Contending Modernities

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.

Jellicoe Internship 2014 – we had a ball!

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The Director of our Urban Leadership School, Revd Tim Clapton, blogs here about the Jellicoe Internship 2014. (This summer we had people from a wide variety of backgrounds, who were placed with churches across east London and used Community Organising skills to help improve the area…)

We have been preparing for Jellicoe 2014 for the past seven or eight months with a good deal of recruiting and the organising of accommodation and placements. July suddenly arrived with a cloud of excitement and activity and now it is August and Jellicoe 2014 is all over, done, finished, even the evaluation report is almost written.

13 Christians aged between 19 and 41 joined us for the month of July. Seven were from Oxbridge and London universities, one from the Assemblies of God Bible college and five from congregations in east London. This is the first time Jellicoe has recruited interns from the east London Christian communities and it was excellent having such rich ethnic diversity. We gave participants a solid grounding in Community Organising, but we also spent a good deal of time in the first week getting to know each other and attending spiritual reflection sessions led by our chaplain, Sister Josephine.

The best of days to launch our new report!

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profile-DavidDavid Barclay, the Centre’s Faith in Public Life Officer, blogs on our latest report, which he has co-edited with our Director, Angus Ritchie.

As he explains, the report on exploitative lending has been launched on the very best of days, as our Just Money campaign with Citizens UK celebrated a historic victory!

Yesterday the Government announced that they would be capping the cost of credit, bringing to an end the unrestricted interest rates and penalty fees currently charged by payday lenders. Today it has emerged that the Archbishop of Canterbury played a key role in this decision.  So it is a very good time to announce CTC’s latest publication – ‘God and the Moneylenders: faith and the battle against exploitative lending’.

Building a common life together

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profile-AngusLast month, CTC organised a major conference on “Global Migration and the Building of a Common Life.”

Centre Director Angus Ritchie blogs on the two-day event, and on the resources which are coming out for local congregations and for academics.

Our conference on “The New Cosmopolitanism: Global migration and the building of a common life” is the culmination of two years of work for the University of Notre Dame’s Contending Modernities (CM) research project.  

Taking back the streets

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profile-AngusOn 12th November, we are launching a new report – Taking Back the Streets: Citizens’ responses to the 2011 riots. It will be the first report in our exciting new series on ‘Research for the Local Church’.

Here, Centre Director Angus Ritchie blogs about the significance of the report.

In the summer of 2011, London experienced riots which were quite unprecedented in their scale.  What was new in 2011 was that the police seemed unable to keep order in a significant number of neighbourhoods. Never before had so many Londoners had direct experience of civil disorder; of streets that no longer felt secure.

Policing a population is only ever possible by consent: with the active participation of the community.  The riots highlighted both the fragility of civil society and its vital role in keeping our streets safe.  They led many Londoners to a renewed effort to reclaim their streets as places of safety and community.

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

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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:

Latest CTC report sparks debate on the future of Multiculturalism

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The Centre’s Faith in Public Life Officer David Barclay blogs on his research project on Mulitcuturalism undertaken with Christian think tank Theos and the Contending Modernities programme of the University of Notre Dame.

He writes about the impact and attention the report has generated…


Making multiculturalism work has sparked comment and debate among politicians, academics and journalists. My thesis is that the way towards a sustainable ‘multicultural settlement’ is not through new theories or top-down policies but grass-roots relationships.

The Economist described the report as a “clarion call for ‘political friendships across difference’ in which people of various faiths and no faith form local coalitions to attain their ends.” Noting that the report “challenges some secularist thinking about broad coalitions” the article explored how ‘Making multiculturalism work’ was “plunging into” the “hard debate about the terms on which people of different religions and none can or should co-operate to achieve common goals.”   

New CTC report on Multiculturalism launched

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profile-DavidThe Centre’s Faith in Public Life Officer, David Barclay, writes about his new report for CTC, Theos and Contending Modernities‘Making multiculturalism work’. He discusses what multiculturalism looks like in parts of the UK and what it could look like for the rest of the country…



A few months ago I watched a TV debate on multiculturalism. The panel covered all the classic bases – British identity, immigration, religious and political extremism – and yet it was difficult not to feel that the discussion was floating above some of the challenges of real life, captured perfectly by one politician’s insistence that we should ‘forget about blending people and just build the most beautiful mosaic society we can’.

The new cosmopolitanism: Global migration and the building of a common life

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The Centre’s Director Angus Ritchie and Senior Fellow Vincent Rougeau blog about the upcoming Contending Modernities conference taking place in London.

The Contending Modernities Global Migration working group is pleased to announce an interdisciplinary conference to be held in London, UK on 14 & 15 October 2013 – The New Cosmopolitanism: Global Migration and the Building of a Common Life. The conference grows out of the working group’s research project in London, which focuses on the ways that broad-based community organizing enables secular and religious citizens to build a common life. The conference will bring this research into dialogue with a wide range of theoretical and empirical research on the role of faith in public life in pluralist and culturally diverse societies. A keynote lecture will be given by The Most Reverend Diarmuid Martin, Archbishop of Dublin.

New CTC resource for churches – Asylum seekers & children seeking protection

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What would it take for you to flee your country?
New Contextual Theology Centre resources for churches have been launched by The Children’s Society. These resources follow on from the reflective film we produced for Epiphany. The film was designed to help us think through what it must have been like for Mary and Joseph when they fled from Herod to seek asylum in Egypt, and how this story helps us to think about how hard it is for asylum seekers living in the UK today.
The downloadable leaflet is for use amongst congregations alongside the film to help us move from prayerful reflection through to action; reflection on Matthew 12, hearing the stories of what life is like for asylum seekers in the UK, and finally some very practical ways of how we might respond.
These resources are part of a wider inquiry into the UK asylum system, an inquiry with which The Children’s Society has been very involved. It was launched to listen to the voices of children who experience the harsh challenges of the asylum system, including the enforced use of a cashless payment system where asylum seekers are issued with a card that they can only use in certain shops. We are keen to help congregations think about how we might help address these issues through the following three avenues:
Worship: Through prayer
Support: Physically helping and befriending those in need
Action: Adding our voices to the campaign

More on the ‘New Atheism’

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Centre Director Angus Ritchie begins 2013 with a blog on our work on Christian apologetics:

One old post on this blog that continues to generate interest is the Centre’s Response to Richard Dawkins 2011 Christmas Message.  In the intervening year, we’ve continued to engage with the ‘New Atheist’ critique of Christian faith in public life – both challenging its assertions about the impact of Christian practice and advancing a robust intellectual case for Christian belief.

I’ve written a piece in this week’s Church Times which sets out why the ‘New Atheism’ looks increasingly shaky – and why Christians should have no fear of a more robust but reasoned engagement between different worldviews.  This is an issue we’ll be returning to in the months ahead, as our research partnerships with the Universities of Notre Dame and Oxford generate further resources and debate.

From goodness to God

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Last week saw the launch of From Goodness to God a Theos report and based on a new book by Centre Director Angus Ritchie. Both texts argue that religion has a unique ability to make sense of our moral commitments.  You can listen to the launch debate – where Angus is in conversation with atheist philosopher Julian Baggini and agnostic Mark Vernon.

Angus’ report is part of a wider research stream at CTC on the role of faith in public life.  His argument is that we cannot completely separate questions about the intellectual credibility of Christianity from questions about its role in the public square.  That’s why CTC is participating in two major research partnerships on these issues – the Contending Modernities programme of the University of Notre Dame and a research programme on religious and secular philosophy at the University of Oxford.  You can keep up to date with developments by following our Contending Modernities and Philosophy posts respectively.

Making sense of the Census

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Centre Director Angus Ritchie responds to the newly-released Census figures on religious affiliation:

Today’s Census figures show a much-heralded decline in Christian affiliation, and a significant increase in the number of English and Welsh citizens declaring themselves to be of no religion. In advance of their publication, there was much speculation as to which side of the psychologically crucial 50% the number of Christians would be (in the end, the figure was 59.3%).

In the midst of the debate which these figures will provoke, it is worth getting some perspective.  The majority of English and Welsh people identify themselves as Christian, at a time when wider social pressures give less and less encouragement to such identification.  There is no room for complacency – and no point in denying that this number has declined substantially in the last decade. But these figures tell of a striking persistence of religious belief and practice.  The public square continues to be a place where people of faith and people of no faith coexist in large numbers – with people of faith forming the substantial majority.

In London in particular, the public square has been a very diverse place for many years, with a significant (and growing) number of people of other faiths.  In particular, here in Tower Hamlets, there is a sizeable Muslim population.  So it is no surprise that the borough is one focus of a major University of Notre Dame study of how people with Christian, Muslim and secular worldviews negotiate and promote a common good.

This study is illuminating the unique role of faith in engaging people in action for the common good, and the ongoing relevance of the national church.  In Tower Hamlets – the one London borough where Christianity is not the largest faith –  the Church of England is at the heart of a wide range of social action.  Among the many examples are Foodbanks and money management services (which meet the needs of the people most vulnerable to the ongoing recession and the increasingly intense welfare cuts); Community Organising ( which seeks to address the root causes  – through campaigns for a Living Wage and a cap on payday lending rates), and “Near Neighbours” – an imaginative programme to build relationships across faiths and cultures, which is proving that the parish network can reach and support people far beyond the church’s walls.

The most casual observer of the news headlines would see that faith is more in the spotlight than ever.  A substantial proportion of the public still turn use language of faith to ask the ‘big questions’ about the meaning of their individual and common life.  This is evident from the increasing numbers of people who darken the doors of our Cathedrals (as well as the members of Occupy who camped outside several last year).  In London, there are signs of church growth which buck the national trend, and is occurring across a variety of social groups – with church planting and migration both identified as significant causal factors.

None of this is to minimise the task which faces the church: to articulate a constructive, distinctive voice in the public square, and so to present Christian Gospel in a way that is accessible and compelling.  But many churches in the most religiously diverse contexts are doing exactly that.

The wider church and the wider society have much to learn from these congregations.  They show that it is possible to combine action together on issues where there is a common mind with peaceable, respectful debate on issues of fundamental disagreement.  Christianity and Islam are both missionary religions – we each believe ourselves to have distinctive truths to share with people outside the faith.  Part of what it is to respect and care for another person is to engage with them on issues of disagreement: to seek to share what one believes to be true, and correct what one believes to be mistaken.   (The same is true, of course, in the relationship between people of faith and atheists – which is why I spent last Thursday in debate with the atheist writer Julian Baggini.  For each of us, respecting the other involves seeking to share with them what we see as the truth.)

Whatever else we make of the Census figures, this much is clear: pluralism is here to stay, with a growing array of religious and secular worldviews commanding significant allegiance.  Whatever challenges this presents to the churches, it is hardly the world the ‘New Atheists’ have been campaigning for.  The task for us all is to negotiate and build a truly common life – bearing witness with confidence and generosity to that which we believe most deeply.

The Centre’s Presence and Engagement Network (PEN) is holding an event in Southwark on Making Sense of the Census on the afternoon of Monday 18th February – before the PEN 2013 Lecture, to be given by the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd David Ison.

Trading Places, Building Community

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Daniel Stone is CTC’s Church-based Community Organiser at ARC Pentecostal Church in Forest Gate and the Catholic Parish of Manor Park.  He blogs about these very different congregations, and the work they are beginning to do together:

The differences between the Pentecostal ‘A Radical Church’ and the Catholic parish churches of St Stephen’s and St Nicholas’ are plain for all to see. For starters, while the parishioners at weekend mass are departing to get on with the rest of their Sunday, the congregation at ARC have just warmed their vocal chords and are settling down for another two hours of their service!  You’re also unlikely to find Pastor Peter Nembhard clothed in priestly robes and I suspect that if Father Sean Connolly hollered “God is Good” in the middle of his oration, he would be unlikely to hear his congregation chime back in perfect unison, “All the time”.

Nevertheless I have found that despite these superficial differences, both churches possess a burning desire to see their faith acted out in a manner that is impactful, faithful and radical.

Both congregations have a passion to serve the East London communities in which they are based. Seven years ago the ARC lost one of their young people, Charlotte Polius, in a senseless act of violence. Since then they have worked tirelessly in Forest Gate and beyond to promote the message of ‘Stop Da Violence’, a project which seeks to provide a holistic response to issues of gang crime. For St Stephen’s and St Nicholas’ based in nearby Manor Park, the questions they have sought to answer are: How can we play our part in responding to the city-wide shortage of affordable housing and how can we best cater for the needs of the elderly members of our community?

Of course these questions have at their heart quite complex socio-economic issues, way beyond what a single church could ever hope to engage with on their own. But what is common to both churches and their leaders is an understanding that change is only possible when working in unity with other institutions. In this past year Father Sean Connolly and Pastor Peter Nembhard have taken part in an exercise not too dissimilar from that exhibited by Eddie Murphy in Trading Places – with Father Sean preaching at the ARC and Pastor Peter speaking at St Stephen’s and St Nicholas.

My hope is to turn this useful cultural experience into a long term project that fuses together the passions and interests of these two congregations, and draws in other religious and civic groups in this incredibly diverse borough. At the ARC we have a group of young people who are meeting together regularly to discuss plans for developing the Stop Da Violence project and in the past few weeks we have begun to successfully integrate representatives from St Stephen’s into the discussions. The remainder of the year is likely to continue this focus on building relationships across, within and beyond these two churches – engaging with young people of other faiths in Manor Park and Forest Gate –  in the hope that we will soon be able to put on our first joint event.

With the talent and testimonies I’ve witnessed over the past few months, I can promise you that it will be energetic, powerful and will be one not to be missed! So watch this space…

Citizens of the world come together for change in London

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Caitlin Burbridge is Research Co-ordinator at the Contextual Theology Centre. Her work on diaspora communities is for the Contending Modernities research partnership. Here she reports on an extraordinary event that took place this week. Hosted by Church House in Westminster, it saw people from across the globe come together to address their common concerns under the banner of the Citizens UK Diaspora Caucus.

‘All of us are…tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’. These were the words powerfully displayed on a screen at the front of the stage whilst representatives of London Citizens 71 diaspora institutions proudly processed into the room waving their flags high and proclaiming the names of their countries.
So what was the purpose of this assembly? The agenda was threefold, to celebrate what has been achieved by this diverse alliance of people; to meet together and build our sense of collective power as we look ahead to the challenges that face us, and finally to commit to a future agenda which seeks to further the capacity, dignity and freedom of people in our UK diaspora communities.

Diaspora Assembly 2012(1)

Oscar-style awards were awarded recognising the commitment of all sorts of people who have worked tirelessly to further the work of this alliance, from those who have worked to establish the New Citizens Legal Service (a new social enterprise to combat the corruption created by cowboy lawyers), to a schoolboy who spent his weekends asking shop keepers in his local community to commit to becoming ‘safe havens’ for young people in danger, as part of the city safe campaign. The celebrations were enhanced by all sorts of cultural displays such as dancing from the Congolese Catholic chaplaincy youth group, to the SOAS Samba band, and Hazara music performed by Zakir Rostami, all of which was accompanied by the dancing, singing, and clapping of those watching. The atmosphere was vibrant and energetic, and displayed a strong sense of delight in what has been achieved by this group of people.

Standing together to build our power

Having celebrated the achievements of so many, it was time to look at where we are now and where we hope to be a year ahead. Representatives from the Mother Tongue campaign articulated what they have achieved in one year. Having campaigned for meetings with OCR, finally members of SPRESA (a group who seek the recognition of the Albanian language as a GCSE qualification) explained how they managed to negotiate with the Chief Executive of OCR to broaden the GCSE language syllabus. Although this is great news, the work begins now to raise enough money and guaranteed entrants to meet the criteria outlined by OCR in order for this to go ahead. However, there was a great sense of momentum in the room. Representatives from the Somali community also stood up and outlined how they had begun their journey towards the same goal for the Somali language. It became clear that in order for these young people to maintain strong relationships with their families back home, as well as have this opportunity to achieve another highly graded qualification, we must all work together to support them.

Looking forward

Finally, it was time to hear the results of the NICER inquiry into enforced removals. At the first assembly last year we spent a minute in silence to respect the memory of Jimmy Mubenga, a member of a Citizens UK member institution in Manor Park, who was killed whilst being deported from the UK. A CITIZENS UK inquiry has taken place over the past year to ensure that this never happens again. The 7 commissioners stood before the CEO of CAPITA, the UKBA agency contracted to undertake deportation, and acknowledged his cooperation and commitment to working with CITIZENS UK over the past year in order to improve the culture of deportation. They then outlined their recommendations for how CAPITA must now improve its practice for the future. The most striking recommendations was as follows:

We believe that there is no place for the deliberate use of pain as a way of controlling people who are being removed, so we are calling on contractors and the government to work with us and experts in the field to develop pain-free forms of restraint.

CAPITA made strong commitments to observe and implement the recommendations. Another moment for celebration. This is only step one in the process, but having already celebrated so many great achievements earlier in the evening, it became increasingly exciting that when we bring people together we can achieve great change for the future.

Daniel Stone is a church-based community organiser at ARC Pentecostal Church and the Catholic Parish of Manor Park.  His comments sum up the vigour and energy held throughout the assembly: ‘It was an exhilarating evening which found the right balance between celebrating the unique offerings of our diaspora communities, while bringing us together as citizens and friends. I have no doubt that attendees have left church house believing that our disparate communities are strong when we stand together’.

In the UK we have a long way to go to bring about the dignity, respect and opportunity to contribute that all people deserve, but this assembly marked a significant progression from when this diaspora caucus first met last December. No longer are we just acknowledging a belief that when we stand together we are stronger, but we can now celebrate examples which proof that this is the case. The assembly gathered momentum and helped us to look forward with confidence that our voices deserve to be heard, can be heard and will bring about justice.

With good reason

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This week sees the arrival of a new book by Centre Director Angus Ritchie – developing a significant new line of argument within Christian apologetics.  Published by Oxford University Press, From Morality to Metaphysics argues that atheism is unable to account for our deepest ethical commitments.

You can hear Angus discuss the argument with Justin Brierley and atheist Kile Jones on Justin’s Premier Radio show Unbelievable and the associated podcast.  On the show, Angus also discusses the implications of these kinds of apologetics for wider debates about the role of faith in public life – a subject he has written on for the University of Notre Dame’s Contending Modernities blog.

On 6th December, Angus will be debating these issues at the London School of Economics with atheist philosopher Julian Baggini and agnostic (and former Anglican priest) Mark Vernon – with the New Statesman‘s Jonathan Derbyshire in the chair.  This event marks the launch of Angus’ report From Goodness to Godwritten for the public theology think-tank Theos – which will summarise his book’s main argument, and applies them to questions around faith in public life.

A new covenant of virtue

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The Contextual Theology Centre is one of the partners in Contending Modernities – a major research programme of the Kroc Institute at the University of Notre Dame, exploring the way Christian, Muslim and secular worldviews interact in the modern world.  Our research is focusing on life in east London (an area which has always received large flows of migrants, and has a consequent diversity of faiths and cultures) – looking at the way in which broad-based community organising helps diverse groups discern and pursue a common good.

Last month – at a historic ‘Citizens Iftar’ – one of the first fruits of this research was launched.  A New Covenant of Virtue outlines the theological basis for Islamic engagement in Community Organising, and gives practical examples of this work.  Previous collaboration between the Centre and Notre Dame generated a similar book for Catholic Christians, by Austin Ivereigh.

On the eve of the Olympics

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The Contextual Theology Centre is involved in a range of activities related to the London 2012 Olympics.  From its foundation, CTC has worked with churches in London Citizens to secure a series of ‘People’s Guarantees’ for the Olympics, on jobs, wages and housing – and the Highway Neighbours project is helping local churches around the Centre to reach out to support their communities.

Our ‘Contending Modernities’ research project with the University of Notre Dame is studying the impact and raison d’etre of Christian, Muslim and secular engagement in community organising – and today, Centre Director Angus Ritchie has blogged for Notre Dame on Faith-inspired community organising and the London Olympics.

Politics of Faith leads to Politics of Action

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Ruhana Ali is the Tower Hamlets Organiser for London Citizens, and part of the Contextual Theology Centre team of researchers on the Contending Modernities project in east London.  Here she blogs for us on how different faiths in London are holding the capital’s politicians to account:

On the eve of Wednesday 25 th April, I was reminded how faith is most powerful when in action. As I joined 2,500 other leaders from 240 different churches, mosques, synagogues, schools, universities, charities and unions gathered in Methodist Central Hall for the 4 th London Citizens Mayoral Election Assembly I could feel the electricity in the room.  The power brought from being part of a truly diverse community alliance of faith and civic organizations deeply committed to working for the common good. Working with energetic leaders who were confident in their own beliefs, and who understand the importance of relationship; with each other and their elected representatives.

The assembly organized by London Citizens and a team of leaders who had struck deals with all of the candidates for the next Mayor of London over a Citizens Agenda. An agenda concocted from thousands of conversations in our institutions and on streets and doorsteps about what really matters to ordinary Londoners.  Affordable housing, dignity for low paid workers through Living Wages, a brighter future for young Londoners with investment in jobs and work opportunities, a commitment to uphold peace on our streets through the City Safe campaign and more accountable relationships with the elected Mayor for Governance of the City.

The celebratory atmosphere on the night was hard to ignore. This was a night of testimony and sharing. We heard stories of triumph over adversity, progress after pain and daily realities of life in London. The message of hope, peace and change was clear. Critics may argue that it was faith overload as we heard choir music, traditions Jewish ram’s horn calling to action and announcements for Muslim sunset prayer.

Faith was not on the peripheries in this Assembly as it seems to have been in so much of the Mayoral campaign race. However is wouldn’t have been at the forefront either if it wasn’t for Politics. Politics of change, by people with a desire to make change for the better displayed best through their actions together than through their words alone.

The power in the room came from action and history. A track record of working together and acting together in public life which lead to trust and relationship the foundation for common understanding. For three months before this night, institutions across the member network had worked hard to sign people up in the community over this agenda.  The energy in the room was an amalgamation of the hard work and organized people tasting the fruits of their efforts. The commitments from the candidates a sweet reward for the efforts put it.

In Tower Hamlets alone I saw how faith was being put into action. Our Lady of the Assumption (the Roman Catholic Church in Bethnal Green) had been inspired by their understanding of Catholic Social Teaching – and the teachings of sacrifice and love celebrated in Holy Week and Easter . A team of 6 young teenagers were trained as part of their confirmation to work with the Priest Father Tom, in spreading the word and encouraging the congregation to support the agenda during Sunday Mass and worship times. The social justice agenda, combined with working in the cause of others married beautifully for those taking confirmation.

Just a mile down the road, two mosques (The East London Mosque and Darul Ummah) were busy spreading the message at Friday prayers to the worshippers to be a part of the community and make their voices heard. Inspired by the teachings from the Quran to call to good and work with each other in righteous deeds, they signed hundreds up during prayer times with tables outside the mosque. A show of solidarity with their neighbours and an important understanding that through service in the community you can serve God.

Universities, unions and schools all taking part in signing people up to the London Citizens agenda. Parents, children and friends working together. Many other examples of joint action were being held across other London Borough and the London Citizens network. Thousands of new people were spoken to particularly in the neighbourhoods and on the streets where these faith institutions are located. This was a way for the leaders to reach the community, engage in politics and get to know their neighbours.

An excuse to talk and an opportunity to relate. An an agitation for many. How can you love your neighbour if you don’t know who they are? An important opportunity through politics, to show where faith leads to action.

LONDON 2012: International, national, and ?

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Jellicoe intern and researcher Caitlin Burbridge reflects on the impact of the Olympics on its host boroughs, and highlights two exciting projects in which local churches are playing a leading role. 

As London prepares for its ‘cultural Olympiad’, it seems fitting to look back on the history of the Olympics and reflect on the values that inspired this great modern phenomenon. Amidst the frenzy of the 2012 Olympic preparations, one can’t help but be aware of an ‘elephant in the room’. A recent talk by Jeremy Hunt MP, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, revealed the new ‘GREAT’ campaign, which seeks to promote the British nation as a tourist hub for 2012, capturing the economic potential of becoming an international centre for culture and excellence, not least through the branding of a full subway carriage in New York with the GREAT Britain logo. The bravado of culture, art and sport seems to mask the distance between the rhetoric of regeneration and the lived experience of local people. Analysis of two grassroots initiatives reveals how civil society has been responsible for beginning to deconstruct the barriers between national and local society that such large scale events create. This process has opened up space for creative thinking about the benefits that events such as the Olympics might have for both spheres of life.

Now I’m excited about opportunities to engage with the Olympics – the prospect of ‘hidden London’ holds particular interest, given my love of all things spontaneous. However, an analysis of the original values of the Olympics makes the rather bland gloss of London 2012 increasingly apparent.

David Harvey coined the term ‘glocalisation’ to explain the relationship between global and local spheres of society. The idea of the local as a product of international processes is particularly prevalent to this discussion. To what extent does the unfulfilled rhetoric of Olympic activity, which claims ‘regeneration and the knitting together of the fabric of our society’, actually further alienate the local from the national?

Pierre de Coubertin is recognised as the founder of the modern Olympic games. His motivation for the games is argued to have been a combination of promoting hardwork and excellence by bringing together the best athletes from all around the world, instilling a sense of national pride, and encouraging the cooperation of people to promote peace and prevent conflict (McNamara, 2012). It is these values which reflect a more enriched vision of the Olympics; an opportunity for people, and the development of the communities within which we live,
around the ideals of communication, relationship and hardwork as the expression of human potential. This vision is encouraging because it presents ideals which local society can actively engage with, as opposed to the somewhat deceptive narrative of the 2012 games which preaches ‘regeneration’ on the narrow basis of economic benefit.

For TELCO ‘The East London Communities Organisation’, LOCOG’s notion of ‘regeneration’ had to be fulfilled by giving jobs to local people.  Recognising the opportunity for the communities within which TELCO works, three major objectives were achieved by putting pressure on LOCOG with the legitimate support of civil society. Firstly, London Citizens won the decision that every job undertaken for the Olympics would paid at the London Living Wage of £8.30/hour. Secondly, TELCO held Olympic jobs fairs to ensure local people had the opportunity to secure Olympic jobs, as well as highlighting the inadequacy of the current jobs fair process. Through this process, an estimated £400,000 worth of Olympic jobs have been allocated to people from East London. Finally, a community land trust has been secured to ensure equitable home ownership near the Olympic sites.

HIGHWAY NEIGHBOURS is an exciting new local church led initiative which also seeks to redress the division created by the Olympics, using the games as an opportunity to bring life to the heart of the local. Working in partnership with other faith communities in Shadwell and Wapping, Highway Neighbours seeks to help vulnerable local people during the Olympic fortnights. 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.

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, or photography workshops to gather yet untold local stories, it is hoped that the Highway will be buzzing with activity throughout the summer. However, this will be Olympic activity of a different nature. Using ideas generated by the community, the project will go beyond the gloss of the ‘national’, expanding the excitement created by the Olympics to achieve much wider outcomes of a sustainable nature.

It is exciting that this new project in one of the poorest boroughs of London (Tower Hamlets) looks to reflect some of the original spirit of the games, as a means of enhancing the dynamism, capacity, inclusion, and cohesion of Shadwell and Wapping, through hard work, and relationship building. Rather than allowing the national to dictate the local, this is a project which encourages the ‘local’ to engage with the reality of life at the national, and international scales. By pushing the boundaries established by the national Olympic campaign, such projects have opened up space in the debate for mutual partnership. 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. Perhaps one day the ideas will come from both sides of the discussion.

2012, McNamara. The Founder of the Modern Olympics, Pierre de

Multiculturalism: a Christian retrieval

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“Is it possible for a society marked by deep ethnic and religious diversity to identify a workable framework for deep diversity which does justice to all communities?”

Answering this question is the burden of Jonathan Chaplin’s recent Theos booklet entitled ‘Multiculturalism: a Christian retrieval’. In less than a hundred pages, Jonathan explains what multiculturalism is and what it is interpreted to be, and discusses how, and why, Christians can and should retrieve it. His argument is more than a liberal plea for a thin conception of ‘tolerance’, and is predicated on an affirmation of multicultural justice rooted in concrete policies and a deeper definition of shared citizenship.

CTC and PEN was pleased to welcome Jonathan Chaplin to East London recently for a seminar to discuss his essay with local clergy and members of the PEN Network. We met at the Hurtado Jesuit Centre, the UK headquarters of the Jesuit Refugee Service, in Wapping. A diverse group including academics, parish clergy, community organisers and friends of CTC listened as Jonathan outlined his argument and put forward the case for a Christian vision of multiculturalism.

The seminar was received well, and generated a great deal of discussion. Clergy working in the very diverse neighbourhoods of inner-city London reflected on how they felt out of place when returning to predominantly white British areas when on holiday or conference. Different understandings of secularism, and the appropriateness of religious language when negotiating divergent identities, were debated and the legitimacy of different uses of the word ‘multiculturalism’ assessed. Afterwards, those attending said how valuable it had been to have the space to think about and discuss this topic away from the day-to-day practice of mission and ministry in a multicultural, multiethnic context.

The success of this seminar format, and the fruitfulness of the discussion, means that CTC and PEN will be exploring the possibility of making this a more regular programme. If you’d like more details of future events like this, please contact the PEN administrator, Susanne Mitchell, on pen(at)

Contending Modernities in east London

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Contextual Theology Centre Director Angus Ritchie has just written on the University of Notre Dame’s Contending Modernities blog about exciting research project the Centre is undertaking as part of that wider programme.

He outlines the project as follows:

How do migrant communities with diverse religious and cultural identities shape a common life? Professor Vincent D. Rougeau has argued for the possibility of a “new cosmopolitanism,” rooted in a faith and culture and also committed to the dignity of all human beings — and, in consequence, willing to work with neighbours of other faiths and cultures to negotiate and pursue a shared vision of the common good…

The east London project will consider the relevance of such a “cosmopolitan” vision to migrant communities in our local context. Catholic and Muslim migrants have historically both been treated with some suspicion in the UK — in part because their faith involves loyalties that reach beyond the nation-state, to an avowedly international Church or Ummah.

The experience of Catholic and Muslim engagement in broad-based community organizing runs counter to such suspicions. Community organizing harnesses precisely the “problematic” quality of these faiths — above all their loyalty to a truth that transcends the nation-state, and a “critical distance” from the status quo — as a means of working for justice in the local area.

You can read the full post here

An Advent call to act on the debate about money

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Contextual Theology Centre Director Angus Ritchie has written in the latest Church Times on the ‘striking echoes’ of the liturgies in St Paul’s Cathedral and the Occupy LSX encampment outside.  The article was timed to coincide with the Centre’s new resource pack – endorsed by both Cathedral and Camp.

The Occupy camp has appeared at a time of huge economic uncertainty and fear.  There is an increasing disquiet with the financial system – a sense that it shapes and controls us rather than being held accountable to any notion of the common good.

In the messages pinned to their fabric and in their sheer impermanence the tents speak of a people on the move.  The readings, prayers and feasts we celebrate in November remind us that Christians are also a pilgrim people; citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem… These themes of eternal hope and earthly transformation grow in intensity as we enter Advent.

Ritchie concludes by arguing that engagement with other worldviews – including other faiths – can enable a more, not less, faithful Christian witness.  (This is a key theme in the Contextual Theology Centre’s research – and in particularly its new Contending Modernities project with the University of Notre Dame.)

Engagement with those outside the church need not lead on to a watering down of the Christian message.  Such encounters can force us to attend to Biblical texts we have ignored or neutered.

This has certainly been the experience of Christians involved in Citizens UK.  This community organising alliance brings churches together with mosques and synagogues, schools and tenants’ associations to act on issues of common concern. Since 2009, Citizens UK has been developing a grassroots response to the financial crisis.  It has been salutary to work on this with Muslims and Jews; people of faith for whom scriptural admonitions against usury have very practical implications.  Far from diluting our faithfulness to Christian orthodoxy this engagement with other faiths has forced us to ask how to be faithful to the Bible today.  It has highlighted the disparity between the attention we pay to Biblical texts on sex and the rather larger number on money and possessions.

The full article is here


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