East London, offers:

Insipration, behind the shed door…

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september 2012 001 (3)One of our Near Neighbours projects in east London had a fright recently – the shed where the Clapton Park community garden’s equipment was being stored had been found open. Project co-ordinator Rob Elliot takes up the story…

Sometimes you wonder if the community work you are doing is worthwhile. Are people getting it? Are they owning it? It can be hard to get a tangible answer to these kind of questions and then you accidentally leave a shed open… and are surprised to see an answer staring you in the face.
A couple of months ago I left the shed open, full of tools and equipment. The first I learned of it was when I returned a few days later to find a new padlock on it. ‘Oh no!’ I thought someone has seized the shed, taken the tools, maybe even moved in… my mind raced. In a few seconds I thought of all the people I knew who may have a reason to use it for their own ends. The young kid who had threatened to claim it as his own, the local businessman who had asked if he could store stock in it, the women who had seemed so territorial.

Stop Da Violence: The Concert 2013

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DanOne of the Centre’s church-based Community Organisers, Daniel Stone, reports on the event that marked the end of his placement with ARC Pentecostal Church in Forest Gate, east London, and the beginning of the Charlotte Polius Awards…

 

In 2005, Charlotte Polius, was fatally stabbed while attending a friend’s 16th birthday celebration. Following her tragic death, members of ‘A Radical Church,’ chose to channel their pain by coming together with one voice to declare amongst their peers “STOP DA VIOLENCE”.

Through an annual anti-violence concert, school workshops and recording studio, the team of volunteers at Stop Da Violence have worked to promote a culture of peace and understanding within their community.

This year’s concert witnessed the launch of the Charlotte Polius Award, designed to honour individuals and organisations in the London Borough of Newham and beyond who are working to help young people in the community, especially those who could be in danger of being affiliated with gangs. The award winners were nominated by members of the east London community and were selected by a panel of three judges: Stephen Timms MP, ARC Pastor Peter Nembhard and Mary Foley, Charlotte’s mother.

Hackney Foodbank: one year on…

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In this post Helen Moules from the Shoreditch Group recounts the highs and lows of the last year as the Hackney Foodbank has dealt with well over 1,000 clients. See above for a video telling the story of the foodbank.

The Shoreditch Group, a project supported by the Contextual Theology Centre, is an informal, ecumenical network of local church leaders who seek to collaborate, sharing capacity and resources to address needs, predominantly across Shoreditch, Bethnal Green, South Hackney and South Islington…

 

Local churches were galvanised by the desire to address food poverty in Hackney, based on the clear needs being witnessed by churches throughout the borough. The Indices of Multiple Deprivation, which draws together a range of deprivation indicators, ranks Hackney as the second most deprived Local Authority in the country. According to the Campaign to End Child Poverty, 44% of children in Hackney live in poverty. This is the third highest level of child poverty in England. With the profile and need for foodbanks gathering pace across the country, It was more a question of when rather than if a foodbank would open in Hackney.

From Winchester To Brixton (via Oxford)…

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CTC logo markIn this blog David Lawrence, a Philosophy, Politics and Economics student at Oxford University, describes his month-long Jellicoe internship spent with us. Having returned home to Winchester, he plans to spend more time in London.

The internships are paid at Living Wage and provide the opportunity for students to learn about community organising with one of our partner churches. This year we welcomed ten interns…

 

“The world is not like Winchester,” said a South London priest I met last week; “it is, in many ways, a much richer place.” There’s no doubting that a month in Brixton and Kennington has submerged me into church communities bursting with life, and opened my eyes to a world of diversity and culture which I never would have encountered in Winchester or Oxford.

Sunday’s readings: God & Mammon

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This Sunday’s lectionary readings relate to a key issue in the headlines – the Christian attitude to wealth and economics.  Centre Director Angus Ritchie reflects on their message for our churches today:

In both the Common Worship and Roman Catholic lectionaries, this Sunday’s Gospel reading is Luke 12.13-21, with verses from Ecclesiastes 1 and 2 offered as the ‘related’ Old Testament passage and Colossians 3.1-11 (or 3.1-5,9-11) as the Epistle.

Our attitudes to wealth and possessions lie at the heart of all three readings. They are likely to be on many of our congregations’ minds – some because of the financial pressures they are living with each day, other because the Church’s teaching on these issues is so much in the headlines – with Archbishop Justin’s attack on exploitative lending contribution, Archbishop Sentamu’s decision to chair a Living Wage Commission and Pope Francis’ emphasis on the needs of the poorest in society.  While many commentators have welcomed these interventions, The Independent has demanded that Church leaders stick to ‘spiritual concerns’ and stay out of these political debates.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be?

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After Archbishop Justin’s intervention into the debate last week, CTC Fellow Luke Bretherton blogs on “Scripture, usury and the call for responsible lending.”  An earlier version of this article appeared in CTC’s essay collection Crunch Time: A Call to Action

Luke is Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics at Duke Divinity School, and author of Christianity and Contemporary Politics: The Conditions and Possibilities of Faithful Witness

Neither a borrower nor a lender be’?   

Scripture, usury and the call for responsible lending [1]

In response to the recent debate about usury inspired by Archbishop Justin Welby’s ‘war on Wonga’ I set out here the theological rationale for why, historically, the church took a severe stance towards the practice of usury.  This background piece – a kind of briefing note for sermons – gives an overview of the treatment of usury in Scripture and in the Christian tradition more generally.

Usury in Scripture

The Bible has a great deal to say about the power of money.  In particular, it is quite specific about how we should treat debt and lending.  A primary narrative template for understanding salvation is given in the book of Exodus. The central dramatic act of this story is liberation from debt slavery in Egypt.  The Canonical structure of Genesis and Exodus in the ordering of Scripture makes this point.  The book of Genesis closes with the story of Joseph.  At the end of this story, although saved from famine, the Israelites, along with everyone else in Egypt, are reduced to debt slavery.  [2] This is a ‘voluntary’ process entered into in order to receive the grain from Pharaoh’s stores that the people had given to Pharaoh for safe keeping in the first place.  [3]After several rounds of expropriation the people finally come before Joseph and say: ‘There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our lands. … Buy us and our land in exchange for food. We with our land will become slaves to Pharaoh.’  [4] The first chapter of Exodus opens with a new Pharaoh who takes advantage of the Israelites debt slavery to exploit them.  So the Israelites were not prisoners of war or chattel slaves, they were debt slaves undertaking corvée labour on behalf of the ruling elite.  [5] It is this condition that the Israelites are redeemed from.  As David Baker notes the verb ‘go’ in ancient Hebrew is used for both the exodus and for the seventh-year release of debt slaves.  [6] The linkage between liberation from Egypt and debt slavery is made explicit in Leviticus 25.35-46. In this text the prohibitions against usury and limits placed on debt slavery through the institution of jubilee are grounded in the relationship established between God and the people through the act of liberation from Egypt.

Jellicoe internship – a summer well spent!

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Our internship manager Tom Daggett blogs about yet another successful cohort of Jellicoe interns making their way through a month of community organising…

 

The 2013 Jellicoe internship has come to an end with another group of young people having taken part in our  community organising summer internship programmes. Our church-based interns – from a range of educational institutions, and different backgrounds – return to their homes having been immersed in local churches and communities in east and south London.

Our interns have used the tools of community organising to empower local people to talk about the need for change in their areas. For some of this year’s intake, this has meant working on the CTC/London Citizens-led campaign ‘Just Money’, of particular relevance given the recent media interest in ‘payday’ lenders and financial justice. For others, this has meant exploring the staggering issues surrounding unaffordable housing and the impact on family and community life. Also on the agenda has been food poverty – its causes, effects, and solutions in relation to Tower Hamlets Foodbank. Still others have animated intergenerational dialogue between school students and pensioners.

Director preaches at Hong Kong Cathedral

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The Centre’s Director, Canon Dr Angus Ritchie, is currently writing and researching while on sabbatical in Hong Kong.

While there he was invited to preach at St John’s Cathedral. The text of this morning’s sermon is below…

As many of you know, Cantonese is a very difficult language to learn.  Two years ago, I married into a Cantonese family.  On honeymoon, my wife and I came to Hong Kong, and there was a celebration banquet.  I wanted to say a few words of Cantonese, but this was a dangerous idea. When I tried to say doh tze dai ga (which is ‘thank you everyone’) what I actually said was doh tze dai ha (which is apparently ‘thank you big prawn’).
Even when you get the words right, it is impossible to make a complete translation between English and Cantonese.  For example, no English word quite captures the Cantonese yee(t)-naow – it really means “a joyous, noisy gathering, which might be in the home or outside, might be a party or a parade.”  This is an example of a more general problem of translating between tongues – words in different languages often have slightly different meanings.  So we face this  same problem when we the Bible is translated into English or Cantonese, Mandarin or Tagalog.  The translation never quite captures the meaning and nuance of the original Hebrew or the Greek.

Citizens come together to take action on payday lending

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profile-DavidDavid Barclay, the Centre’s Faith in Public Life Officer blogs about the recent day of action he co-ordinated for the Just Money Campaign.

Just Money is a joint initiative of CTC and Citizens UK which seeks to make financial institutions work better for our communities.

 

On 1st July every year in Trafalgar Square in central London, there’s a big celebration of Canada Day. But this year, it was a memorable day for groups elsewhere as well. Students, churchgoers and other members of Citizens UK came together to take action on the payday lending problems blighting their communities.

On the same day as the Government held a summit on whether the UK needs more regulation of the payday sector, the Just Money campaign was out in force in Bethnal Green, Brixton, East Ham and Nottingham to point to Canada as an example to follow.

The Bethnal Green Team

The Bethnal Green Team

Our research had found that in Canada payday lenders operate under a strict Code of Practice, which forbids them from extending people’s loans (known as ‘rolling over’) and from selling individuals multiple loans. The Code also stipulates that there should be information available in stores about free debt advice and money management support. Some companies in the UK, like The Money Shop, also operate in Canada where they happily abide by these rules.

Near Neighbours continues to impress…

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profile-Tim-CRevd Tim Clapton, Director of the Near Neighbours programme, blogs about a recent visit from Eric Pickles. The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government came to visit some of our projects in south London and, (once Tim had found the right car!) the visit was a huge success…

 

 

There are times when we launch upon a course of action only to know immediately it is the wrong thing to do. So it was when Eric Pickles came to visit the parish of St Giles, Camberwell last week.

Revd Nick Gorge was waiting at the church gate along with the Director of Near Neighbours, Liz Carnelley. They were ready to welcome the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government as he arrived and to bring him into the St Giles Centre.  I felt sure I had spotted his car – a black Jaguar with tinted windows – the sort used by cabinet ministers. But it had missed the turning so I chased after it while it laboured in the slow traffic. I found myself bending over, jogging by the side of the car – tapping lightly on the blacked out windows, gesticulating that he has missed the turning. Who knows what was going on inside that executive limousine?  Perhaps phone calls were being hurriedly made calling backup, safety catches were being eased off revolvers. At that point, my phone rang and I was told Mr Pickles was actually in a Range Rover and would be with us in a few minutes. Oops.

Woolwich: a personal reflection of hope among the despair

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profile-Tim-CThe Co-ordinator of our Near Neighbours programme, Revd Tim Clapton reflects on events in Woolwich ahead of the EDL march there…

Last Wednesday the community of Woolwich and the world were stunned at the murder of a young man. Thankfully murder is not a common feature of our lives in London, but sadly it does appear all-too regularly. A week does not go by without a report of yet another young man stabbed to death in what is often described as a ‘gang murder.’ Each one a tragedy, mourned and never forgotten by a family, each one an indication that something is profoundly fractured in us and in our communities.

But there was something different this time. It was a young man serving as a soldier, safe in his homeland with a waiting wife and family. It was different because we all witnessed the aftermath of the event on TV. We saw how these horrific events unfolded amongst ordinary people. Some pushed shopping trolleys past the scene, perhaps without noticing or hurrying away with fear.

But we also saw the ordinary passer-by speaking calm words of challenge to one with weapons still in hand. She reached out into his hatred, saying in her own words that darkness will never overwhelm us. We know also that local women held the body, a pieta, as a proxy for his own mother.

Gospel reflections for 7 & 14 April

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The Gospel reading  for Sunday 7 April is John 20.19-31

‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you… receive the Holy Spirit’

After the bewildering events of Holy Week and Easter, no wonder we find the disciples huddled in an upper room!  This Gospel is about the Risen Lord’s effect on his dispirited and anxious followers.   Jesus sends the Spirit on his disciples that they, in turn, might be sent out.  We’re reminded that the Church exists not for itself but for the world—to make the Word flesh in every generation.  As in Jesus’ life, that involves courage and generosity.

Reflections on the Good Friday and Easter Gospels

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Good Friday: John 18 & 19

Powerlessness, suffering and injustice are experiences the human race knows very well.  And they lie at the heart of these stories.  Jesus is revealed, not as a far-off ruler, but as someone who is with us in the midst of these things.

He is human—and so bears these experiences alongside us.  But he is also divine—and so his bearing of judgment, hatred and violence also vanquishes them.

400th Near Neighbours grant awarded

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A group of mothers from diverse backgrounds were on hand to welcome the Minister for Faith and Communities, Baroness Warsi to east London this week.

The visit marked the award of the 400th Near Neighbours grant. The scheme is administered by four centres across the country – the Contextual Theology Centre co-ordinates the programme in London.

Baroness Warsi 3

Reflections on the Palm Sunday Gospels

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‘What do you really want?’  That is the question the crowds face on Palm Sunday, and the disciples face as Jesus goes to the cross.  In what do they place their deepest hopes and trust?

The ongoing financial crisis poses these questions to us all.  Our society is reaping the harvest of a financial system which has spun out of control – a system which placed its trust in things and disregarded people.  The Palm Sunday and Easter readings speak to us of a God who breaks through the narrowness and greed of human hearts, not to judge and condemn but to offer ‘the life that really is life’ (1 Timothy 6.19) .

The Palm Sunday Gospel readings are Luke 19.28-40 (Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem) and Luke 23.1-49 (Gospel of the Passion)

As Jesus enters Jerusalem, what is it that the crowd think they see?  They think they see a king – perhaps a military leader who will end the rule of the Romans.  But Jesus doesn’t meet their expectations. What they are after is not what he provides.  His arrival on a donkey overturns their expectations, but the reality takes some time to sink in.

Of course, we read this with the benefit of hindsight – but the Gospel poses this question to  each of us every bit as much as it does to them.  ‘What are you after?’  What do we seek from Jesus?  And are we willing to allow him to challenge, and to disappoint our expectations?  As the disciples learn, it is in not giving us what we are after that Jesus gives us what we truly need.

Gospel Reflections for Sunday 10 March

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The lectionary readings in the Church of England and Roman Catholic church diverge this Sunday.  The Missal gives us John 8.1-11

A preacher gave a sermon against gossip in his church one week. He preached exactly the same sermon the next week…

…and the next! This time, some of his congregation asked him why he was doing this. He said, ‘I’ll go on to the next sermon once you’ve taken this one to heart!’

Just like that preacher, today’s Gospel underlines the message of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, which many churches read last week.  We are given the same message again and again, because we need to absorb it in our hearts as well as our heads.

As we were reminded two weeks ago (when we reflected on the Parable of the Fig Tree), there is a world of difference between the free grace offered in Jesus Christ and ‘cheap grace’, which allows us to continue complacently in our sin.

The point of guilt is to change our ways so we ‘go and sin no more’. We are reminded of this every time we look at the cross: God’s response in Christ to sin is not vengeance, but love. How many times do each of us need to hear that, before we take it to heart?

The Church of England reading for this Sunday is John 12.1-8.  This  speaks to us of one woman’s response once she had taken the message of the cross to heart – for she anoints him prophetically, for burial. This is how grace transforms us: we only come to such overwhelming generosity in our worship of God and our relationship with neighbour and stranger when we have begun to grasp his overwhelming generosity. “We love because he loved us first.”

Almighty God, as we stand at the foot of the cross of your Son, teach us to see and know his love for us, that in humility, love and joy we may place at his feet all that we have and all that we are, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Reflections on readings for Mothering Sunday

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On March 10th, the Common Worship lectionary offers an additional set of options for churches who will be celebrating the Fourth Sunday of Lent as ‘Mothering Sunday’.

These include two possible Old Testament passages – the story of the baby Moses being found in the bulrushes (Exodus 2.1-10) and of Hannah’s dedication of her longed-for son Samuel to God (1 Samuel 1.20-28).  They also include two Gospel passages – Simeon’s prophecy to Mary that her child is destined for the falling and rising of nations and that ‘a sword shall pierce your own heart also’ (Luke 2.33-35) and Jesus’ commending of his mother and the beloved disciple into one another’s care (John 19.25-27) as they stand at the foot of his cross.

The first thing to observe about these four stories is how unsentimental they are.  These four Biblical stories all involve pain and disruption.  Behind the story of Moses in the bulrushes is the fear that if the child’s true race and identity is known, his life will be in danger.  Behind the joy of Hannah are many years of childlessness – and the complex feelings ’Mothering Sunday’ may provoke in those who long for their own children.  Luke 2 contains the much-loved Nunc Dimittis (used in many churches and cathedrals each evening) where Simeon prays ‘Lord, you now let your servant go in peace…for my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared before the sight of every people…’  In offering Luke 2.33-35, the lectionary reminds us that after these words of rejoicing and comfort, Simeon offers Mary a prophecy of pain.  That prophecy is fulfilled in John 19, as we see Mary standing at the foot of the cross with the beloved disciple, as her son is executed as a common criminal.

Questions for reflection

These stories present a challenge to us as congregations and as individuals:

1. They are honest about the challenges facing parents and children,  and those longing to be parents.  Do we – as individuals and as a church – help people to be honest about these challenges – or do we encourage people to keep up appearances, and to hide their difficulties behind facades?  How can we support one another, honestly and generously, in the challenge and joy of family life?

2. They warn us against a rush to judge and stigmatise. In both Gospel readings, the reality of Mary’s faithful obedience contrasts with the way outsiders might have perceived and judged her.  How do we nurture faithful, costly obedience to God’s call – and resist judgementalism?

3. They speak of God’s presence and action in families on the margins of society  The lives of Jesus, Mary and Joseph are marked by their existence under a violent occupying power: in the flight to Egypt in his infancy, the beheading of Jesus’ cousin and forerunner, and most of all at Calvary.

In maternal compassion expressed by her presence [at her Son’s crucifixion]…Mary is so close to the drama of so many families, of so many mothers and children, reunited by death after long periods of separation for reasons of work, illness or violence at the hands of individuals or groups. (John Paul II)

The story of the Holy Family embraces, and draws our attention to, the plight of refugees and those living with persecution and violence in our own day.  How do we discern, and serve, Christ in those children and parents who live through persecution and exile today?

4. They call us to be a community of nuture and mutual care:  In his words from the cross in John 19 we see Jesus’ compassion and his concern for his mother. .  Entrusting Mary and the beloved disciple to one another as mother and son, Jesus teaches us that the community of his disciples needs to have that same spirit of mutual care and concern.  He is inviting us to acknowledge a responsibility for one another, whether or not we have ties of biological kinship.  What (perhaps small) step can our church take this Lent to be a community which nurtures those who lack security and love  – whatever their age and background?

There is a fuller set of resources for celebrating Mothering Sunday on the Children’s Society website

Building Community Through Music

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Tom Daggett, CTC’s Church-Based Community Organiser at Stepney Salvation Army blogs on how community is being built through music and the arts:

Many people understand that music-making is great for bringing people together. I’ve had first-hand experience of this through my work with the Salvation Army in Stepney (www.hopeasha.org.uk). Each week, three projects keep my musical sensibilities in check – and have helped me to recognise how powerful music-based activities can be in bringing people into stronger community.

‘Babysong’ has been running in Roland Philipps Scout Hall each Thursday morning during term-time since September 2011. Babysong is a singing activity intended to develop psychological bonds between parent/carer and child, and social bonds between people in a diverse community. We spend around 45 minutes singing a cycle of songs (which I accompany on the piano), each with a different focus – songs of welcome; songs with movement; songs with instruments; and songs for relaxation and calm, during which children listen to a live piece of classical music. We’ve seen around 100 local families – of diverse ethic, faith and social backgrounds — come through our doors on a regular basis since 2011 – and the group’s reach continues to grow broader and deeper.

The second group is ‘Smart Crew’, an extension of the work of ‘Smarties’ – an after-school kids club which the church has been running for a number of years. Smart Crew is a musical theatre group for kids aged 8-14. I co-ordinate this group (as Musical Director) in partnership with a professional actor, and we’ve now put on two hugely successful shows – ‘Jonah’ (based on the biblical story) and ‘The Landlord’s Cat’ (a fresh take on the nativity story). I have great fun teaching the kids about singing and general musicianship; there is so much energy to be channelled!

Smart Crew

Added to these, I direct a community gospel choir which meets every Tuesday evening in Departure Arts Café, Limehouse –part of the London City Mission. We’ve been running since October 2012, and are starting to do something quite special. Again, the spectrum of people inolved is considerable – and it’s difficult to think of other activities which would bring such different people together in union with one another. And that’s the real emphasis of community-based music projects such as these – they’re intended to be fun, socially rewarding, and to offer relief to other aspects of life which can seem burdensome. That’s why the Contextual Theology Centre recognises the missional potential of music for inner-city churches and communities – and it’s why we’re in conversations with others about scaling this work up, helping others to recognise this imperative and be inspired to do the same.

Gospel Reflections for Sunday 3 March

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This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Luke 13.1-9.  It is not an easy reading – a warning to ‘repent or perish’ followed by the parable of the fig-tree, which concludes with the words: If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.

Judgment is not a theme that Christians can evade.  The Gospel is about grace – about a God whose love for us does not depend on what we do or how we behave – but it challenges us to respond to that free offer, not least because life without that grace is barren and destructive.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it:

Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of the church. Our struggle today is for costly grace. … Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which has to be asked for, the door at which one has to knock. It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace, because it thereby makes them live.

The Old Testament reading set for Sunday (Isaiah 55.1-9) reinforces the message.  It speaks of the destructiveness of a life closed in on the self – and the invitation to find fulness of life by turning instead to God and to his ways of justice and of peace.

It is not a kindness – to our neighbours or ourselves – to evade the reality of the choice which God places before each human being.  We respond to God, not merely with the words we speak, but with the way we live, and the things we set our hearts on.  As one writer has put it:

my God is that which rivets my attention, centres my activity, preoccupies my mind, and motivates my action

The disciplines of Lent are life-giving, not life-denying, precisely because they are about the costly process of weaning us offmaking idols of the good things in creation.  In focusing us on the one true God, and setting our hearts on his Kingdom, we find truly abundant life, and we learn to enjoy – and share – his gifts aright.

This is not only true in our individual lives.  One reason the Contextual Theology Centre has launched the Seeing Change course this Lent is precisely because we need to learn this lesson corporately as well as individually – and wean ourselves off the economic idols that are costing us all so dear.

 

 

Investing in the transformation of London

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The Bishop of London has officially launched the London Missional Housing Bond. The Bond is seeking to raise £2million to enable a partnership of churches and Christian organisations to buy houses and flats. These properties will then be rented, at affordable rents, to church workers serving in our capital’s most deprived communities.

The Bond was launched in the Mercers’ Hall in the City of London – the historic home of commerce and finance. The wealth of the City contrasts starkly with the deeply ingrained poverty to be found in the areas which will benefit from the Bond – including the East End; worlds apart, yet less than a mile away. The purpose of the Bond is to begin to reconnect London’s wealth with its disadvantaged communities, through the church.

House prices in London have now reached astronomic levels, even in the most disadvantaged communities in inner London. It is arguably now a social crisis. For churches attempting to promote the social transformation that is so badly needed, the price of housing has become a major obstacle to mission. Churches cannot afford to house their youth workers, community organisers and interns in the same neighbourhood. These staff often commute long distances or even move to work somewhere else.

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The Bond tackles this problem head on.  By raising funds (starting from £5,000) from a range of investors – individuals, churches, institutions – it will be possible to buy houses and flats outright and then rent them to church workers at more affordable rates than anything the open market provides. The business model allows the payment of a modest rate of interest to investors (up to 2%).

That is why this is a social investment. Investing in the Bond will not make you rich! It will, however, enable local churches in some of London’s most deprived communities to take on workers and kick-start much needed missional projects. Investors will know their money is working hard giving a social return.

The Bond is being delivered by Affordable Christian Housing, a long established Christian housing association based in London. They are working on behalf of three key partners:

– The Diocese of London, overseeing a network of parishes

– The Eden Network, which places teams in estates across London

– The Contextual Theology Centre, which supports churches across East London to engage in integrated mission to their communities.

These partners will oversee the Bond, decide where to buy the houses and select tenants.

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The Bond launch event itself was a resounding success. It brought together a diverse mix of bishops, clergy and potential investors as well as some of the church workers who might benefit from the Bond – youth workers, interns and community organisers. In this mix, we might perhaps also see the glimmerings of a second social transformation – not just of the deprived communities that stand to benefit, but also of the way that wealth is viewed and invested by those fortunate enough to own it. In an era of irresponsible capitalism, new attitudes to the use of money are needed.

Here we see the church playing an ancient role – bringing rich and poor together and reminding them both of their equality in the eyes of God. What markets and governments cannot do, perhaps the Church can?

For more information on how to invest in the Bond, please click here.

UPDATE: The Bond launch features in today’s Daily Telegraph City Diary (27/02/2013)

The Diocese Of London website now features the Bond and quotes for all partner organisations.

Gospel reflections for Sun 24 February

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This Sunday, the Roman Catholic lectionary gives us the story of Jesus’ Transfiguration – something Anglicans read the Sunday before Lent.  We have blogged on its significance for the early stages of the Lenten journey here.

In the Church of England calendar, we read Luke 13.31-35.  In this passage, we see Jesus being extraordinarily blunt about King Herod – Go and tell that fox for me, ‘Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will finish my workand going on to express a maternal love towards the people among whom he ministers and lives, even as he acknowledges their violent rejection of God’s prophets (and anticipates his own rejection) – How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

This passage challenges us to reflect more deeply on the character of Jesus; to look beyond our own preconceptions and projections, and see how he actually thinks, speaks and behaves.  Jesus combines courage (he is not afraid to speak truth to power, even though he knows that speaking out against Herod and his family ultimately cost John the Baptist his life); clearsightedness (he knows that the very crowds who now praise him will turn against him and cry ‘Crucify!’) and compassion (he nonetheless longs to gather them together ‘as a hen gathers her brood’.

These are characteristics we find it incredibly hard to hold together.  When we engage in conflict with others, we find it hard to remain truly compassionate.  When we seek to be compassionate, we find it hard to also speak words which challenge and generate tension.  It is tempting, then, to re-make Jesus in our own image: either to emphasise his compassion, in a way that obscures his capacity for confronting and disturbing the powerful, or to emphasise his courage, and lapse into the very judgmentalism and hard-heartedness he condemns.

It is only be returning again and again to these Gospel stories – in our common worship and in our times of personal study and prayer – that we can allow the Spirit of Jesus to re-make us in his image, instead of we re-making him in ours.

Health, Fitness and Fun – with Near Neighbours

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Young people are lazy, overweight and spend all their time sitting in front of a screen, right?

Well, not in Manor Park. Thanks to a Near Neighbours-supported initiative called Basic Sports and Fitness, more than 30 young people have taken part in a programme of activities inspired by the 2012 Games.

The scheme was set up by John Bosco Waigo, a Ugandan former boxer who now lives in east London. Having competed at the 1988 Olympics himself, John was perfectly placed to inspire a new generation of young people to get involved in non-contact boxing, running and general fitness training.

 

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John’s aim was to bring together young people from diverse backgrounds in the local area and give them the chance to get to know eachother while learning more about health and fitness – and of course having fun.

As well as the physical training, the young people took part in a healthy eating workshop and also attended a local celebration of the City Safe scheme – a community response to violence.

John says this helped them to build self-esteem and discipline, “Parents have written to show their appreciations for the changes they have witnessed in their children – physical and behavioural changes.”

 

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This isn’t the end of the project though. Three young people have now progressed onto a local boxing club to continue their training, while John is keen to help more local teenagers keep fit and healthy.

If you are involved in a project bringing together people of different faiths and backgrounds in eastern London and want to know if Near neighbours could support you, contact Revd Tim Clapton: nearneighbours@theology-centre.org / 0207 780 1600.

 

Two exciting upcoming CTC events

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The Greater London Presence and Engagement Network (PEN) which is based at the Contextual Theology Centre, is offering a dynamic programme of information and debate via two events on Monday 18th February in the London Bridge area. They have been deliberately designed to work together as one seamless garment or as two stand alone items.

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Making Sense of the Census

2.30 – 4.00pm at Trinity House, 4 Chapel Court, Borough High Street, London SE1 1HW

The afternoon will look at:

– The big picture from the 2011 Census figures nationally and for (Greater) London

– The key headlines

– What the stats tell us (and what don’t they tell us)

– How to avoid the traps of misinterpretation and respond to tabloid oversimplification

– How the data will be accessible on a parish by parish basis

We will offer tools for working with the data and other sources to read alongside. There will also be opportunity for theological reflection and to think through using the data in a mission action plan. Building partnerships is built in to the afternoon. As well as a question slot there will be chance to discuss how to repeat the session at a Deanery, Churches Together or PCC event.

There is then opportunity to grab a bite to eat (many local venues providing a variety of fare) and attend evensong (choral) at Southwark Cathedral (5.30)

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Guardian or Gatekeeper, Faith in the Public Space and the role of the Church – The PEN lecture
6.30 for 7.00pm

St George the Martyr, Borough High Street, London SE1 1JA

The Dean of St Paul’s, The Very Revd Dr David Ison draws on his experiences as Dean of Bradford and his sabbatical travels (in early 2012) to reflect on Christian-Muslim (and other inter faith) relations in very different contexts and how that might inform his work in London. There will be opportunity to respond as part of the evening. Previous PEN lectures have been ‘Sharing the Gospel of Salvation’ by Dr John Azumah and ‘What do we bring to the Party; The Mission of the Church in a multi faith neighbourhood’ by The Revd Dr Toby Howarth.

These events are open to all (lay or ordained) interested in ministry and mission in our great world city. To ensure we have sufficient spaces and tea cups please do register  for either or both by emailing pen@theology-centre.org

Near Neighbours… in business!

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Shops and businesses from around east London have come together to form an exciting new alliance. The first meeting of the East End Trades Guild took place this week at Christ Church, Spitalfields. The organisation is going to support small and medium-sized traders, independent retailers and family businesses.

Support and partial funding for the project has come from Near Neighbours. The huge diversity of the businesses involved and the range of different cultural backgrounds they come from is astonishing. The whole world is doing business in east London!

 

The East End has undergone huge changes in recent years with many boutique shops and creative businesses moving in. But there are still many traditional traders and businesses run by the communities who’ve made the area home over hundreds of years.

The 200 businesses describe themselves as “The Beating Heart of the East End.” Read more about their exciting vision in this story from the Guardian.

Developing leaders, strengthening communities

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Young people from across eastern London came together in October and November to take part in an exciting and dynamic leadership training course with Near Neighbours. The 13 young adults, from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds were nominated by their respective faith communities and Nehemiah Foundation community workers

The training took place at the International Headquarters of the Salvation Army and the Royal Foundation of St Katharine. The topics discussed included communication and inter-faith relations. The training was provided by the St Phillip’s Centre as part of its Catalyst Bronze programme.

Revd Tim Clapton, Near Neighbours Co-ordinator for eastern London said, “It was deeply satisfying watching the Catalyst trainees grow in confidence as the four days progressed. Exposed to some first class teaching and group work facilitation, their feedback showed the extent of their learning. One participant said he has started to use some of his new found skills in his leadership role in the Mosque which had been noticed.”

The trainees were joined by Government Minister Baroness Hanham from the Department for Communities and Local Government, as well as leaders of different faiths. One of them, Revd David Lambert from Stoke Newington said, “What a fantastic opportunity for those young people to gain a tremendous amount of knowledge and participation and to be so appreciative of what they were experiencing. I was really put to the test by the questions that were being asked and they genuinely were interested in what I thought and believe; they were inquisitive, not only of my faith, but by other faith leaders who attended.”

New Archbishop shows support for Living Wage

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During a press conference to announce his appointment to the role of Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Revd Justin Welby has spoken warmly of his support for the Living Wage.

His appointment was confirmed on Friday morning, in the middle of the inaugural Living Wage week. Earlier in the week both Labour Leader Ed Miliband and Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson had show their support for the campaign.

The Living Wage campaign began over a decade ago when churches and other civil society organisations came together under the banner of Citizens UK to campaign for better wages for working people.

The new Archbishop commended the campaign and especially the role that churches have played in winning more than £100 million for the lowest-paid families.

After pointing out that his current Diocese of Durham pays staff the Living Wage, he said, “[It’s] an area in which the church has really made a useful social contribution, a really useful one… it’s something we should be shouting about.”

Hear his thoughts on the Living Wage in full by clicking play here:

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Highway Neighbours – a real Olympic legacy

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‘How will we help those in need when the Olympic Route Network cuts off our communities?’ was the topic of conversation among local Anglican clergy back in December 2011. Highway Neighbours was an initiative of four Anglican churches (St Peter’s London Docks, St Paul’s Shadwell, St Mary Cable Street, and St George-In-The-East) which sought to bring the community of Shadwell and Wapping together to meet the challenges that would be brought by the local impact of the Olympics. Many were afraid of the inevitable difficulties the Olympic Route Network would bring, interrupting important day-to-day services, including public transport to hospitals and shops, and the delivery of food and supplies. Institutions from across the Highway including Darul Ummah mosque, St Patrick’s RC Church, and English Martyrs’ school joined together for the purpose of identifying those who would need help, and providing help which reflected this need.

 

 

‘Highway News’ leaflets were distributed to 8,000 homes, a website and designated phone line established, and publicity material including posters and banners raising awareness of the project were placed across the community. We had two questions: ‘are you someone who will need support or help during the Olympics?’ and, ‘would you like to be part of a team of people helping others made vulnerable by the impact of the games?’ We visited everything from the Wapping Bingo, the Sure Start centre and the youth club at Darul Ummah mosque, to a series of coffee afternoons and lunch clubs asking these questions. Coffee and cake became key features of this project!

 

 

Providing more local information Speaking to the people most dependent on local services, it became clear that they felt fearful and frustrated about what the impact of the Olympic Route Network might be. In response, Highway Neighbours organised a meeting with TFL to try to help us prepare for the challenges.  We then produced information leaflets which responded to the specific needs and questions of local people – including bus routes, road maps, and hospital routes.

 

 

Olympic drop-in centres north and south of the Highway. In order to ensure anyone who needed it could be helped during the Olympics, Highway Neighbours opened 4 Olympic drop-in centres, two north of the Highway – Darul Ummah Mosque and St George-In-The-East church, and two south of the Highway – St Peter’s London Docks, and St Paul’s Shadwell.  Two designated phone lines were also set up for information, one in Bengali and one in English. 8,000 homes received information about these opportunities.

 

By the end of the process approximately 20,000 people had been informed about the project, of whom almost 1,000 had face-to-face contact with Highway Neighbours. Everyone who had requested help or advice in order to cope during the Olympics received support.

 

So what does this mean for the future? Does Highway Neighbours blow out its Olympic torch? With excitement for the potential of working together on other specific initiatives, Highway Neighbours is not over! In the short-term, Highway Neighbours will be carol singing at local coffee events for the elderly in December. In the medium term we’re working on putting together a list of all the local community groups who could offer services to people. In the longer term we’re looking to find fun ways to get together and celebrate the community. Have you got ideas? Watch this space!

Neighbours who eat together, stay together…

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Near Neighbours projects are developing something of a reputation within Eastern London. Not only are they places where communities are coming together and real relationships are being formed… Great food is also high on the menu for many of them!

This is especially true in Waltham Forest. When a group of Asian ladies decided they wanted to open up their lunch club to a wider group of local residents, they sought support from Near Neighbours and the results have been fantastic.

Waltham Forest Asian Seniors had been meeting for many years and sharing food together. But the volunteers who ran the project wanted to help build better relations in their community. They were soon in touch with Shern Hall Methodist church, who have provided the group with a place to meet and eat together.

Organisers say it’s essential that local people have a good, healthy meal to eat at a very low price. Many of the guests suffer from health problems and are on low-incomes.

Some are also living alone so the weekly sessions are a good chance to come together and form new bonds with those who live in the area. One guest said “We’ve lived in the area for 30 years, but in the last year we’ve really begun to get to know each other.”

Someone who’s been impressed with the work of the group is Mayor of Walthamstow, Richard Sweden. He visited the project recently to declare it formally open and to cut the ribbon, while also sharing some food.

Before he was Mayor, Cllr. Sweden was responsible for health and recreation in the borough and remarked that projects which encourage healthy eating as well as building community are essential to reducing inequality.

The food available when the Mayor was visiting included South Asian cuisine, dishes from the Caribbean, as well as Pasta, sandwiches and other treats.

Around 50 guests were served from many different faiths and backgrounds, with the Pastor of the church joining the Mayor and the project’s founder, Mrs Sabra Syed, in welcoming everyone.

If you live in the area and want to take part, come along every Tuesday.

Listen to the reflections of the Mayor as well as a group of volunteers from the church and the  lunch club on why this project has been so well-received.

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All aboard for tax justice…

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Last week, the Contextual Theology Centre joined forces with Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty to hold a debate on the moral imperative for individuals and corporations to pay tax.  It is covered on the latest Sunday programme on Radio 4 (begins at 4 mins 57 secs).  

CTC’s Communications Officer Andy Walton blogs on the event and the issues behind it:

Tax is boring. This common misconception seems to be everywhere. Accountancy is caricatured as a dull profession. Paying taxes is bracketed with death. And even HMRC’s own advertising campaign protests a bit too much – “tax doesn’t have to be taxing” they assure us.

This week Christian Aid, Church Action on Poverty and The Contextual Theology Centre offered a radically different perspective. Far from being dull, tax is actually a vital topic of conversation, debate and campaigning. The three organisations held a debate at Christ Church, Spitalfields which was part of a nationwide tour for ‘tax justice’ being undertaken by a converted London bus.

So what’s the problem with tax? Well, according to Christian Aid’s research, more than 160 billion pounds every year is retained by big companies around the world who should be paying it in tax. That’s more than the entire global aid budget. This comes from a mixture of tax evasion (which is illegal) and tax avoidance (which is legal, but morally suspect).

The campaign to highlight these simple facts is gaining momentum. As the global slump continues, more and more politicians, campaigners and NGOs seem to be realising that there is an injustice at the heart of a system which allows so much money to be creamed off and diverted away from the public services it could be used for.

At Christ Church this week we heard powerful testimony and arguments on the issue. The panel was ably chaired by Revd Canon Dr Giles Fraser, who shot to public prominence after he resigned from St Paul’s Cathedral during the Occupy camp. His light touch and probing questions meant we never lost sight of how serious the issue is, but it never felt like a worthy yet dull evening.

In his introduction, Giles described Dr Richard Wellings as the evening’s ‘pantomime villain.’ Richard was happy to play up to this role, espousing his libertarian views and at one point suggesting that all tax was akin to theft. But his contribution was vital – it can’t be taken as read that everyone thinks that big companies should pay their taxes. Dr Wellings made the point that some would indeed see it as a moral obligation not to pay.

Savior Muamba was keen to argue the point with Richard. He is a Zambian campaigner for tax justice who highlights the role played by big mining corporations in his native land. Savior pointed out to the audience that his country needs infrastructute and investment. While private companies are a great way to find this much needed boost, they need to do so through taxation as well as through their creation of jobs and markets. His appeal was simple, “I believe in reality. We saw an increase in educational spending, in healthcare spending when tax dodging became harder.”

Savior was supported by Revd Dr Sabina Alkire from the Oxford Poverty and Development Initiative. An economist by trade, Dr Alkire pointed out that supporting fair taxation didn’t mean a commitment to a large state. In fact, she argued that fair taxation was only the start of a system which allowed people all around the world to reach their potential, “poverty is where human beings aren’t flourishing” she said.

The final member of the panel was the Daily Telegraph’s chief political commentator Peter Oborne. Peter has written passionately about the need for increased integrity and probity in public life. He made clear during the course of the debate that he sees tax dodging as completely opposed to that. And what was Peter’s advice to those who share his disappointment in the corporations? “We have a duty to shame companies that don’t pay their taxes” he said. He repeatedly asserted his Conservative credentials, shattering one of the distortions around this topic. To be an economic conservative doesn’t mean supporting tax dodging. In fact, Peter offered his full-throated support for the campaign.

At this point, one of the most important parts of the evening took place. Having had a chance to hear the debate and look round the tax bus, the audience themselves were then given a chance to have their own say. Led by community organiser David Barclay, we were encouraged to get into groups. David led us through a simple process which is being developed by CTC, called a ‘community conversation.’

The groups introduced themselves to eachother and began to discuss what made them angry about the current system, and about the financial sector more generally. David then asked us to widen our thoughts to include any issues in our local communities which needed reform. He suggested examples such as the proliferation of betting shops and pay day lenders on our high streets. Citing the hugely successful Living Wage campaign, David encouraged us to reconvene in our groups and discuss how some of these issues might be tackled by us building our power as communities and working together alongside the different institutions we’re all part of, such as churches, schools and residents associations.

By the end of the evening, we’d been stimulated to think and to act.

What happens next is the truly exciting part.

Near Neighbours at play

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Near Neighbours has funded and supported projects across large parts of east London. But there are many exciting things happening in south London too! One of them is based at Pembroke House.

For nearly 130 years, Pembroke House has served its local community in Southwark. The building is also home to the lively and passionate Church of England parish of St Christopher’s, Walworth.

Near Neighbours was delighted to provide funding to support Eleanor Shipman to be the artist in residence for a six month period at Pembroke House. She has engaged with all sections of the local area and interacted with people young and old.

She’s especially focussed on the subject of play, and looked at how people of different backgrounds and cultures can come together when they play – whatever their age!

As a way of celebrating and marking all the relationships that have been developed over the last six months Eleanor has put together this film which is highly entertaining:

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You can find out much more about Eleanor’s fantastic work by visiting the Play Swap blog.

Southwark steps up to welcome the Olympics

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Near Neighbours partners in Southwark have welcomed the Olympics Games to the area, by cheering on the flame as it passed through. As anticipation reached fever pitch, the torch relay passed through the Parish of St George the Martyr, and members of the congregation were joined by many others from the area, including those of other faiths.

 

 

The goal of Near Neighbours is to bring together people of different faiths and backgrounds – something which of course happens during the Olympics. We were delighted to help facilitate such a fantastic event. Young people enjoyed craft activities and face painting, while everyone present took a pledge which emphasised the importance of hospitality, compassion and generosity.

 

 

Among those enjoying the event were The Bishop of Woolwich, Rt Revd Michael Ipgrave and Baroness Hanham, a Minister from the Department of Communities and Local Government, which funds Near Neighbours.

 

 

 

Below are some video interviews with some of those who took part.

 

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Come and join the Olympic torch fun with Near Neighbours in Southwark!

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If you’ve got Olympic fever, why not come and celebrate the passing of the Olympic torch through South London?

Near Neighbours is bringing together people from different faiths and backgrounds to witness this unique event in Southwark.

The event takes place this Thursday, the 26th July on Borough High Street (SE1 1JA). St George the Martyr Church is hosting the celebration which will include activities for all the family. Whatever faith or background you’re from, you’ll be more than welcome to join the rest of the community!

Archbishop of Canterbury praises Near Neighbours

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In the same week he delivered a sermon at St Paul’s Cathedral as part of the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations, the Archbishop of Canterbury visited east London to commend the work of Near Neighbours.

He said he was, “amazed and delighted that in this relatively small space of east London, so much is going on because of this programme…. I’m delighted to see the resources of this programme being used so creatively, so joyfully and imaginatively.”

Dr Rowan Williams was part of a delegation which included the Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles, the Bishop of Chelmsford, Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell and Councillor Richard Sweden, the Mayor of Waltham Forest.

The Archbishop of Canterbury with members of the church and temple

They visited St Andrew’s Parish Church for Morning Prayer and were then welcomed to Shri Nathji Sanatan Hindu Mandir. The church and the temple have been working together using Near Neighbours funding and training.

Both institutions have been in the local community for many years, yet until recently hadn’t had any contact – despite being round the corner from each other. That’s now all changed, thanks to the hard work of members of both congregations and the support of Near Neighbours. They’ve set up a ‘faith friendship club’, meeting every fortnight and sharing all kinds of arts. Dance, drama, artwork and more are discussed, and practiced! It’s been a great way for members of both communities to learn about each other’s culture and background.

Also there on the day were other Near Neighbours projects which are thriving locally. A project which helps people to mentor schoolchildren, a street safety initiative in central Walthamstow and a group bringing together senior citizens of many different backgrounds were all profiled. Leaders and users of all these projects were given the chance to tell the Minister and the Archbishop about the great work they’re doing, with the support of Near Neighbours.

Listen to the Archbishop’s short address here:

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Archbishop and Minister to visit Near Neighbours projects

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Archbishop Rowan at the launch of the Greater London Presence and Engagement network in 2008. PEN represetitives will meet with him on 7th June along with Near Neighbours volunteers.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, will show his support for Near Neighbours on Thursday 7th June. Along with Rt Hon Eric Pickles MP, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, the Archbishop will visit a Hindu temple and an Anglican church.

The visit will begin with Morning Prayer at St Andrew’s Parish Church (Colworth Road, E11 1JD). The guests will then walk to Shri Nathji Sanatan Hindu Mandir (Hindu Temple – 159-161 Whipps Cross Road, E11 1NP). Local people will explain their projects to the Archbishop and the Minister and give a flavour of the fantastic work being done with Near Neighbours grants.

The Hindu Temple in Leytonstone will welcome the Archbishop of Canterbury to celebrate the work of Near Neighbours.

We’re very excited to be able to showcase the work of some of our projects. Young people, volunteers, staff and those benefitting from some of the programmes supported by Near Neighbours will get the chance to show the difference being made by their work across eastern London.

Sex, God and the difficult questions….

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Young people addressing the launch of FRYP.org.uk

It may be a topic that young people find difficult to talk about with their parents, teachers or faith leaders, but it’s one which isn’t going away anytime soon: sex.

That’s why Near Neighbours has helped to fund an exciting new website which will enable young people to talk about sex, relationships and their faith.

FRYP.org.uk is an attempt to create a safe space for conversations, learning and openness around issues of sex, contraception, pregnancy and a whole host of other areas.

It’s been developed by the Newham Interfaith Sexual Health Forum – NewISH in a bid to fill a need felt across the diverse London Borough of Newham for good quality sex education in a faith-sensitive context.

It’s received the backing of local MP Stephen Timms, among others, and is already going down well with young people in the area.

Stephen Timms MP gives his support to the FRYP.org.uk launch

You can visit the website here: www.fryp.org.uk and provide feedback, as well as find out much more about the project.

Andy Walton from Near neighbours visited the launch of FRYP.org.uk. Listen to his report here:

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Why Religion Really Matters

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One of the most exciting projects Near Neighbours has funded so far is called RE Matters. It’s based in the London Borough of Newham and works with children from schools across the area.

With so many stereotypes about religious people in the media the young people involved decided they wanted to investigate how much truth was behind the speculation and rumour.

Faith leaders came to talk and to listen.

RE Matters put on an exciting, interactive day conference for them to have the chance to meet faith leaders and other young people from diverse communities and faiths. They worked together to find out more about each other and challenge the assumptions they were making.

Journalist Ruth Gledhill from The Times has endorsed the project and spent some time with the young people herself.

Young people practice their mock TV advertising campaigns.

The hope is that the young people will now go back to each of their schools, families and communities and help to increase the knowledge and understanding of other faiths.

Andy Walton from Near Neighbours visited the project and spoke to faith leaders, tutors and young people. Listen to his report here:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/43761050″ iframe=”true” /]

Neighbours in Shadwell meet and celebrate!

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People from Shadwell came together to celebrate their community this week in a fun day organised by Near Neighbours and TELCO. Hundreds of people from different backgrounds gathered in Watney Market Piazza to show their love for this diverse part of East London.

The event was supported by St Paul’s Church and the Daurul Ummah Mosque, among others. St Paul’s and Daural Ummah have already beeen working closely together on a number of projects including a Near Neighbours-funded gardening scheme.

Local resident Stephen, who attends St Paul’s told us it had been a wonderful day, “The day was only made possible due to the strength of local relationships. Shadwell is a small area but within it there happens to be an abundance of churches, mosques, and schools. The church and mosque enjoy a strong relationship built up over time by working together in the community. Working together has led to strong individual friendships between worshippers who share a heart for the neighbourhood, and together we wanted to do something to bless the community. The day was a great success, I spoke to an elderly gentleman who had lived in Shadwell for 36 years since moving from Bangladesh and said he’d never seen anything like this in Shadwell before. There was a really good mix of the community present, old and young, Christian and Muslim, and plenty of volunteers from different faith and community groups.  Plenty of people were asking when the next one would be, and it was heartening to hear that people were taking their ‘We ❤ Shadwell’ stickers home and sticking them up on their front doors around the local estates.

With balloons, face-painting, banners, stickers, henna, games, artwork and a tea party, there was plenty for everyone to do! There’s now demand for another event to take place in 2013 – watch this space…

Easter Day: Reflections on the Gospel

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The Gospel reading for Easter Day is John 20.1-9

It is the women who are the first to discover the empty tomb – as they faithfully keep vigil, even when all hope seems to be lost.  It seems as if they now face a double loss.  To lose his body as well as his life compounds their grief.

The stories of the resurrection do not represent a neat ‘happy ending’ – a reversal of all that has gone wrong.  They show that on the other side of the cross, God’s new life breaks in.  It breaks in in ways that disturb and surprise us.  When Mary Magdalen greets Jesus later in this chapter, she is told not to touch him.  Resurrection is not simply the return of what has been lost: it is the beginning of something very different.  Mary should not cling to the earthly Christ, for it is as he ascends to the Father that he can become present in a new way, in the Church which is born at Pentecost.

For us too, Easter is not so much a consolation as an invitation.  It is an opportunity to stop clinging on to whatever comforts us, and sheltering fearfully from the future.  For whatever the future holds, we face it with a Lord who has faced – and conquered – the forces of sin and of death.

Holy Week: Reflections on the Gospels

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It is impossible for us to give, unless we have first received.  That is obvious from the moment we’re born.  It’s only because others have fed, clothed, nurtured and taught us that we can love others in turn.  Human parents can fail us.  But, as beings made by God, we also receive a love that is unceasing and unconditional. 
As Holy Week begins, much church life—the clubs and councils, the committees and campaigns–falls silent.    A space is created, so we can wait with Christ.  We wait together—as he prays and sweats blood in Gethsemane, at the foot of his cross, in the garden on that first Easter morning.  We wait, because our salvation is a divine gift, not a human achievement.

The Gospel Reading for Maundy Thursday is John 13.1-15 and for Good Friday is John 18 & 19

Powerlessness, suffering and injustice are experiences the human race knows very well.  And they lie at the heart of these stories.  Jesus is revealed, not as a far-off ruler, but as someone who is with us in the midst of these things.


He’s a human—and so bears these experiences alongside us.  But he’s also divine—and so his bearing of judgment, hatred and violence also vanquishes them.

Jesus becomes our sacrifice.  He’s scapegoated by humans unnerved and disappointed by his message.  Some are unnerved because his truth-telling challenges their lies and their manipulation.  Others are
disappointed, having expected Jesus to be a very different kind of Messiah.
They thought he would impose God’s Kingdom at the end of a sword.  But, as Jesus tells his disciples, those who live by the sword die by the sword.  A Kingdom imposed by violence and fear could not be God’s Kingdom. 
The Kingdom Jesus brings in is one where domination, violence and judgment are conquered by self-giving love.  This is his new creation, born in the water and the blood which flow from his side (John  19.34).  As we are reminded in the Maundy Thursday liturgy, we taste and see this new creation both in the sacramental life of the church (as we celebrate the gift of Holy Communion) and in practical acts of love (as we re-enact Jesus’ washing of the disciples’ feet).

Palm Sunday: Reflections on the Gospel

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Introduction


‘What do you really want?’  That is the question the crowds face on Palm Sunday, and the disciples face as Jesus goes to the cross.  In what do they place their deepest hopes and trust?


The credit crunch poses these questions to us all.  Our society is reaping the harvest of a financial system which has spun out of control – a system which placed its trust in things and disregarded people.  The Palm Sunday and Easter readings speak to us of a God who breaks through the narrowness and greed of human hearts, not to judge and condemn but to offer ‘the life that really is life’ (1 Timothy 6.19) .  The prayer requests we have been blogging as part of Call to Change show the ways Christians in this country are responding to that invitation – seeking build a more generous, hospitable society in which all can experience a fuller, richer life. 


Today’s readings


The Gospels for Palm Sunday readings are Mark 11.1-11 (Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem) and Mark 15.1-39 (the Passion)



On Palm Sunday, the crowd think they see a king – perhaps a military leader who will end the rule of the Romans.  But Jesus doesn’t meet their expectations. What they want is not what he provides.  This reality takes some time to sink in.  And in the disappointment, the voices turn from ‘Hosanna!’ (in today’s first Gospel reading) to ‘Crucify him!’ (in the Gospel of the Passion).


The readings for Palm Sunday pose the same question to each of us: ‘What do you really want?’  What do we seek from Jesus?  And are we willing to allow him to challenge, and to disappoint our expectations?  As the disciples learn, Jesus gives us what we need – which is not always what we want.

Fifth Sunday of Lent: Reflections on the Gospel

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This Sunday marks the beginning of Passiontide – the final part of Lent when prepare for our celebration of Jesus’ self-offering on the cross.  The Gospel reading is John 12.20-33 

Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. “

Facing our mortality helps us get life in perspective – what are the things that really matter? How much time do we devote to those things that are of lasting value?

There is a great freedom in facing death. For Christians, we face death in union with the risen Christ. Baptism unites us with Christ in his death and resurrection. We can have the courage to face, not only death itself, but also the ‘little deaths’ – the things we have to give up at different stages of life; the loosening of our grasp on the things of the world – because of the resurrection hope.

Lent is often seen as  turn inwards – and in a sense we are on an inner journey in this holy season.  We are  called to ask deep questions about our motivations and desires, and to face the realities of our sin and our potential with honesty and hope.  But this ‘inner journey’ should also lead us to turn outwards.  We are called beyond ourselves, to relationships of generosity and compassion.  Martin Luther described sin as “the heart turned in upon itself”. Today’s Gospel calls us to die to this self-obsession, and to find life in self-giving love.

Such a turning outward has implications for our common life – our economic and social order – as well as for our individual lives. 

This week, many churches will be finishing the Church Urban Fund’s Lent course – entitled Are we washing our hands of England’s poor?  This course provides both challenge and inspiration.  Its powerful testimonies call us to journey out beyond narrow self-interest.  They also show us how such self-giving love leads on to ‘life in all its fulness’.

Fourth Sunday of Lent: Reflections on the Gospel

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The Gospel reading set for next Sunday (18th March) is John 3.14-21

God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world, but so that the world through him might be saved… On these grounds is sentence pronounced: that though the light has come into the world, people have shown that they prefer darkness to the light. 
Christianity isn’t about guilt – and  nor is Lent!  The Good News at the heart of the Gospel is that even while we have turned our backs upon God, he has come close to us in Jesus.  And, as we see in Holy Week, when we turn our back on Jesus, his response is to pour out his life for us.  The ‘judgement of God’ does not seek our condemnation.  Forgiveness is always on offer. 
The danger for Christians is that we fall into one of two traps.  Either our faith is founded on fear – we believe God is angry with us, and wants to condemn us, or it is founded on complacency – we believe God loves us, and so we don’t need to change our lives.
What Jesus is saying in today’s Gospel is that we have no need to fear.  But he is also warning that we are confronted with a stark and serious choice in life. 
Do we respond to God’s love, and become shaped by it – or do we cut ourselves off from it?  Lent is not about guilt and condemnation, but it is about repentance and transformation.  It is a call to change – at both a personal and a corporate level. 

Third Sunday of Lent: Reflections on the Gospel

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The Gospel reading for Sunday 11th March is John 2.13-22 (or 13-25)

Making a whip out of some cord, Jesus drove [the traders and money changers] out of the Temple, cattle and sheep as well, scattered the money changers’ coins, knocked their tables over and said to the pigeon-sellers, ‘Take all this out of here and stop turning my Father’s house into a market.’

Jesus’ prophetic action here recalls the Temple to its true purpose, as ‘a house of prayer for all people’.  Instead it has become ‘a market’.  Marketplaces are not bad in themselves: it is not as if buying and selling are intrinsically ‘unspiritual’ activities. Trade and enterprise are essential if we are to have food, clothing and shelter. Many Christians have a vocation to this vital work.
The problem comes when things that are good in themselves – possessions, wealth, trade – become idols.  In their God-given place, these good things contribute to human flourishing.  They become idols when they are placed in the centre of our lives.  Our economic life needs to be built around our love of God and neighbour – not the other way round.
The market in the Temple had become part of an idolatrous system – a system which was now hindering the ability of people to meet with God.  Jesus’ response is dramatic and unflinching.
What are today’s idols?  Archbishop Rowan Williams has suggested that it is time for us to challenge the idols of high finance

The Church of England and the Church Universal have a proper interest in the ethics of the financial world and in the question of whether our financial practices serve those who need to be served – or have simply become idols that themselves demand uncritical service.

Recalling our marketplaces to their true vocation under God – that of ‘serving those who need to be served’ – will require courage in our day as it did in Jesus’.  We need to be prepared for resistance and controversy.  In the words of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero:

A preaching that awakens, a preaching that enlightens – as when a light turned on awakes and of course annoys a sleeper – that is the preaching of Christ, calling: Wake up! Be converted! That is the Church’s authentic teaching. Naturally, such preaching must meet conflict, must spoil what is miscalled prestige, must disturb…

What does this mean for us?  The vocations website of the Roman Catholic Church puts it well:

A priest is unlikely to have to repeat Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple … but his words will demand the overturning of people’s lives if it is the Gospel he preaches.

In a society such as ours, the words of the Gospel demand a radical transformation of the way we think, act and live. One example is the question of peace and justice. The priest’s ministry includes a full presentation of the Church’s social teaching, taking seriously the Gospel as a message of freedom, of liberation from everything that oppresses God’s people. 

This is a challenge for members of every denomination.  Male and female, lay and ordained, we are called to embody the challenge of Jesus’ cleansing  of the Temple – and the hope of a more just economic order.

Resources for engaging churches in prayer, listening and action on these issues is online at calltochange.org

   

An exciting new project – Highway Neighbours

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HIGHWAY NEIGHBOURS is an exciting new local church-led initiative which seeks to use the Olympics as an opportunity to engage communities in meaningful relationship. Working in partnership with other faith communities in Shadwell and Wapping, Highway Neighbours seeks to help vulnerable local people during the Olympics. Having identified the following potential challenges; road closures, termination of bus routes, increased traffic, closure of crossings, challenges reaching local mosques for prayer during Ramadan, and a decrease in deliveries, the churches in this area are planning to draw the community together by replacing local practical services which will be withdrawn between July and September.

Step One. Over the next three months, teams of volunteers will take to the streets of Wapping and Shadwell to interview a target number of 2012 local people. The aim? To find out three pieces of information. 1. What practical challenges will arise that we could help you overcome? 2. What activities would you like to take place in your local community during the Olympics? 3. How would you like to be involved in HIGHWAY NEIGHBOURS? Through this process of information gathering, the potential for building authentic relationships and capturing the interests, motivations and desires of local people may be realised. Whether it is constructing mini live sites to watch the games, starting football matches between different faith institutions, delivering meals to those who require it, or photography workshops to gather yet untold local stories, it is hoped that the Highway will be buzzing with activity throughout the summer. Using ideas generated by the community, the project will go beyond the gloss of the ‘national’ Olympics, expanding the excitement created by the games in order to achieve much wider outcomes than intended.

Reflecting on the national rhetoric that the Olympics will be a regeneration scheme, one must question whether this is really achievable without engaging local society. Yet HIGHWAY NEIGHBOURS seeks to regenerate by reflecting what appears to be the original values of the games; those of peace, solidarity and community cohesion. It is striking therefore that this new project is in one of the poorest boroughs of London (Tower Hamlets), and it is civil society who are themselves responsible for broadening the potential of the Olympics, identifying the potential for enhancing the dynamism, capacity, inclusion, and cohesion of Shadwell and Wapping, through hard work, and relationship building. Rather than allowing national activity to dictate vulnerable local society, this is a project which encourages the ‘local’ to engage with the reality of life at the national, and international spheres of society this summer. Authentic regeneration demands that the Olympics achieves its potential by thinking creatively about the complex ways in which international, national, and local forces have the potential to work together for positive development. Let’s hope this is an encouragement to other local communities to grasp the opportunity created by the games in 2012.

 

To find out more contact Caitlin Burbridge – caitlin@theology-centre.org

Second Sunday of Lent: Reflections on the Readings

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This Sunday (4 March), the Roman Catholic Lectionary gives us the Gospel of the Transfiguration, about which we blogged earlier.  In the Church of England, the Gospel reading is Mark 8.31-end
Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things …and that he must be killed and after three days rise again… Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But when Jesus turned and looked at his disciples, he rebuked Peter. “Get behind me, Satan!” he said. “You do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of human beings.”
The first section of this reading reinforces last week’s message: Jesus’ ministry is not to be based on grandstanding and wonder-working, but on challenging injustice, and meeting violence with love. For all that he has taught them, the disciples find this an incredibly hard message to digest.  We are constantly tempted to look for glory somewhere else.  Jesus’ teaching and practice reminds us again and again that it is to be found in suffering, self-giving love.
Jesus said: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Dying, we live: this is the paradox at the heart of the Gospel.  In holding power and possessions to ourselves, we cut ourselves off from the greatest gift of all – the koinonia (fellowship) which is at the heart of God, and into which we are invited by Christ’s death and resurrection.  God’s self-offering on the cross gives us both the example and the power to offer ourselves as a ‘living sacrifice’ (Romans 12.1).  ‘We love because he first loved us’ – and in so doing, we share the very life of God (2 Peter 1.4)

A warm invitation to Christian and Hindu leaders

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Hindu and Christian Leaders from across London and beyond are invited to a workshop on Saturday 3rd March. Taking place between 10am and 4pm and held at the Mile End Bengali Hindu temple, the workshop will explore how Hindu and Christian leaders can work together on common local issues. If you would like to take part in this conference or find out more, ring Tim on 020 77801600.

A great idea we’ve spotted…

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The Near Neighbours team is always on the lookout for great ideas coming from community groups in Eastern London and all around the as well. We recently heard about the FAN group in Wales and wanted to share a little about them. Read on to find out about an exciting initiative…

It was dusk and I was walking in the rain looking for the venue where the FAN meeting would take place – my first meeting. What exactly FAN was, I did not know but I knew that I was feeling very lonely and I needed company. A week earlier I was given a flyer saying “FAN Group meetings last about an hour and give all people an opportunity to meet in friendship. ANYONE friendly is welcome at a FAN Group. We`d like to meet you! There is no charge for attending. It`s a great way to make new friends!”

I needed very much to make new friends to overcome my loneliness and thought that trying FAN might help. I said to myself “I am a friendly person and I’m sure I will be OK.” That night the meeting was in a church hall. Today I know of FAN Groups that meet at cafes, restaurants, supermarkets, community centres and elsewhere.

FAN is a listening group. People sit in a circle to listen to each other. In turn we talk about ourselves, our week and a chosen subject. People speak only if they wish and the meeting finishes with a closing statement. The topic of the day can vary from pets, nature and childhood to grandparents, food and travelling.  Since 2003 in Cardiff more than 1,500 people from 68 different nationalities have attended FAN meetings and had the opportunity to meet local residents who have become friends.

If you want to find your local group, check out www.thefancharity.org or why not start one of your own?

First Sunday of Lent: reflections on the readings

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As part of the Call to Change initiative, the Jellicoe blog now has a weekly post on the forthcoming lectionary readings.  This Sunday’s Gospel reading is Mark 1.9-15

Right at the start of Jesus’ ministry, he faces a choice of direction.  Matthew and Luke tell us more about the temptations Jesus faces.  Satan urges Jesus to perform dramatic stunts, to get popularity and fame.  But Jesus’ mission is to be a servant king.
In Jesus, God becomes one of us – and so he must go through the struggles and the frustrations of human life. He comes alongside us with all the risk and suffering that involves.   He isn’t here to bowl people over with his wonders, to intimidate them by his power, but to love them into God’s Kingdom.
Lent is an opportunity for us to think about the direction of individual lives, and our common life.  It is a time to think about the ways in which we are shaped by the world around us – and the beliefs which actually animate our actions.
Do we live as if it is through suffering love – through the  way of the cross – that new life comes to the world?  Are we willing to become vulnerable, forgiving those who have caused us the deepest hurt, speaking the truth to the powerful even when they don’t want to hear it? 
Jesus path is not an easy one:  it doesn’t shirk conflict, but in the midst of conflict it remains a way of love.  It is, as we know, a demanding path.  Like our Lord, we face the temptations to an easier (perhaps more dramatic) path.  We cannot walk the way of Christ alone – which is why Lent is a time to draw closer to God, and to one another.

Christian and Muslim women deepening relationships

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Many of our Near Neighbours supported groups involve Muslims and Christians getting together. We’ve funded project which see those of the two faiths eating together, dancing together and even gardening together!

Our friends at the Christian Muslim Forum are putting on an event which helps to continue and deepen many of the relationships which have beeen started.

Taking place on 19th and 20th March 2012 in Northampton, Come to the Edge is a conference asking important questions such as ‘What are women looking for in a role model?’ and ‘Are community relations becoming harder?’

Leading academics from both faiths will address the gathering. More details can be found below or at the Christian Muslim Forum website.

New funding opportunities in Tower Hamlets – deadline soon!

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If you’re in the Tower Hamlets area, there are certain areas covered by the Near Neighbours scheme. If you’re in Bethnal Green, Bow or Shadwell there’s the chance to apply for funding and support from us for your community project. Click the ‘about’ button above to find out more.

 

However, there are other funding streams if you’re in another area. The following information from Tower Hamlets Council may be of interest…
The Mayor’s One Tower Hamlets Fund is inviting proposals from community, voluntary and resident groups to set up Neighbourhood Agreements. A Neighbourhood Agreement involves local people working together with the council and other service providers to identify priorities for public service delivery in their area.
The Fund will support groups to deliver activities which bring together residents from different backgrounds and develop community leadership to develop a Neighbourhood Agreement. Small Grants of up to £7,000 will be available to successful organisations.
Further information on the fund can be found in the link here: http://www.towerhamlets.gov.uk/lgsl/851-900/871_community_grants.aspx

Deadline for applications is 9am Monday 13th February 2012 with successful projects being notified by Thursday 23rd February 2012. For further information or support contact: mohammed.ahad@towerhamlets.gov.uk

The People’s Palladium

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Based on one of London’s most iconic streets – Brick Lane – the People’s Palladium is an exciting and dynamic theatre group. It was set up in 2008 with the aim of creating a ‘Theatre of Ideas’ – to provoke local people to think about morality, human relations and history.

Those of all backgrounds are welcomed as performers and audience members. The group says its founding principle was ‘equality of opportunity’ while suggesting that “diversity is a core asset providing creative energy to make play and pleasure the hallmark of The People’s Palladium.”

The People’s Palladium began its life with a production of Federico Garcia Lorca’s ‘Blood Wedding’, a play of love and passion which was well received by the audience at the Departure Arts Centre in Limehouse. The company’s next production was ‘From Here’ which consisted of more than ten different individual stories told simultaneously in a participatory style. It was presented to a full house in Whitechapel.

The most recent performance was another Federico Garcia Lorca classic titled ‘Yerma’. The play deals with themes of isolation, passion and frustration, as well as nature, marriage and friendship. Yerma’ also played to a full house.

As well as bigger productions, the group also puts on workshops which are open to anyone in the local community who wants to come and join in. A good example of this is the recent ‘Scenes for a Spring Evening’ series. These open workshops gave the chance for members of the local community to come and take part in classic plays as actors, production team members or simply by watching.

The People’s Palladium is now looking to the future to further opportunities throughout 2012 and beyond. A grant from Near Neighbours is being put towards an exciting production. The aim is to bring together a group of local young people of different faiths and ethnicities and work with them on a show to be performed at Limehouse Town Hall.  Beginning in January 2012 the young people are taking part in drama workshops and will stage a selection of ‘scenes from world theatre’. They’ll also work together building props and staging. It’s hoped this will lead to lasting friendships.

If you want to find out more about the People’s Palladium, there are many ways to get in touch. You can visit the website: peoplespalladium.com, visit the facebook page or even follow on twitter.

Happy New Year from Near Neighbours

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2012 is now upon us and all of the team at Near Neighbours would like to with you a very happy and joyful new year. 2012 is, of course, a very significant year for the areas we cover. The world’s attention will be on Eastern London when the Olympic and Paralympic Games come to town this summer. What an opportunity for us to show why this is one of the best places in the world to live!

We’ve got many different ethnicities, nationalities and faiths living together to make up one of the most diverse communities anywhere on the planet. We’re delighted to be supporting grass roots community projects which help to encourage people from all kinds of different backgrounds to meet, deepen their relationships and take part in great community activities together.

We would love to hear from you if you’re involved in a project, or you’d like to start one that Near Neighbours may be able to support. For more information, simply click on the ‘About’ button above.

Over the next couple of weeks this blog will be profiling some of the organisations which are already benefitting from Near Neighbours grant funding and support. Watch this space…

Responding to Richard Dawkins’ Christmas message

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Richard Dawkins guest-edited the Christmas edition of the New Statesman – beginning with an open letter to the Prime Minister attackng faith schools, and calling for governmental “neutrality” on religious matters.  In this festive blog, Centre Director Angus Ritchie offers a response.

Dear Professor Dawkins

Merry Christmas to you too! I hope the authorship of this letter isn’t too big a disappointment. When you write to the P.M., you don’t expect the reply to be written by a cleric.

(Just to be clear, I have no authority – or desire – to speak on behalf of David Cameron. The views here are very much my own.)

Time is short.  It seems we both have carol services to attend! So let me cut to the chase. Your letter to calls for “state neutrality” on matters of religion, and an end to any government support for faith schools.  I think your position is anything but neutral.

You imply that the “neutral” way to bring up children is to avoid religious practice until they can decide for themselves. Hence your analogy with economics. We don’t bring up children as Keynesians or monetarists; we let them decide which to be when they are old enough to grasp the arguments. You think we should do the same with religion.

But you can’t bring up children “neutrally”. The economics analogy doesn’t really work. Long before they are able to evaluate the arguments for and against our view of the world, we have to bring children up according to some norms. We teach them by word and deed, what kinds of things are right and wrong, what they should value and what they should dismiss. Some of those norms will have religious, or atheistic, implications. We either bring them up as if God is a living reality, worthy of gratitude and worship, or we don’t. If (as I believe) there is a God, then it is the most natural and right thing in the world to pray to him from the earliest age. If (as you believe) there isn’t, then such a practice is worse than a waste of time.  Neither choice is “neutral”.

“Neutral” parenting cannot be expected of anyone. Some parents will pray with their children, and will also take them to church, and even send them to religious schools.  While we can’t demand “neutrality” from parents or from schools, there are some things we should expect. Every parent and school should bring children up with an openness to other worldviews – and, as they get older, the freedom to draw their own conclusions.

Let’s turn to the wider issue of governmental “neutrality” on matters of religion. You and I agree that the state should not impose atheism or religion on its citizens. But government policy is inevitably, and rightly, shaped by values. That’s something we need more of – now more than ever.

Politics is about how we build a common life, and discern a common good. You can’t expect me to participate in that without bringing my faith to bear. It is the foundation of my convictions about what is good and just. You will have different foundations (a matter to which we must return if this correspondence continues).

Christianity is a holistic view of the world, not a detachable set of private convictions. For a Christian, the nature of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ have implications for economic policy as much as ‘private’ ethical choices. The recent statements by the Vatican and the Archbishop of Canterbury on the financial crisis are a case in point.  That’s why churches are at the forefront of both the Jubilee 2000 campaign (on international debt), and Citizens UK’s Nehemiah 5 Campaign (against exploitative lending). The very names of the campaigns are revealing.

Of course, if Christians are to turn their ideas into reality, they need to win support from others. This involves making arguments that appeal to non-Christians. There’s nothing underhand about that; building coalitions across differences is central to all democratic politics. Whatever your worldview, turning your convictions into government policy involves two things.  Firstly, you try to persuade people of the truth of your worldview. Secondly, you build alliances with those who remain unconvinced. So, in the Nehemiah 5 Challenge, churches advance some reasons for public policy which are distinctively Christian, and some which are not. As part of Citizens UK, they work with mosques and trade unions, tenants associations and student unions, on this and many other issues. (These include the Living Wage Campaign – with deep roots in Catholic Social Teaching – which has now won £70 million for low-paid workers in London alone.)

Of course, Christians disagree amongst themselves – on economics as much as anything else. How to understand and apply the teachings of Scripture and Church is a matter for discussion. That’s one reason we have departments of Theology as well as Religious Studies in our universities (just as we have departments which reflect on moral and political issues without reference to God).

You may ask: “Why should I be forced to live with an economic system shaped by your religious views?” A good question! To which I would answer: “That’s the price of living in a pluralist democracy. I’m forced to live with a system shaped in part by the moral convictions of atheists, and you’re forced to live with a system shaped in part by the convictions of Christians.”  Neither of us is “imposing” our worldview on the other.  What we’re doing is negotiating a common life in the midst of deep ethical and religious disagreement. That’s the challenge, and the joy, of politics.

The elephant in the room – in your letter and in my reply – is whether religious views can ever be reasoned and reasonable.  In the end, your desire to relegate religion to the private sphere is anything but neutral.  It only makes sense if you believe religion has no rational foundations.

If you are willing to engage in this correspondence, I’d love to move on to a more detailed examination of this elephant. There’s a lot more to be said.

In the meantime, this comes with my best wishes to you and your family for a happy Christmas,

Angus Ritchie

Archbishop Sentamu to lecture on Good Childhood

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The Centre has begun a research partnership with The Children’s Society on child poverty, theology and inequality.  So we are especially pleased to publicise their 2012 Edward Rudolf Lecture by the Archbishop of York.  The event will launch the Good Childhood Report 2012 – with empirical research which complements and informs our ongoing programme of theological reflection on the issue

The Children’s Society invite you to join us and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, in a presentation of our groundbreaking Good Childhood Report 2012 on 12 January 2012 in Church House, Westminster SW1P 3NZ.

The Good Childhood Report, based on the views of 25,000 children and young people, contains compelling evidence on the factors that affect the well-being of children.

 The evening will be an engaging exploration of the ingredients of a happy childhood, consisting of a presentation of the report followed by a lecture by the Archbishop of York, who has been an outspoken advocate for young people in the UK for many years.

 The writers of the report as well as the Archbishop will interact with the audience in a Q&A session following the lecture. Registration opens at 5.30 pm and all are invited to the post-lecture reception lasting until 8.30 pm.

To attend, please email conferences@childrenssociety.org.uk or telephone The Children’s Society’s Supporter Care Team on 0300-303-7000.

From ideas to action

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As part of our series of posts from the recent theological consultation with The Children’s Society, here is a reflection by CTC’s Adam Atkinson and Angus Ritchie (both priests at St Peter’s, Bethnal Green)

‘The world as it should be’ preoccupies many of us.  It can be a distraction as well as an inspiration.  Our contexts is Bethnal Green, aka ‘the world as it is’.  If you stand on the steps of our parish strip club on Hackney Road and pointed out a mile radius – the context of that area is not just cultural creatives, Tec city entrepreneurs, boutiques and nightlife.  It is also 40% unemployment and 54% child poverty.

As Anglican priests in Bethnal Green we are living, working and praying for transformation: for the spiritual, social and cultural transformation that the Gospel brings, as the Kingdom of God comes near in the person of Jesus.  We lead an institution that is trying to love God and love neighbour, faithfully and effectively.

Soon after arriving as yet another immigrant to East London (albeit a new-wave middle class one), Adam was introduced to a community organiser.  They spoke about addressing the social need of the city and the organiser asked Adam why he was here.  Adam replied: ‘To be a voice for the voiceless.’  The organiser shot back “Why do they need you to speak for them?  How about helping them to have a voice?’

The voice of the poor has to be at the heart of social transformation.  This Consultation has explored the gap between rhetoric and reality on issues of poverty and inequality.  We hear a great many words – from politicians of all stripes – about the excessive gap between rich and poor.  Indeed, we have an unprecedented political consensus on the urgency of tackling domestic as well as global poverty.  And yet the gap between rich and poor gets wider.  This isn’t a party political point: both the last government and this one fall short of the agreed targets for cutting child poverty.  Lots of edifying words: but few of them becoming flesh in Bethnal Green.

Time and again, we find the redistribution of power is the essential prelude to real change.  ‘Being a voice for the voiceless’ is not enough.  Is the voiceless who feel the urgency of poverty most keenly. It is when they find their voice and build their power that change becomes possible. That’s why The Children’s Society is so committed to including young people in this conversation.  It is also why community organising – the systematic building of power among the poor – has a crucial role to play in closing the gap between rhetoric and reality on the issue of child poverty.

What is power?  The best definition we know is this: ‘the ability to act’.  Power is not good or bad.  That depends on how you use it, and to what ends. We are familiar with different types of power: Positional power – where a leader operates through the mandate given to them by an office of some sort, a Mayor, a Bishop, a boss in an office hierarchy.  Often people with such positions of power confess that they don’t feel that they really do have much power.  Ironically people without positional power often assume that they need to achieve the position before they can really affect change for the better.

There’s financial power – we’d all quite like more of that.  Indeed the ebbing tide of financial power in families as well as in governments is causing much anguish.  A growing – and painful – inability to act.

As Christians, we share a real and dynamic notion of spiritual power.  We pray, things happen.  It is borne out by our experience and by that of the church.
 There is also such a thing as relational power.  Indeed, relational power when combined with any of the above renders them especially potent.  But it is potent on its own.  Relational power is what community organizing works with.  Relational power really is powerful, it is also something we all need but it happens to be freely available.

 At its heart community organising is about the building of these relationships.  Relationships within and between ‘institutions’: organizations of free association, places that have a life of their own where people gather such as churches, schools, mosques, TRAs, community groups.  These institutions then decide to work together for the common good.

Relational power – sometimes referred to as ‘relational capacity’ – is built through one-to-one conversations.  If I want to build relational power I need to create, develop and keep good relationships.  Again, this is an astonishingly simple idea but often more honoured in the breach that in the observance. 
 A simple personal calendar test will suffice to see if this is something we really do prioritise.  Ask how I spent my time in the last week or month and you will get a fairly clear idea of my priorities.  How many times did I meet with people simply to get to know them, to find out what makes them tick, to build a relationship?

A Catholic priest friend of ours has put three one to one conversations in his calendar every week for the last three years.  As a consequence he can say that he has built a relational culture, where people have followed his lead and carried out one-to-ones themselves, where he certainly knows and is known as a person not just as the parish priest, and where people’s gifts and passions are uncovered and therefore stand more of a chance of being fulfilled.

‘Community organising’ sounds like something new.  With the rise of Barack Obama, it has come (no doubt fleetingly) into fashion.  In fact, it calls us back to some traditions the church has forgotten, as it has followed the wider culture in becoming more project-driven and less relational.  The importance of relationships to young people’s wellbeing, and the pressures in modern life which lead less time to be invested in them, is well documented The Children’s Society’s own Good Childhood Inquiry.  As John Milbank has reminded us, the Church is called to embody – as well as to promote – true reciprocity and society.  And as he suggests, practicing what we preach is central to authentic and effective evangelism.

Community organising is not a distraction from the church’s central task.  Rather, it recalls to a more faithful embodiment and proclamation of the Gospel.  In so doing, it builds the power of our poorest neighbourhoods: enabling the vision of society we have shared at this Consultation to move from the ‘world as it should be’ into the ‘world as it is’.

Near Neighbours projects… the story so far.

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So what does a Near Neighbours project actually look like? Well, no two projects are the same, but we can safely say that they’re all making fantastic progress in bringing together people of different backgrounds who may never otherwise have met. If you’d like to find out more, or make an application for funding, click the ‘about’ button above. Here’s a list of the projects being supported so far:

The Pembroke Settlement/St Christopher’s Church

Located at the end of East Street (Walworth Road) this church has a long, proud history of engagement with the local community and is supported by Pembroke College, Cambridge. The church has just been awarded a Near Neighbours grant to link its predominantly Nigerian congregation with the White and Latin local community and to engage with the local Mosque. This is a very exciting project taking place over six months or more. The grant will partly fund a worker who’ll also be accommodated in the ‘settlement house’ on site. Using our expanding networks we’ve found an excellent young man with NGO and community development experience who is exploring the possibility of being that worker.

South Bank University
Until the arrival of Revd Howard Woolsey a few months ago, chaplaincy provision at South Bank was limited, despite it being one of the most diverse universities in the country. Howard has just received a Near Neighbours grant to assist a group of students from varied backgrounds in the ‘Conversations of the Soul’ project (emerging from St Ethelburga’s interfaith centre). This will enable deep relationships to form between the students and Howard will build on this to form a University Faith Forum.

David Idowu Choir

When Grace Idowu’s son was murdered in 2008 she began a remarkable journey. She has since met David’s murderer and forgiven him. She’s now made it her life’s mission to bring young people in her community together to prevent future attacks. The choir is being partially funded by a grant from the Near Neighbours programme. It’s been set up to provide local communities with the resources they need to bring together teenagers of different faiths and none, as well as those of different ethnic backgrounds. The choir is now singing in a number of prestigious locations in South London.

The David Idowu Choir

St Paul’s Shadwell

This lively Anglican church has received assistance from Near Neighbours to build a community vegetable garden. With the help of volunteers from the church and people of other faiths from the community, this is an opportunity to build lasting relationships. The church is working closely with the Darul Ummah Jamme Mosque. The project has been awarded £4,000 to publicise the garden. The grant will also help to buy seeds, plants, tools, gloves and compost. The genius of this project is that the food grown is going to be donated to Tower Hamlets Foodbank (another project supported by the Contextual Theology Centre, where Near Neighbours is based).

Curbs – Energize4Girlz Project

Energize4Girlz will run holiday activities for local girls 8 – 15 yrs of different faiths.  The church wants to enable the girls to develop deep relationships with each other. Curbs is a Christian based charity located at St Mary’s Cable Street, a church in the heart of a very multi-cultural community. The holiday clubs will take place in school holidays. There is a theme for each club – in Summer 2012 the girls will look identity and will enjoy poetry and cultural trips, while in October 2012 they will be exploring ideas of citizenship, race and faith in their local community.

Clapton Park Community Gardening

On Clapton Marsh estate a gardening project brought people of different faiths together to change a neglected and derelict area blighted by antisocial behaviour into a community garden. The project is being supported by All Souls Church Clapton which has now been awarded £5,000 by Near Neighbours to develop in the coming year. Volunteers have already established flower beds but needed a place to store tools as well as funds to buy more equipment and plants. The church will also use the grant to draw in more local families – each will have a small plot and friendly rivalry will be encouraged over who can grow the best veg. The local youth club and older people’s club will also enjoy the new garden.

Waltham Forest Faith Forum

Waltham Forest Faith Forum was keen to gather people from different backgrounds to learn about Near Neighbours. A small grant of £260 enabled the crowd to gather in a great venue where the Eastern London Near Neighbours Coordinator explained the programme and answered questions.  This was vital for several groups considering making further grant applications to Near Neighbours. As a result of the meeting three were submitted and others are now thinking about an application.

Trinity Community Garden Project

This Leytonstone group will work with young people marginalised from society through offending, homelessness or unemployment. Young people of different faiths will work together to establish a garden around the Trinity Community Centre.  There will be a strong training element to this project with young people receiving tuition in landscaping and growing plants.

Women Beyond Borders
Based in Forest Gate, this organisation is a Refugee and Migrant Project supporting women of different faiths. A grant of £500 will provide a Christmas party for the children of these women who come from many different backgrounds. The group is so organic and ground-level that it didn’t have a bank account to receive the grant. This is a perfect example of the sort of project Near Neighbours wants to support – this group is free of the usual organisational structures associated with many bigger community groups, but is doing great work.

Young people in Stratford

A diverse group of young people put together a grant application to enable them to explore how the media portrays religion and faith. They also want to find out what triggers religious stereotypes through group discussions. They will create performance pieces which will consolidate their learning – these will be recorded and made available to other groups.  The young people will be encouraged by education and theatre specialists.

DIVA Women’s Group

This group of women in Bethnal Green began meeting together for Zumba dance classes. At the beginning they were all Muslim women, but the group was determined to reach out to others in their area. They advertised the classes and began to draw in others. They’ve since organised parties for the women’s children and Eid and Christmas events for the women themselves. The Near Neighbours grant they’ve been given has enabled them to deepen their relationships and community outreach. The money has helped to pay for workshops on issues of concern to the members of the group, while outings for the children are also planned to get a new generation growing up together.

People’s Palladium
This small voluntary theatre company will bring together a group of local young people of different faiths and ethnicities and work with them on a show to be performed at Limehouse Town Hall.  Beginning in January 2012 the young people will take part in drama workshops and stage a selection of ‘scenes from world theatre’. They’ll also work together building props and staging. It’s hoped this will lead to lasting friendships.

The People's Palladium

Belief In Bow

A series of three free world music concerts is to be held at St Barnabus church. Local people of diverse faiths are putting on the concerts which will include the opportunity to share food. A Musicologist from a top London University will introduce the concerts to increase the understanding of music within each of the three faiths involved. The aim is that the audience will be comprised of people drawn from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities and beyond.

St Barnabus church, Bow

Theology, poverty and inequality

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Two thought-provoking papers on theology, poverty and inequality are now online – from our Will the first be last? consultation with The Children’s Society.

Michael Ipgrave’s paper opened the discussion, setting out some conceptual and existential questions relating to poverty and inequality.  It is an excellent starting-point for theological reflection on these issues.

John Milbank’s paper argues for a distinctive Christian commitment to  ‘the social’ as distinct from the State and the market.  He explores the implications of this for effective ways to address child poverty.  The paper is a powerful example of the distinctive contribution theology can make to these debates; providing far more than a religious gloss on pre-existing political positions and commitments.

Welfare Reform: a view from The Children’s Society

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Back in July,  the Contextual Theology Centre’s launched  Will the first be last? – anew research partnership with the Children’s Society on poverty and inequality.  Some of the papers from our initial Theological Consultation are now on the Centre website.

In the next few weeks, we will  be adding new blog posts on the issues raised.  Today, Dr Sam Royston (The Children’s Society Policy Advisor on Poverty and Early Years) blogs on the Welfare Reform Bill.

Now is a time of enormous upheaval for families living in poverty.   A number of cuts to financial support, and services for the most disadvantaged families have already been made in the emergency Budget and the Comprehensive Spending Review last year.  These cuts are part of the Government’s wider deficit reduction plan and their impact is just starting to be felt.  Looking forwards, the Welfare Reform Bill currently going through the House of Lords has been referred to as “rewriting Beveridge” – a fundamental overhaul of the very foundations of the welfare system providing support to millions of children living in poverty.

Some of the reforms in the Bill are to be warmly welcomed.  The introduction of the Universal Credit is intended to simplify the complicated Benefits and Tax Credit systems, and to improve work incentives to help families to “make work pay”.  However, many of the provisions for families are much less progressive.  Cuts to support with housing costs, cuts in support for families with disabled children and young carers, and a punitive benefit cap for out of work households are all going to contribute to what the outgoing Chief Executive of The Children’s Society has warned will become a “decade of disadvantage”.

Because of our commitment to ensuring that children have a good childhood and fair life chances, The Children’s Society will continue to work hard to ensure that children do not lose out as a result of the changes coming down the line – our work in collaboration with other organisations has already helped to ensure £300 million of additional investment in help with childcare costs.  There is clearly still a huge amount to be done.

And the Church has been a crucial partner for these debates.  Christian and other religious groups, helped to bring attention to our petition against cuts to support for disabled children, which now has around six and a half thousand signatures.

Most recently, eighteen bishops signed an open letter to the Observer about the impact of the Benefit Cap on more than 200,000 disadvantaged children, potentially making as many as 80,000 homeless.  The letter, which was supported by both Archbishops, emphasised that “The Church of England has a commitment and moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice. As such, we feel compelled to speak for children who might be faced with severe poverty and potentially homelessness, as a result of the choices or circumstances of their parents. Such an impact is profoundly unjust.”

We supported Bishop John Packer in presenting amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill which would mitigate the impact of the cap, for instance, removing Child Benefit from household income for the purposes of the cap, and introducing a twelve month “grace period” following the loss of employment, where the cap would not apply.  We will continue to work together closely to get these amendments accepted as the Bill moves through Parliament, in order to avoid the most regressive impacts of the policy.

However, it will take more than action on one reform, or one Bill, to ensure that the most disadvantaged children get a fair deal.  We must not forget that the government has pledged to end child poverty by 2020 – a commitment taken so seriously that it is enshrined in law through the Child Poverty Act.  But current policy is heading directly in the wrong direction – for example, the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently estimated that on the basis of current policy 800,000 more children would be living in poverty by 2020.  Turning this freight train around, particularly in the current economy, is a huge challenge but is one that neither the children’s sector or the Church can look away from.

The Children’s Society will continue to work closely with the Church to express our shared concern for the most disadvantaged children in our society.  We know that economic times are tough, we know that this is a period where the government is committed to making savings, not spending – but this simply must not be done at a cost to children and families living in poverty.   Getting this message across is the biggest challenge we all face in coming years and is one that can only be achieved through shared moral and practical commitment to the cause.

Near Neighbours is launched!

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Monday 14 November 2011

Eric Pickles officially launches £5m Near Neighbours programme

Eric Pickles MP at the launch of Near Neighbours

Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, today formally launched the Near Neighbours programme at a special event at St John’s Church, Bethnal Green. The event was attended by national faith representatives including the Bishop of London, the Rt Rev. Richard Chartres, as well as the Bishops of Southwark and Chelmsford.

Near Neighbours is a three-year initiative that aims to bring people together in diverse communities, helping them to build relationships and collaborate to improve the local community they live in. Near Neighbours was created by Church Urban Fund and the Archbishop’s Council following the award of £5m by the Department for Communities and Local Government to the Church of England in February.

Rt Revd Dr Richard Chartres, The Bishop of London

Near Neighbours is focused on four areas of the country including Eastern London (specifically in the boroughs of Greenwich, Hackney, Islington, Lewisham, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest) where there are many deprived multi-faith neighbourhoods. The programme is co-ordinated by the Contextual Theology Centre working in partnership with the Christian Muslim Forum, the Council of Christians and Jews and the Hindu Christian Forum.

In addition to developing work already underway at the centres, the Near Neighbours Fund awards small grants of up to £5,000 to projects that enable people of different faiths (or none) to work together to the benefit of the community. The national fund has received 35 grant applications since it opened in September (11 in Eastern London), and has approved over £98,000 of funding for 26 different projects in the four areas (£28,000 so far in Eastern London). Examples include a women’s group organising Zumba dance classes and other cross-cultural social activities in Bethnal Green and a community youth choir that unites young people in a highly diverse area of Southwark. (Here the choir sing and listen to their extraordinary story here: http://nearneighbours.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/the-david-idowu-choir/)

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles said:

“The work we are celebrating today is the next chapter in the same centuries-old, proud and unbroken tradition of people of faith giving back to local communities. They enrich their neighbourhoods and improve the lives of those around them through practical action.

“Too often communities that live side by side don’t get together as often as they could to discuss and tackle the issues and challenges that matter to them most. This can lead to isolation and misunderstandings which are not healthy for local communities, when by and large, irrespective of background or faith most people want the same thing, for their neighbourhoods to be better places to live.

“Faith groups play a vital role in our neighbourhoods. We want to give them help to do what they do best. That’s why we are funding Near Neighbours as an investment in the future; supporting grass roots groups and projects to allow communities to get on transforming their neighbourhoods for the better.”

Eric Pickles meets Fulma Begum and others from the DIVA group in Bethnal Green

Baroness Eaton, chair of the Near Neighbours charity, said:

“Near Neighbours is able to make a real impact in local communities because it works directly with people who know and understand their specific issues. The applications that we have received so far are extremely encouraging and show us the depth of care that people of all faiths and backgrounds have for their communities.”

Ramesh Pattni, Faith Advisory Board member for Near Neighbours and Co-Chair of the Hindu Christian Forum echoes the praise:

‘‘Near Neighbours’ resonates with the Hindu ethos of ‘Universal Family’ of Man at many different levels. At the interpersonal level, one relates to the other, in this Universal Family, with friendship, trust and respect. Our faith can provide a significant context for these qualities to develop. These strands give strength and resilience to our personal, communal and social engagement. With this vision we have hope and confidence that the programme will result in positive outcomes of greater understanding and appropriate local change’.

If you want to listen to a recording of the whole event, simply click below:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/27997596″]

Contact details: Revd Tim Clapton at the Contextual Theology Centre: 020 7780 1600

Near Neighbours Official Launch

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Although Near Neighbours has been going for a little while, an official launch is taking place to mark the commencement of the project.

We’re delighted to say the National launch is happening here in the Eastern London patch. Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP will speak alongside the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Dr Richard Chartres.

If you’re a journalist or reporter, especially with local or community media, we’d love to see you there. The event is happening on Monday 14th November 2011. Full details of location etc. will be given on request. Simply email media@theology-centre.org to find out more.

Can we help you?

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Near Neighbours in Eastern London is now up and running. Every day we’re having productive meetings with local community groups in Greenwich, Hackney, Islington, Lewisham, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.

If you have a project we could help, we’d love to hear from you. If you’ve got an idea for a project, we’d love to hear from you. If you know someone who’s doing fantastic work in the local community, we’d love you to tell them about us!

So what kind of thing are we talking about? Well there are three areas…

1) Creating First Encounters between people of different faith and ethnic communities and encouraging the development of mutual understanding.

2) Creating Everyday Interactions by encouraging families and individuals to come together regularly to eat together, jointly participating in religious and other festivals, encouraging children to play together in a neighbourhood.

3) Creating Civil Engagement which brings together people from different faith or ethnic communities to work together to change their neighbourhoods for the better.

If you’ve got an idea or you’re already doing something that fits these criteria and you’re in one of the areas mentioned above, then get in touch.

Award amounts range from £250-£5000. It is possible to be awarded more than one grant, especially when a locality or grouping is progressing from First Encounters, to Everyday Interactions, to Civic Engagement.

For more information and to discuss whether you and your group may be eligible for a grant, contact Revd Tim Clapton via the following methods:

nearneighbours@theology-centre.org

Phone: 0207 780 1600

The Contextual Theology Centre, The Royal Foundation of St Katharine, 2, Butcher Row, LONDON, E14 8DS

The David Idowu Choir

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When Grace Idowu’s 14-year-old son David was stabbed outside her home in Southwark in 2008 he became the 19th victim of knife crime in London that year. Grace and her husband Tim said in a statement to the court which tried his killer, “The knife which pierced David’s heart will keep the wounds open in our hearts forever.”

But Grace has since met David’s murderer and forgiven him. In 2009 the David Idowu Foundation was set up. She’s now made it her life’s mission to bring young people in her community together to prevent future attacks.

The David Idowu Choir

 

Her latest initiative is the David Idowu Choir which is taking young people from schools across Southwark and getting them to sing together, regardless of their background, faith or race. Grace says, “Music is so powerful… it’s one way to bring unity. When you are singing you’re just speaking one language.”

The choir's first performance at Goldsmiths College, University of London

The choir is being partially funded by a grant from the Near Neighbours programme. It’s been set up to provide local communities with the resources they need to bring together those of different faiths and none, as well as those of different ethnic backgrounds. To find out more, or to apply for a grant, check the website: http://www.cuf.org.uk/near-neighbours

Here, you can listen to snippets of the choir and a conversation between Grace and Andy Walton from Near Neighbours:

[soundcloud url=”http://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/26535673″]

Up and running…

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Welcome to the brand spanking new blog for eastern London Near Neighbours.

Near Neighbours has two key objectives:

  1. Social interaction – to develop positive relationships in multi-faith areas i.e. to help people from different faiths get to know and understand each other better.
  2. Social action – to encourage people of different faiths, or no faith, to come together for initiatives that improve their local neighbourhood.

The purpose of this blog is to share the stories of those who are taking part in this exciting journey.

 

The boroughs covered are Greenwich, Hackney, Islington, Lewisham, Newham, Redbridge, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest. We’ll be hearing from those taking part in innovative and exciting projects across these areas.

Feel free to comment and interact…

The Ideas Redefining Britain

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John Milbank, a Fellow of CTC, has contributed an article to a recent ResPublica publication entitled Changing the Debate: The Ideas Redefining Britain.  Indeed, Philip Blond who is the Director of ResPublica is taking part in a Jellicoe seminar hosted by CTC in a few month’s time, and Nat Wei, who also contributes an article, is Patron of the Shoreditch Group.

The collection of essays offers a fascinating sweep across some of the ideas bouyant in current political and social debate.  While not comprehensive, it is certainly a valuable collection with other contributors including Rowan Williams, Roger Scruton and Will Hutton.

The publication is available to purchase here.

Will the first be last? New research project announced

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At a time of economic turmoil, and political controversy over spending cuts, there is an unusual consensus on the issue of inequality. Politicians and intellectuals across the political spectrum agreeing the gap between rich and poor is too wide, and that this ultimately impoverishes all concerned.

The Children’s Society and the Contextual Theology Centre are beginning a year-long consultation – exploring (i) the impact of inequality and the related impact of poverty on children and young people; (ii) a Christian vision of the common good; and (iii) the practical contribution the Church can make to a more just social order. At a time when the Church is being invited to play a greater role in the ‘Big Society’, these are issues on which reflection is much needed.

Will the first be last? will include

– an online conversation, with regular posts on the Faithful Citizens blog

– seminars, reports and articles

– materials for study groups

It will inform the work of The Children’s Society, and of the Contextual Theology Centre and its inner-city partners – Baptist, Catholic, Church of England, Methodist, Pentecostal and Salvation Army congregations.   But we hope the conversation will be of wider relevance to the Church and to all concerned with faith and social justice.

In early September, we will be bringing together leading thinkers and practitioners for a theological consultation – with input from Adam Atkinson, Robert Beckford, Giles Fraser, Ann Morisy, John Milbank and Michael Northcott and Bishops Tim Thornton and David Walker.   Over the next few months, our blog posts will include material preparing for and generated by this event.

By Angus Ritchie, Director

Big Society Needs Big Religion

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Robert Putnam, Harvard professor of public policy, has been in London, channelling the wisdom of social capital at No 10, as well as talking at St Martins-in-the-Fields on Monday evening. That venue is the big clue to his latest findings. It could be summarised thus: if you want big society, you need big religion.
 
In the US, over half of all social capital is religious. Religious people just do all citizenish things better than secular people, from giving, to voting, to volunteering. Moreover, they offer their money and time to everyone, regardless of whether they belong to their religious group.
 
It could be, of course, that the religious already have the virtues of citizenship. However, Putnam believes the relationship is causal, not just a correlation. Longitudinal studies also show as much. So why?
Read the full article here.

Could this be the church to calm secularist outrage?

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John Harris, a self proclaimed “unshakeable agnostic” over at the Guardian, has filmed a fascinating video, and written an accompanying article, about Liverpool’s Frontline Church.  The work done by the church for the local community is remarkable.  John Harris’ closing comments in the article offer a fascinating insight into a frequently ignored and often unspoken secularist dilemma:

The next day I meet a former sex worker, now apparently off drugs, set on somehow starting college and a regular Frontline worshipper. “I was a prostitute and a drug addict for 11, 12 years – maybe more,” she tells me. “God is so forgiving – he wants me to win.” Wider society, she says, is “too judgmental … it’s: ‘That’s a prostitute, that’s a drug addict.’ They don’t want to know.” And how has the church helped her? “Oh, it saved my life,” she shoots back. “I would be dead if it wasn’t for this church.”

A question soon pops into my head. How does a militant secularist weigh up the choice between a cleaned-up believer and an ungodly crack addict? Back at my hotel I search the atheistic postings on the original Comment is free thread for even the hint of an answer, but I can’t find one anywhere.

Questioning Attacks on the Big Society

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Dave Hodges has posed the question on the Labour Uncut blog whether it is time to stop bashing the Big Society?  He points to an important distinction which many critics of the Big Society fail to recognise: the Coalition’s deficit reduction plan, and the resulting cuts to public services, is not part and parcel of the Big Society vision.  Criticising one does not necessitate rubbishing the other.  As he says,

Aiming fire at the big society is not the answer. It is a positive, idealistic message that we sour with harsh home truths. We are the grumpy person in the corner who perks up adversely to criticise every time the opportunity arises.

At a recent Compass event in Westminster, Jesse Norman MP and Anna Coote from nef clashed over precisely this point.  Jesse Norman, a strong supporter of the Big Society as a vision for a society emphasising mutuality and reciprocal relations, argued that this vision should be separated from the current Coalition plan for tackling the deficit.  Anna Coote instead believed that they were one and the same, and that therefore the Big Society could and should be judged by what is happening now.  The debate will no doubt continue.  But resolving it, and deciding on what grounds the Big Society should be attacked when it resonates so clearly with many aspects of the emerging Blue Labour narrative, would help opponents of the Coalition’s deficit reduction plan have a clearer objective in their sights.

So Farewell Then, Lord Wei

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Nat Wei has stepped down from his role as an unpaid adviser to the Government on the Big Society at the Cabinet Office.  A remarkably gifted social entrepreneur, it is likely that Wei’s talents will perhaps be better used in his new role at the Community Foundation Network.

There was always a significant question mark over whether the Cabinet Office could ever be the beating heart of a civil society renaissance.  As a Department it is a curious animal.  Often silent and stealthy, its officials are some of the brightest and sharpest minds dedicated to making the art of governing a refined, and efficient, science.  It’s bread and butter is strategy, and long term planning.  Occasionally the Cabinet Office breaks the surface – hosting the 2010 Coalition negotiations, for example, thrust it into the limelight – and its present Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O’Donnell, has much more name recognition than his predecessors.  Yet there are obvious limits to what central government can achieve through strategy papers (however clever) and bold ideas.  The power to really change things which will impact the Big Society lies in the hands of spending Ministers at other departments.  For example, Eric Pickles and the DCLG team are driving the localism agenda, not the Cabinet Office.  It is little wonder on one level then that Nat Wei might be of more direct use, and have more obvious impact, working at a grass roots level where change is more immediate, impact more measureable, and action favoured over strategy.

His departure prompts an observation however.  David Cameron shows no sign of disowning the Big Society brand despite growing calls for him to do so even by those that support its aims.  And it is important to note that Nat Wei is not going to be replaced.  It may be simply the case that no-one else willing or able to do the job for free could be found.  But it is not insigificant that the role is being taken out of the Cabinet Office and given to the No 10 Policy Unit.

Far from distancing himself from the Big Society, Cameron is taking it closer under his wing.  It remains to be seen, though, whether this results in greater attention to it.  A more likely option, given recent developments, is it becomes lost in the sea of more pressing problems the No 10 team are preoccupied with, such as NHS reform.  Cameron’s promise to cut the costs of government have led to serious problems in not having enough special advisers (SpAds) to provide sufficient political support for his objectives, and those of his ministers.  Their time and energy is already spread too thin.  Using civil servants instead has been the favoured option, though this may help explain some of the political mistakes of the past year which more seasoned partisan operators might have avoided.  Civil servants have not shown themselves natural supporters of the Big Society vision.  Let’s hope that they are not given responsibility for it in No 10.

Lord Wei will no doubt continue to add to the richness of civil society. His track record as a social entrepreneur speaks for itself.  But the impact of his time in the Cabinet Office is not yet clear.  And what will happen next, now that his role has been taken into No 10, remains to be seen.

By Josh Harris

Big Society Commission

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ACEVO has launched its Commission report into the Big Society this week.  The Commission members, drawn from across the political spectrum, broadly welcome the Big Society and regard it as an idea which should “transcend” party politics.  Concerned by polling figures which show just 13% of people think the government has a clear plan in place to achieve the Big Society, the Commission urges the Prime Minister personally to take control and drive forward the agenda.

Powerful People, Responsible Society is an intelligent and considered report.  Its balanced criticism is particularly valid on the lack of consistent guidance from the centre over what the Big Society – as a policy programme – is trying to achieve.  Refreshingly, the report makes concrete recommendations.  For example, building in through No 10 and the Cabinet Office specific ways of measuring the success or failure of the Big Society.

Of course, as a way of describing society and the relationship between people and the state (as Jesse Norman MP does well in his recent book), it is hard to measure its success.  As anyone interested in cultural change will know, pointing to measureable outcomes is fiendishly difficult. 

But there is a danger that this leads to a lack of accountability.  Not so much for whether the Big Society is achieved or not, but whether the money and civil servive time invested in it was worthwhile.  At a time of public spending restrictions it is vital that the Big Society is not ‘toxified’ further by those claiming it is a cover for cuts.  Being able to show positive outcomes for the government’s investment in it is vital for avoiding that accusation.  ACEVO’s suggestions for how this might be done is a welcome contribution to the debate.

Josh Harris – Research Coordinator, Contextual Theology Centre

A Postsecular Politics?

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Luke Bretherton, Senior Lecturer at Kings College London and a Fellow of the Contextual Theology Centre, has published an article in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion entitled A Postsecular Politics? Interfaith Relations as a Civic Practice.

In it, Bretherton critiques the way in which interfaith dialogue is often abstracted from the reality of the social, economic and political contexts in which it takes place.  Instead, he restates interfaith dialogue as being explicitly political and civic.  It is rooted in the desire to forge a common life among disparate communities; something which, Bretherton believes, requires an acute sense of place and context.  What is needed are “civic practices of listening, a commitment to place, and the building and maintenance of institutions as central to the formation of a politics of the common good”.

AV and the Big Society: The Dangers of Introspection

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The entrails of the opposing campaigns for the AV referendum last week will be pored over for weeks to come.  The result was a crushing defeat of AV by a margin of almost 2:1.  The cause of electoral reform has been kicked into the long grass, although some surprising dissenting voices to that thesis are worth hearing.

Already criticism is turning to the failure of the YES campaign to engage the electorate.  The failure which stands out for particular consideration is a question of realism.  Liberal Vision is particularly insightful:

The YES campaign was eminently winnable. But it ended up being run by readers of the Guardian for readers of the Guardian … From the outset, the YES campaign was all about the tiny coterie of people who feel strongly about electoral reform.

The point made in the article is that those leading the campaign addressed it to people like themselves.  The often self-congratulatory tone of the campaign material seemed directed more at cheering on existing supporters than seeking new ones.  Prominent people backing the campaign – including a disproportionate number of actors and celebrities who don’t necessarily bring credibility to a campaign – appealed to voters who were already inclined to vote YES.  There was little serious effort to appeal beyond an existing constituency.  As the result proved, that constituency (despite claims ad nauseum that there is a latent ‘progressive majority’ in Britain) was no way near big enough to win the referendum.

Cameron: Jesus founded the Big Society

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The Church Times has reported that David Cameron used an Easter reception at Downing Street to welcome the role of Christian organisations in building the Big Society.

Describing himself as a “wishy-washy sort of Christian” he nevertheless spoke of the need for committed involvement of Christian groups in public and civic life.  He said:

“You’ll all say that our Lord was really dealing with, starting, the Big Society two thousand years ago, and you’re absolutely right. I’m not saying we’ve invented some great new idea here.

“What I’m saying is that one of the best things about our country is that people step forward as individuals, as families, as communities, as organisations, as churches, and do extraordinary things in our country in terms of helping others and helping to build a bigger, richer, more prosperous, more generous society; and all I’m saying is wouldn’t it be great if we did even more of that.”

Yet the question which most politically aware Christians are concerned with is not whether their role in “helping others” is welcome or not.  The sheer number of services provided in this country by Christians – both through explicitly Christian organisations, or as private individuals motivated by Christ’s teachings – is staggering.  The question is whether the Church might be allowed to engage in public life as more than a service provider.

On this, the Prime Minister had even more encouraging words:

“I’ve never really understood this argument about ‘Should the Church get involved in politics? Yes or no?’ To me, Christianity, faith, religion, the Church, is involved in politics because so many political questions are moral questions. . .

“So I don’t think we should be frightened about having these debates, and these discussions, and frankly sometimes these arguments about politics in our country and what it means to be a Christian and what faith brings to our politics.”

As some commentators have pointed out, however, it is not clear that we have a sufficiently robust public discourse to allow these arguments.  The fear of appearing sectarian too often means Christians fall for the secularist line that we can only speak to each other in politics through an apparently ‘neutral’ common language.  (You could write at length about this topic here, and others have done so elsewhere.)  Yet language which seeks to be neutral necessarily avoids speaking about the things we feel most ardently about and, therefore, the things which matter most to us.  Values are thrust out of the public square.

This is really a topic for a future blog post (watch this space), but it does shine an interesting light on the PM.  Those who sought to dismiss David Cameron as nothing but a PR man appear to have misread his character.  Of course, his comments might be pandering to an audience.  But they don’t feel like words spoken from a script.  There seems to be a deeper reflection on morality and public life going on here.  The question is whether his words will remain verabl encouragement, or be translated into something more tangible as the Coalition’s policies shaping the Big Society gradually become law.

Demos Launch The Character Inquiry

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Next week on 10th May 2011, the think tank Demos are launching a new pamphlet entitled The Character Inquiry.  This new pamphlet draws together emerging research on how character is formed and developed and explores possible implications of this for public policy.

The launch will be chaired by Trevor Phillips of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and places can be reserved by emailing events@demos.co.uk.  You can find out more about the event on the Demos website.

The Recession and Generation Y

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Frog Orr-Ewing of the Millenials Think Tank and Latimer Minster project has written an intriguing article exploring the impact of the recent recession on ‘Generation Y’. Published on their blog, it is entitled The Psychology of Recession & Big Society.

In it, he focuses on the “negative psycho-social effects of recession” which include the feelings of social rejection which come from failing to secure employment.  The problem of deferred and dashed hopes among the younger generation is complex.  It is not simply a story of betrayal but, as Frog rightly points out, also a question of over-inflated and sometimes unrealistic expectations.

The risk being run is mass disengagement.  Frog sums up the problem like this:

The double whammy of recession depression and hope deferred, means that the very individuals who have a lifetime ahead of them and who need to be harnessed effectively to create an economically and socially robust future, are those who feel like they have been saddled with the social and economic ills created by the irresponsibility of the generation above their heads, and have had their perceived contract with society broken.  It is perceived (however incorrectly) almost as if a company who has fired you is asking for your help, or parents who have thrown you out of the home are asking you to pay rent.

The implication of course is that young people who feel betrayed by society are unlikely to want to contribute to it.  There is a certain logic to this position and the Millennials Think Tank are right to flag up the issue.  Yet to do so does beg a number of deeper questions.  Of these the most important is whether a contract is really the best way of describing society?

Perhaps as a descriptive term it is appropriate.  People certainly seem to believe that if they put something in they should get something back.  “But that is what I pay my taxes for”, is a common refrain when complaining about a service not being supplied as expected or desired.  It is preferable, of course, if they get back more than they put in.  Such is the result of politicians promising ever greater returns on an ever smaller investment (the age-old problem in the UK of wanting Scandinavian social services on American taxation levels).

This seems to be the attitude that Frog identifies as affecting young people.  They feel in the midst of a recession that too much is being asked of them.  This feels particularly acute when set against the apparently comfortable existence of the majority of baby-boomers; an argument set out in detail by David Willetts MP and the authors of Jilted Generation.

The challenge, though, is not simply to try and resolve the dilemma of unmet expectations within the existing framework of contractural social relationships.  It is to explore whether other modes of social interaction might be better suited to confronting the problems facing us.

In his excellent article exploring the Big Society, Luke Bretherton argues that a good citizen is not best thought of as a volunteer but as a vow keeper.  Voluntarism, after all, maintains power differentials and builds no relational strength.  Instead, Bretherton argues that the qualities needed among a healthy society are reciprocity, mutuality, and solidarity.  These are the values which should underpin the Big Society.  They offer more chance of success than mere voluntarism because they involve sharing each other’s lives; that requires a much deeper sense of mutual respect than rattling a collection tin or handing out blankets to homeless folk ever could.

Frog suggests that a “fresh social contract needs to be published for the next generation”.  It is certainly true that we need to reimagine what is expected of our young people, and we certainly need to face up to some of their unmet aspirations.  Yet the foundation for doing so may need to be stronger, and deeper, than a contract.  Perhaps it is instead a new covenant of mutual social commitment that is needed.

And if anything has the resources to help us think about what a social covenant might be and how it might differ to a contract, it is going to be religious belief.

Fear and Hope

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The Searchlight Educational Trust has recently published Fear and HOPE.  This report, based on extensive polling research, gives a fascinating snapshot of current attitudes to identity and extremism in Britain today.

The report captures both the good and the bad.  It demonstrates widespread suspicion of ‘the Other’ – especially Muslims – and shows growing support for a non-violent alternative to the EDL.  A clear correlation between antagonistic views of immigration and economic pessimism means that in the current fiscal context the issue is only likely to worsen.

One the more encouraging side is the apparent fluidity of attitudes to identity, and in particular the openness of younger people.  Furthermore, a huge majority of people reject anti-Muslim extremists as being as bad as Muslim extremists.  Around 60% of respondents believed that positive approaches – including community organising – were the best way to combat extremism in their communities.

The report is worth reading for its empirically based insights into the current situation.  It highlights graphically the dangers of leaving the issues of race, immigration and integration unaddressed. The report’s authors deliberately throw down the gauntlet to the political classes to confront the issue head-on.  As Jon Cruddas MP argues in the Foreword, the core findings of the report “should ricochet through the body politic”.

Yet while the report is focused on “the politics of identity” it also raises interesting questions for Christian readers.  If the imperative to respond is so great for politicians, then surely it must be so for church leaders too.  Does the church today articulate a robust enough “theology of identity” in an age when the search for belonging and community seems to be growing?

Of course there are Christians articulating answers.  Organisations like the Presence and Engagement Network are beginning to address this question by resourcing church leaders and congregations.  Recently, the Contextual Theology Centre helped secure a bid by the Church Urban Fund to run the Near Neighbours programme.  Yet however valuable they are these remain limited in resources and geographic reach.  It is also obvious that Christians need theological resources as well as practical ones to feel equipped for the debate that is becoming unavoidable.

How do we affirm our common humanity with those of different cultures and religions while also engaging with the very real concerns felt by the majority of the population?  In seeking to be hospitable to the alien in our midst, who might the church risk alienating?  How can the local church be a catalyst for community cohesion?

These questions and more need to be answered.  In the meantime, Fear and HOPE provides a much needed look at the state of the issue today.

Archbishop of Canterbury: Big Society – Small World?

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Speaking to an audience at King’s College London, the Archbishop of Canterbury welcomed the way the concept of the Big Society has opened up a serious debate on our political priorities, whilst acknowledging that ‘it has suffered from a lack of definition about the means by which ideals can be realised’.

Turning to a theme he has explored before in relation to the Big Society, Rowan Williams suggested that theology has a key role in defining a proper appreciation of ‘character’ and the notion of ’empathy’ and that the pursuing of national goals without defining what sort of people we are or want to be cannot be of much value without this.  In essence, that it is important to ask the question about what kind of people are necessary for the Big Society to succeed?

The Archbishop argued that the localism agenda needs to be related to thinking about how civic character is formed and how social relations are shaped. On this the Archbishop affirmed the communities and presence of the established Church which has its own role in recognising and confirming the importance of civic responsibility.

The lecture also turned to exploring the implications of the Big Society on an international level by warning of the twin dangers of excessive centralism and abandonment to the market, and petty and fragmentary localism.

You can read the full lecture here.

The Big Society in Context

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The Jubilee Centre in Cambridge has recently published a new report entitled The Big Society in Context: A Means to What End?.  The report by Dr Guy Brandon examines how the Conservative idea of the ‘Big Society’ is intended to be an answer to the problem of ‘broken Britain’ which was so talked about in David Cameron’s early years as party leader.  The report argues that the vision of the ‘Big Society’ is highly unlikely to succeed without input from churches.  This is a point made by the director of the Jubilee Centre, John Haywood, who also contends that the government needs to be clearer about its support for the involvement of religious groups in building the Big Society.

Director of the Contextual Theology Centre, Angus Ritchie, commended the Jubilee Centre report saying, “This report is essential reading for Christians who want to engage faithfully and wisely with the Coalition’s flagship policy.  It identifies the contribution Christian thought has made to the vision of the ‘Big Society’ – and it asks important and searching questions about what would constitute success in its application.”

Cameron and Multiculturalism

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David Cameron made a speech recently in Munich on the subject of state multiculturalism and religious radicalisation.  You can read the speech in full on the Number 10 website.

Amidst the flurry of public reaction to it, a great deal of which relied on misrepresentation of what was actually said, it is worth drawing attention to several different responses from the Christian blogosphere.

First, John Milbank, a Fellow of the Contextual Theology Centre, wrote a response to Cameron’s speech on the Respublica blog which argued for a more communitarian understanding of multiculturalism.

Milbanks suggests that “mere liberalism encourages a clumping into a restricted number of group-identities and so gives us, precisely multiculturalism of the most anarchic kind”.  He writes, “if Cameron could express more boldly the positive shared character of the British identity, including its peculiar religious aspect, he would far less risk offending Muslims and corroding British solidarity for the future. In order fully to reject merely liberal multiculturalism he needs to move beyond mere liberalism. But in doing so he could be kinder to a multiculturalism of a more organicist variety.”

Second, Robert Jackson wrote an insightful comment on the website of think-tank Ekklesia which sought a more nuanced understanding of the reality of a multifaith culture than the picture painted by Cameron.  In particular, Jackson argues for the importance of religious education in schools in facilitating greater understanding between religions and cultures.

Finally, the Charities Parliament blog from Faithworks has a short response from the Christian and Muslim Forum.

Of Good Character

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Character is creeping back into fashion.  One of CTC’s core research streams is looking at ‘Formation, Values and Virtue’ and it’s clear that in seeking to foster more conversation on the topic we are pushing at a door which is ready to open.

Although still muted in the main public arena, conversations about the decline of virtue and the need to address questions of personal, and social, character abound.  It is worth highlighting a few recent contributions to the field.

In 2009 the Demos produced a report entitled Building Character which examined the role of parents in bringing up children.  Confronting the liberal instinct that questions of character are best left to private individuals, the report’s authors argued that “to the extent that certain elements of character impact equality, opportunity and fairness, it ought to be a concern for policy makers interested in those outcomes” (p.12).  Policy makers lack a vocabulary for discussing the issue, however, and despite making a few suggestions around childrearing, the report is resigned to accepting that “there is no set of policy solutions that can solve such an intractable, private and complex cluster of problems” (p.57).  The formation of children, though, is identified as a legitimate focus of policy action.

The empirical grounds for doing so are provided by another recent publication by Professor James Arthur which is the book Of Good Character: Exploration of Values and Virtues in 3-25 Year Olds.  An outcome of the Learning for Life project, Professor Arthur’s book draws on extensive qualitative and quantative research to move towards a modern definition of ‘character’ and to identify its traits and formation in young people.  It is well worth engaging with, or at the very least reading the Young Foundation’s review of it.

These are just two contributions to the discussion and there are many more out there.  We will be posting more resources in the coming weeks and months.

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