Community Organising

Bearing witness at a time of turmoil

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The General Election campaign is dominating the news – but many people feel deeply alienated from today’s political discourse. CTC has produced two resources for communities wanting to reflect on the state of politics, and an appropriate Christian response.

Firstly, our Director Angus Ritchie has written for ABC Religion & Ethics, arguing against “[a] conception of how the Church should engage in politics [on which] our main priority should be to get individual Christians into positions of influence, and then to encourage the wider Body to pray for them.” He argues instead that the heart of the Church’s political witness is to be found in the poorest communities:

For Christians, there can be no “we” whose job it is to be nicer to “the poor.” The Church should simply not have a “heart for the poor” or “learn from the most vulnerable.” According to Jesus and St. Paul, the poorest and most vulnerable are the heart of “the Church.”

He argues that Britain’s poorest communities show how the wider Church should respond to our current troubles:

They do not behave as if politics is something which is done somewhere else – something to which they must simply offer a Christian “response.” In consequence, they do not understand their role as being one of simply voting and praying for others. The poorest communities in East London are taking action themselves: organising with their neighbours to ensure new housing developments have affordable homes in them; confronting unjust landlords; campaigning for a Living Wage.

You can read the full essay here.

Alongside this written resource, CTC is hosting a masterclass in community organising by Ernie Cortes –  one of America’s most senior and experienced organisers, and a committed Christian. The event – entitled “Building Power at a Time of Political Turmoil” will run from 5 to 6.30pm on Friday 26th May. You can book a place by emailing

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.

Community Organising: London learns lessons from New York

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photo(10)Selina Stone from CTC and Emmanuel Gotora from Citizens UK were present at a historic event in New York, as East Brooklyn Congregations (EBC) welcomed twenty new institutions into membership. EBC is part of the Industrial Areas Foundation, which developed broad based community organizing and is linked to Citizens UK and CTC. Selina explains what happened and why it was so important for community organising in the UK…

EBC is one alliance made up of 40 civil society institutions from four different neighbourhoods in east Brooklyn – a diverse area, just like east London. On the evening of Thursday 2nd June 2016, 1,500 citizens from EBC packed into Mount Lebanon Baptist Church in Bed Stuy. Vans arrived delivering dozens of senior citizens and church groups. Families arrived with young children and many passersby paused to see what was taking place.

Strengthening our Institutions: CTC welcomes the world to London

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photo(10)The Centre for Theology & Community and Citizens UK were delighted to host an international symposium bringing together community organisers and leaders from the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, Germany and across the UK. Selina Stone blogs about a wonderful time of learning and action!…

The symposium ‘Strengthening our Institutions: through action for the Common Good’ took place in London from Tuesday 26th – Friday 29th April 2016. Following an initial conference hosted two years ago by the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) in Chicago, leaders and community organisers gathered in London, the city which gave birth to Citizens UK. The purpose of the event was to both deepen relationships across national borders, and to engage with the theory and practice of developing institutions through public action. Attendees also witnessed the largest-ever Citizens UK action, when 6,000 Londoners gathered at the Copper Box on the Olympic Park for the 2016 Mayoral Assembly.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Why we’re into inter faith…

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Our Near Neighbours Co-ordinator, Revd Tim Clapton blogs about why Inter Faith week makes a difference…

A couple of weeks ago I found myself wandering around Burgess Park in Southwark in cold and damp weather trying to find a bunch of kids and their parents. These were youngsters from St Peter’s church, Liverpool Grove and similar children from the Old Kent Road Mosque who have been meeting each other for play, crafts and storytelling. The church and mosque had utilised a Near Neighbours grant to help establish and co-ordinate this work.

I found the group near the new lake where they had set out a banner proclaiming they were Christian and Muslim children working for peace. The kids themselves were making colourful badges which read ‘Salam – Peace’ and eating biscuits at the same time. The priests and Imams were chatting and laughing over to one side, while the adults, mainly women, talked about what their children will and will not eat and the worries they have for their children in a sad world. It was difficult to know which were the Muslim women and which were the Christians. Just as the cold was beginning to bite we held the banner high and made a pledge to nurture peace and wellbeing between Christians and Muslims which then qualified us to wear the badges.

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…

Jellicoe sermon 2014 – Fixing the jigsaw puzzle

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Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 16.19.18Each year, one of CTC’s staff or partner church leaders preaches the Jellicoe Sermon at Magdalen College, Oxford – a chance to engage a new generation of students in inner-city ministry. This year’s sermon was given by Bishop Moses Owusu-Sekyere, who is also preaching at the CTC Celebration on 28 October!

“We come here today to honour the legacy of Father Basil Jellicoe, Magdalens Missioner to Somers Town in the 1920s. Born privileged, on 5th February 1899, Fr Basil studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, before training for the priesthood at St Stephens House. Jellicoe regarded the state of his parishioners’ housing as disgraceful and employed his sermons to address this. His said to have described the slums as ‘an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual disgrace.’

What did he do about it?

He toured the country in his small car fundraising and selling loan stock to fund more befitting housing projects. He gained the support of the Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Housing Minister in the St Pancras House Improvement Society. In this venture and became the founder of the St Pancras Housing Association and several other housing associations in London, Sussex and Cornwall.

Church Growth: what does it mean in multi-faith London?

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profile-AngusCTC Director Angus Ritchie blogs on an exciting event on 17 June which goes to the heart of a major debate within the church: What kind of growth should Christian congregations be aiming for?…

Jesus tells a number of parables which relate to fruitfulness and growth.  The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed – initially the smallest of all seeds, but growing to be the largest of the garden plants, becoming a tree in which the birds can come and find a home (Matthew 13).  By contrast, Jesus also tells the parable of the fig tree, which is unfruitful for three years – and is to be dug around and given manure one last time (Luke 13).

Just Love: Theology for the local church

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profile-Tim-TOur Development Director Tim Thorlby blogs on what happened at the second of the Centre’s new programme of seminars for local church leaders. The seminar marked the publication of our new Lent book called Just Love written by Angus Ritchie (CTC Director) and Paul Hackwood (Executive Chair of the Church Urban Fund).


On Tuesday 21st January, the Centre welcomed over 20 local church leaders and practitioners from across London to take part in the second 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 local churches 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.

Churches, organising and “small ‘p’ politics”

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CTC logo markToday’s Church Urban Fund conference in East London has seen a powerful call by Archbishop Justin Welby for Christians to engage in politics – and Maurice Glasman praise community organising as an effective means of doing so.  In this post, we look at some exciting events and publications which will equip local churches to put these ideas into practice.

CTC’s Senior Tutor refers to community organising as an example of “small ‘p’ politics” – seeking the good of the polis (city) in which God has placed us, in response to the command of the Bible (Jeremiah 29.7).  Today, many of the CTC team are at the Church Urban Fund’s “Tackling Poverty Together” conference, in which Archbishop Welby and Lord Glasman (a Fellow of CTC) have called on local churches to engage in these kinds of “small ‘p’ politics”.

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?”

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:

East London Choir win hearts in Oxford

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Tom Daggett, Community Music Co-ordinator, blogs on a recent visit by the choir of ARC Pentecostal Church in Forest Gate to St. Mary Magdalen’s church in Oxford…

One of the many things Oxford is known for is its rich history of choral music. Indeed, it’s been at the forefront of church music developments for many centuries. Some of the most progressive English composers have enjoyed time spent in Oxford’s various chapels and churches, and its libraries remain home to thousands of manuscripts containing the sources of some of the world’s finest choral music.

It would be fair to say that Oxford remains one of very few places in the world where the highest quality of church music can be heard on a daily basis. The services of Evensong and the Eucharist remain at the heart of the daily patterns of liturgical and musical life across the university and city.

Enough for all and more besides…

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CTC’s Communications Officer, Andy Walton, spent time at the Community Lunch at St Peter’s, Bethnal Green.

Across London, CTC’s partner churches are involved in innovative, creative and exciting projects. Sometimes, though, a remarkably simple idea can be the most effective answer to a problem.

A few months ago, the congregation of St Peter’s, Bethnal Green held a Money Talk. A Money Talk is a simple tool used by congregations to assess how the ongoing economic downturn is having an impact in the local area. The answers coming back from church members showed that there were major concerns. One of these major areas of impact was food.  Grocery shopping is getting more and more expensive, and it’s becoming hard to feed a family with healthy meals.

From an east end pub to St Paul’s Cathedral…

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Centre Director Angus Ritchie blogs on our spring programme, where we will be taking theology beyond the walls of the church:

Community Bible Studies

Over the last 4 months we have been studying the Bible together outside the usual ecclesiastical settings.  Andy Walton has blogged on these Community Bible Studies – in which we are finding that God is speaking to us in fresh ways because we are making the effort to read His word deep in the community.   We will be meeting next  at noon on Monday 4th February in the Hudson Bay pub, Forest Gate, with the Revd Chigor Chike (from the neighbouring Emmanuel Parish Church).  The Bible Study finishes at 1pm – and those who have time to stay are welcome to have lunch together.

Lent Programme

The Centre’s programme for Lent includes a mixture of contemplation and action – beginning with an afternoon on Silence: Practicing the Presence of God with speakers from the Roman Catholic, Coptic Orthodox and Anglican churches.

We have also launched Seeing Changea Lent course which includes an innovative mixture of Bible study and community engagement.  (A version of the course is also available for other times of year.)  Churches participating in the course will spend three weeks reflecting on the Biblical story of the prophet Nehemiah, before moving into action with a Money Talk held either in the church building or elsewhere in the neighourhood.

You are warmly invited to the Sunday evening (6pm) service St Paul’s Cathedral on 17th March, at which those involved in Seeing Change will be leading intercessions for all affected by the financial crisis, and all working for a more just and compassionate economic order.

February also sees the annual Presence & Engagement Lecture – which is this year given by the Dean of St Paul’s, who travels south of the river to St George the Martyr SE1.  At 7pm on  Monday 18th February, he will give a talk entitled Guardian or Gatekeeper? Faith in the Public Square and the role of the Church – and this public lecture is preceded by an afternoon workshop on Making Sense of the Census.  Full details of both events, and a Near Neighbours workshop later in the month, are on the CTC website.

Bible study… But not as you know it.

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How does a diverse group of people come to be gathered round a large table in an east London cafe discussing and debating the words of Jesus?

The Contextual Theology Centre works with many excellent churches. But when we decided to develop a new bi-monthly Bible study series, we wanted to find a space which wasn’t traditionally used for that kind of activity.

We considered various options before settling on the idea of taking our Bible study on tour around the various communities we work in. Nowhere was off limits. We aim to visit libraries, community centres and even parks (weather allowing!) But the first two studies have taken place in two of our favourite cafes.

The October study considered Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well and took place at Kahaila cafe on Brick Lane. Surrounded by their exquisite coffee and cakes, we discussed the meaning of this incredibly poignant and important passage.


December’s study took place this week at Cafe Verde in Limehouse. Staff from the centre were joined by a wide variety of people including a couple of parish priests and some Muslim school-pupils who were on work experience with one of our partner charities.

Led by the Centre’s Faith in Public Life Officer, David Barclay, we studied a less well-know parable – that of the Shrewd Manager.

Having read the passage together, we broke into groups to discuss our perspectives on the story, and how it might apply to our day-to-day lives. The economic implications of Jesus’ words were debated and we discussed whether the ‘rich man’ mentioned in the passage may in fact have been the contemporary equivalent of a banker or City trader.

Being in a ‘real’ environment rather than a place of worship means there’s a real buzz to the studies, and there always seems to be plentiful coffee and excellent food on offer. We’d love you to join us for future community Bible studies.

The next Community Bible Study – held on the first Monday of alternate months – will be on 4th February at 12 noon at a cafe in Forest Gate.  Full details on our events page shortly.  

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.

November update from the Director

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Events for Advent

The Centre has planned a variety of events activities for Advent 2012: a Quiet Afternoon on Mary: Prayer and Action (speakers ranging from a Pentecostal pastor in Newham to an Assumptionist priest in Bethnal Green); the second of our bi-monthly Community Bible Studies (on the theme of ‘Encounters’) and a debate on the religious foundations of morality at the London School of Economics.  Our Advent programme ends with Earthly and Heavenly – an evening of music and reflections on the Christmas story which will be held at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine.

New Resources

The Centre is working with the Church Urban Fund to develop a ‘Community Conversations’ programme – equipping churches to engage their neighbours in discussion and action on economic justice.  David Barclay is available to help churches host such events (  You can find out more here – where you can download the Centre’s resource pack on the financial crisis, along with a range of papers and media articles by staff and Fellows.

CTC is also engaged in a partnership with the University of Notre Dame, which is generating both academic research and resources for local use.  It is focussed on the way Christians, Muslims and secular people negotiate and promote a ‘common good’.  The first fruits of the partnership are already online: including blog posts on the impact of community organising on the Olympics and a new booklet on Muslim engagement in community organising.  In the next month, we will be publishing a report for Theos (the public theology think tank) on the religious foundations of morality, and its implications for the use of religious reasoning in public life.  CTC researchers are also preparing research papers on Christian, Muslim and secular motivations for community organising – and a second, more practice-focused report for Theos.

News: Justin Welby endorses Living Wage; Latest Near Neighbours Grants; Tax Justice Campaign

As well as weekly posts on the forthcoming Sunday’s Gospel readings (with prayer intentions for the work of the Centre and its partners), our new blog includes a range of stories and resources – including news of Near Neighbours (Eastern London), and projects which have received funding from its Small Grants Fund to build relationships between neighbours of different faiths and cultures.

Other recent stories on the CTC blog include our work with Christian Aid’s tax justice campaign; a report on  ‘Highway Neighbours’ (a project of local parishes in Shadwell and Wapping in response to the Olympics), and news of the Bishop Justin Welby’s strong endorsement of the Living Wage Campaign.  We’ll be posting again shortly on  an exciting new piece of work in Newham with our local Pentecostal and Roman Catholic partner churches, helping young people in the area to tackle gang violence.

Drawing the strands together

What draws these diverse strands of activity together?  The Contextual Theology Centre exists to equip churches to engage with their communities.  From the street-by-street interactions encouraged by Near Neighbours, to the way we are engaging churches in community organising; from the very local work of The Shoreditch Group to the sharing of good practice of the Presence and Engagement Network; from the development of the ‘Jellicoe Community’ (of young Christians committed to prayer and social transformation) to our growing range of research partnerships, CTC’s activities are united by their concern for helping local churches to engage prayerfully, faithfully and effectively with their neighbourhoods.

Angus Ritchie

The Primacy of the Social and Ethical: Blue Labour Midlands Seminar

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A number of CTC Fellows are involved in an upcoming seminar on Blue Labour.  Details, including how to RSVP to attend, are below.  The event organisers write..

The Primacy of the Social and Ethical – How Blue Labour speaks to the social, political and economic situation in the UK in 2012.

6 July 2012, 9.30am to 17.00pm at the Centre of Theology and Philosophy, University of Nottingham

Out of what materials can Labour fashion a compelling vision of the type of country we wish to govern and offer an effective orientation for assured political action?

The Labour tradition is not best understood as the living embodiment of the liberal/communitarian debate, or as a variant of the European Marxist/Social Democratic tension.  Labour is robustly national and international, conservative and reforming, Christian and secular, republican and monarchical, democratic and elitist, radical and traditional,and it is most transformative and effective when it defies the status quo in the name of ancient as well as modern values.

(‘Labour as a Radical Tradition’, Maurice Glasman, 2011)

The aim of this seminar is to gather Blue Labour thinkers, supporters and activists to explore and discuss substantive Blue Labour themes. The aim would be to deepen, enrich and expand upon the themes that constitute the emerging Blue Labour narrative.

What Money Can’t Buy – an event with Michael Sandel

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Nick Spencer at Theos has written an excellent review of Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel’s new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets.  This book explores the difficult questions of how the marketisation of everything leads to a devaluing of those things which money shouldn’t buy.

Michael Sandel will be in London soon for an event entitled: ‘What money can’t buy – the moral limits of markets’ hosted by St Paul’s Cathedral in collaboration with the London School of Economics and Political Science, JustShare and Penguin UK. This event will take place on Wednesday 23rd May, 6.30 – 8pm.

Is there something wrong with a world in which everything is for sale? Do market values dominate too many spheres of life? What are the moral limits of markets? Professor Michael J. Sandel will explore some of these pressing questions and Bishop Peter Selby will respond. Copies of Michael Sandel’s new book What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets will be available on the evening and there will be plenty of time for questions from the audience.

This event is free but a ticket will be required. Reserve your ticket now by emailing with your name, postal address and phone number (please note: this information will be sent to the LSE events team so that they can mail out tickets on the 10th May). Tickets will also be available on the door. You can find out more at:

Beyond Individualism

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The European Christian Political Movement is hosting a two day colloquium and conference on Friday 25th and Saturday 26th November 2011.  Entitled ‘Beyond Individualism: Why Civil Society Needs Christian Political Engagement’, the Friday will be a study day aimed at leaders in policy, politics, advocacy and academia, and the Saturday will be a broader conference considering issues facing Europe and how Christian thought might offer a response.

Speakers over the two days include Maurice Glasman (a Fellow of CTC), Philip Blond, Os Guinness, Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, and a number of politicians from the continent.

The King James Bible at Westminster Abbey

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There are a number of open lectures taking place in Westminster Abbey this October which promise a fascinating look at the public role and influence of the King James Bible.

Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, is speaking, followed by Melvyn Bragg, and then Nick Spencer of Theos.  You can find details of the lectures, and how to book free tickets, on the Westminster Abbey website.


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