The Centre for Theology & Community

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.

800 reasons we’re glad to be Near Neighbours…

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profile-Tim-COur Near Neighbours Co-ordinator Revd Tim Clapton blogs on the 800th grant awarded by this pioneering project…

It’s been an exciting week as we’ve been celebrating the 800th Near Neighbours grant to be awarded to a project bringing together people of different faiths in local social action. Near Neighbours in eastern London continues to be interesting and thrilling. It has been a privilege to have supported small organisations, faith congregations and groups of individuals as they develop local projects. Over the first three years, eastern London received over £500,000 in Near Neighbours grants which have supported creative projects – making a tangible impact. We are continuing this success in this second round of funding.

Money’s too tight not to mention – ‘Seeing Change’ Lent course released

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We live in tough times. As queues at Food Banks grow and benefits are cut, more and more people in Britain are finding that there’s ‘far too much month left at the end of their money’. At the same time gambling shops are sucking £5bn a year from poor communities, over a million Britons are without access to basic banking services, and payday lenders are raking in enormous profits by trapping people in spirals of debt. With Lent nearly upon us, CTC is calling on churches to become pro-active in combating these depressing signs of our unjust economic system.


If the Church wants to offer hope to those around, it needs to find ways to talk about these issues. That’s why the Contextual Theology Centre has partnered with the Church Urban Fund to produce a five-week Lent Course to help churches explore the deep Biblical tradition on money and connect it to the experiences of ordinary people today. The course is called Seeing Change and combines studies of the story of Nehemiah with an event called a Money Talk which is designed to help gather evidence of local people’s experiences of the economic situation and what they’d like to see the Church do about it.

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Go to to download the Leader’s Guide and a Guide to Holding a Money Talk. If you have any questions about the course and how your Church might use it, please get in touch with David Barclay, the Faith in Public Life Officer at the Contextual Theology Centre, at or on 07791633117.

Olympic Graffiti in east London

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Near Neighbours has been embracing the opportunities presented by the Olympic and Paralympic Games being on our doorstep. One of the projects we have supported has seen young people of different backgrounds coming together to paint a graffiti mural.

Street artist Mohammed Ali is the creative talent behind murals in New York, Melbourne and Chicago. To celebrate the Olympics he wanted to create a special work in east London which was

  • International in flavor fusing Eastern and Western traditions.
  • Community based.
  • Engaging with Olympic visitors on all levels.
  • Challenging perceptions on art and culture

He was also keen to bring together different groups to achieve his goal. He says, “The world might have come together for the Olympics but this time last year London was a place of riots and factions, this project is a perfect opportunity to transcend class, race, and faith to bring all peoples together through art.”

The project involves young people from youth organisation Adventure Quest, Leyton Scouts and arts organisation Soul City Arts.

Here’s what the wall looked like before they got to work: (click for larger image)

And here’s what it looked like after a few days of hard work, team building and creative direction from Mohammed:

You can go to visit the mural in Leyton on the corner of Huxley Road and Leyton High Road. Find out more about Mohammed’s work here.

You can also watch a short video about the project here:


Music Migrations

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Here’s a wonderful example of a project supported by Near Neighbours.

Music Migrations was a series of three concerts featuring music from around the world. The idea was to bring together different parts of the community in a diverse area of east London. Food was shared, and as you’ll see and hear, a great time was had by all, as people of many different backgrounds came together.

This was all made possible by the hard work of Alice and her team, the support of Near Neighbours and the hosting of St Barnabas Church, Bethnal Green.

Here’s just a flavour of the atmosphere:


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.

From Ascension to Pentecost: A Reflection

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This sermon was preached yesterday by Angus Ritchie (founder of the Jellicoe Community) at Magdalen College, Oxford.  The readings were 1 John 4.11-16 and John 17.11-19

There are very few statues or sculptures of our Lord’s Ascension.  It’s always difficult to convey movement in a statue.  How on earth do you depict Jesus going up into the heavens?  Painters certainly show it as a stately and seemly movement – so the sculptor cannot show hair or clothes being ruffled by high speed, upward travel.  How, then is movement to be expressed?

A number of churches have tried to rise to this artistic challenge. One congregation has commissioned a vast helium balloon of Jesus in a cloud.  The Shrine Church at Walsingham adopts a different approach.  Its Chapel of the Ascension has a cloud sculpted into its roof, with two feet sticking out.

I must confess, when I first saw the Chapel roof, my reaction was to collapse in fits of giggles.   Because sculpture cannot easily convey movement, there is an unfortunate ambiguity.  It isn’t entirely clear whether the feet are on their way up or down.  It rather looks as if the ceiling has fallen in, and someone’s feet are now dangling through the roof.

But once you’ve got over its unintended comedy, the sculpture conveys some fundamental truths about the nature of the Ascension.

For it shows us who and what has gone, without telling us precisely where he has gone.  We know who has gone: Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord.  In the Walsingham sculpture, the feet ear the wounds of the cross.  We know what has gone: Christ’s physical body.  In the Easter season the Gospels have been emphasising over and over again the physicality of Christ’s resurrection.  Our risen Lord is not simply some spirit who has shuffled off his mortal coil.  In the resurrection God not abandon our physicality – he rescues it from death.

So we know who and what has gone – but where exactly has our ascended Lord gone?  Christians disagree on whether the story of the Ascension should be taken literally.  But even if we take it completely literally, we cannot imagine that Jesus’ body continued to ascend on the other side of the cloud.   Today’s Gospel reading makes that clear: Jesus tells his disciples he is going back to the Father, not on an extended voyage into outer space.

That’s what I like most about the Chapel of the Ascension at Walsingham.  We only see the feet.  When we think about what lies on the other side of the cloud, words and images begin to fail, and so they should.

The Christian faith is that human beings have a physical and spiritual future.  Our story does not end with death, and its continuation is not merely about some kind of half-life in a world of ghostly shadows.  Our story – our whole being – is taken into God; the God who holds the world in being, but whose presence in this world is obscured by sin and death.  

The Bible is somewhat reticent about what this future will be like.  It is of necessity a mystery, because our future with God is beyond human understanding.

That shouldn’t surprise or trouble us.  I don’t know how many of you saw last term’s debate between Rowan Williams and Richard Dawkins in the Sheldonian Theatre.  (If you didn’t, but are still interested, the footage remains online at   One thing that this debate made clear is that the difference between Williams and Dawkins lies in the ambition and scope as well as the content of their picture of reality.

Richard Dawkins longs for a day when an exhaustive and comprehensible explanation of everything is on offer – a scientific theory which will account for and describe reality without remainder.  Rowan Williams thinks the world is more mysterious than that. 

The position of Archbishop Rowan, and indeed of any thoughtful Christian, is that there is an inexpressible depth to the world.  As Christians, we’re not in the business of offering a comprehensive explanation of every detail of reality.  We recognise that many aspects of reality can be researched and understood, but others pass human understanding.  As one writer has put it, life is not simply puzzle to be solved, but a mystery to be experienced, a gift to be lived.

This is not a plea for blind faith.  As the Archbishop’s dialogue with Dawkins made clear, Christians can give good reason for thinking the world has this kind of depth.  There is a genuine argument to be had between those who think science can one day explain everything, and those who think that the scientific account of the world leaves open some further question about the origin and destiny of our world.  This is the true boundary between faith and reason. If there is a God who passes all human understanding, our knowledge of that God will depend not only on our reasoning, but on his self-revelation.  And the Christian faith is that God’s self-revelation is centred on Jesus Christ, His Word made Flesh.

The Letter to the Hebrews talks of Jesus as the ‘pioneer of our salvation’.  A pioneer leads the way through uncharted territory.  Jesus, who lives the life we ought to have lived, and dies the death we ought to have died, shows us that there is a hope beyond the grave.  In his resurrection, we see that our personality and our physicality have a future.

In a moment, we will recite the Creed, which sketches out the shape of this future hope.  It speaks of Christ ascending into heaven, of him coming again in glory, establishing a kingdom which shall have no end.  But beyond this the Creeds, and the Bible, do not go into huge amounts of detail.  We are given an array of pictures of what lies beyond, but they are just that: images and metaphors, glimpses of a glorious future that is beyond our understanding.

These glimpses of the future are given so that we might have the confidence to live with love and courage here and now.  As St Luke recounts the Ascension, angelic figures ask the disciples “why do you stand looking at the clouds?”  And in today’s Gospel, Jesus speaks of his disciples not being of the world, but being sent into the world – sent to proclaim and embody the love that flows within the heart of God.  As we heard in our Epistle, No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.

How does God abide in us, now that our risen Lord no longer walks among us?  How are we to have the grace and power to embody the very love of God?  The answer is in the next verse of the Epistle: By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his own Spirit.

That is why these days between the Feast of the Ascension and the Feast of Pentecost have a special significance in the life of the church.  We rejoice that the pioneer of our salvation has borne our wounded humanity into the life of God – with the hope that gives us, both of the safe keeping of those who have gone before us, and of a day when the whole creation will be renewed in love, in beauty and in justice.  And we rejoice that God has sent his Holy Spirit, that the love, the beauty and the justice of Christ might take flesh in this world, here and now.

This year, Christian Aid Week overlaps with these days of prayer between Ascension and Pentecost.  This is a good reminder – that the hope of an eternal future with God does not leave us gazing fondly into the heavens.  Rather, God calls us to be inspired by that hope, and sends us the Holy Spirit, that Christ may be made present here and now.  As Christian Aid’s slogan puts it, we are called to believe in life before death as well as afterwards.

After we have said the Creed, offered our Intercessions and shared the Peace of Christ, Fr Michael will lead us in the Eucharistic Prayer: taking bread and wine, ordinary elements of the physical creation, and praying these words

grant that, by the power of thy Holy Spirit, we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed body and blood;

The Holy Spirit enables the Church – through the sacraments, through our common life, through acts of love, mercy and justice – to embody as well as proclaim her ascended Lord.  So as we gather at the altar, we another of today’s prayers has already been answered  For earlier in the service, Fr Michael sang today’s Collect:

we beseech thee, leave us not comfortless, but send to us thine Holy Spirit to comfort us and exalt us unto the same place whither our Saviour Christ is gone before.

In this Eucharist, we are both comforted and exalted.  We are lifted to glimpse something of our glorious future in Christ.  It  a future in grow in communion with God and all his children  – those we see here, and those from whom we are now divided by distance or by death.  And this foretaste, this glimpse of glory, is not given not to distract us from our earthly pilgrimage.  Rather, it gives that pilgrimage its direction, its  confidence and its power.

Like no other event: last night’s Mayoral Assembly

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Andy Walton – a Jellicoe Intern at St Peter’s Bethnal Green, and the Contextual Theology Centre’s Communications officer – blogs on a unique piece of political action:

 Three of the candidates have done this all before. In fact, as Ken Livingstone reminded us, some of them have been doing London politics for more than 30 years. During the run-up to the Mayoral election they spend most nights of the week sparring with each other and fielding questions from experienced interviewers, broadcast to millions of viewers and have their every move analysed by the newspapers.
So why, exactly, were the candidates on edge? Why was this far from the usual experience for them? And why did many of us come away from the evening feeling that the race for Mayor had been injected with a whole new energy and impetus?
Well, simply put, because a London Citizens Mayoral Accountability Assembly is like no other event on the campaign calendar.
For a start, it’s the biggest audience the candidates have addressed. 2,000 people from across London’s diverse communities packed out the Methodist Central Hall, Westminster. Young and not-so-young sat alongside each other. Londoners old and new were represented – those who’ve lived and worked in the city their whole lives and those who’ve arrived very recently. Delegations from churches, mosques, temples and synagogues formed a part of the audience, but non-faith groups were well represented too – charities, social enterprises, students unions and school groups.

This diverse audience made for a carnival atmosphere, a choir sang and we saw amazing football skills on the stage. But that’s only the beginning of what made this a unique experience.

The real difference between this and all the other Mayoral hustings was that this was an ‘accountability assembly.’ We were there to assess how Boris Johnson had performed as Mayor over the last four years and examine his record, based on the agenda London Citizens had produced in 2008. He was praised for the effort he’d put in and the achievements made, but also told where he’d fallen short.

And then, the evening’s main event: the Citizens Agenda 2012. We asked all four main candidates to respond to our agenda, and heard amazing testimony from those whose real life experiences had helped to form it. The agenda began a year ago. London Citizens has 243 member institutions across 24 boroughs of London, gathered in five chapters (North, South, East, West and Shoreditch).
Thousands of one-to-one conversations took place. Members of our churches, parents at the school gate and students at our universities were asked what their main concerns and problems were. These conversations were collated, the answers tallied up and a series of policy areas were identified on which many of our members felt very strongly. Then, our five chapters met in huge assemblies to vote on which of these priority areas would make the final agenda.
Once this democratic process had been completed, the agenda was honed and refined. We were asking for five things from the candidates: safer streets, better wages, more opportunities for young people, housing improvements, and a better governed city. These aims may sound vague, but the agenda was carefully crafted, with specific policies we were requesting the Mayor to carry out, and the commitments we, as London Citizens, would carry out.
Throughout the course of the evening, we heard stories from ordinary Londoners about why these areas were so important to focus on. Barbara, who’s a cleaner for a top hotel chain, broke down as she told us she could barely afford to live on the wage she was paid. Lorriane gave her story – as a mother whose son was cruelly taken away in a violent attack in North London. We heard about young people struggling to get jobs, damp housing conditions and Londoners who can’t afford to pay their exorbitant rent. If this all sounds heartbreaking, it was. In a room of 2,000 people, we could have heard a pin drop at times.
But the testimonies didn’t stop there. We heard about the amazing improvements which have been brought about through London Citizens. Huge corporations have begun paying a Living Wage. Housing Associations have begun to improve accommodation after pressure from local residents working together. We heard wonderful stories of teamwork among different groups who’ve come together to make their streets safer through the CitySafe programme.
The candidates had a tough act to follow. But they rose to the occasion. Jenny Jones, Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson and Brian Paddick were called forward to respond to our agenda. They were given the chance to say how they would enact our policy ideas and then questioned by ordinary people from our member institutions. We were impressed at how many of our ideas were praised by the candidates. Our Community Land Trust programme won universal support from them. The City Safe scheme was held up as a beacon by all candidates. This was politics at its most raw – ideas formulated on the streets of London, being adopted in the corridors of power.

The whole event was organised, presented, chaired and staffed by volunteer leaders from across our City, ably assisted by the team of London Citizens staff. The 2,000 people in the room, the 12,000 people we signed up to promise to vote, the 250,000 people who have some contact with our member institutions and the many who watched the event online are now better informed. They’ll make a more-informed decision when they go into the polling booth.
This, of course, isn’t the end. In fact, it’s just the beginning of another cycle of working to improve London alongside our politicians. Whoever is elected and becomes the next Mayor of London knows that London Citizens will be watching for the next four years and will hold that person to account in 2016. London will be a better place because of it.

Rowan Williams: Challenging us to Listen

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Centre Director Canon Dr Angus Ritchie reflects on the news that Archbishop Rowan is standing down:

Many people in the Church of England long for ‘stronger leadership’.  On closer examination, this usually turns out to be ‘strong leadership in the direction I already wanted to travel’.  We only want our leadership to be ‘prophetic’ and ‘challenging’ when someone else is going to be discomfited.

The real and paradoxical strength of Rowan Williams’ leadership is that he has discomfited us all.  For leadership was not driven by a desire to force the church in his direction of choice.  Rather, he has sought to help different voices and views – in the Church of England and in the wider Anglican Communion – to listen to each other with humility, honesty and love.

Most people might be tempted to trim their views to achieve promotion – and then, once they had secured a powerful position, to use it as the ‘bully pulpit’ from which to advance their owm opinions.  It is a measure of the man we are losing as head of the Anglican Communion that he did the exact opposite.

Rowan’s views on human sexuality were made clear in his essay ‘The Body’s Grace’ – a lecture given to the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.  This was a refreshingly honest piece of writing which was hardly designed to maximise his chances of ecclesiastical promotion. Once Archbishop, he saw his role as one of helping the church in working out, with love and maturity, how to live with disagreement.  Not even Rowan’s most ardent defenders would claim he performed this task perfectly.   However, one of his great gifts to Anglican Communion was to help it recognise the central question.  The distinctive vocation of Anglicanism – its distinctive gift to the wider Church and world – is to bear witness to Jesus Christ through the affirmation of the central truths of the faith (on which Rowan is strikingly orthodox) and to negotiate diverse views on a range of other issues with grace, integrity and wisdom.  Rowan challenged us to consider whether we wanted to continue doing that, or to fragment into little enclaves of ‘right-minded’ purity.

The Anglican Communion needs to recognise that it is both possible (i) to affirm sexually active gay relationships without being a ‘heretic’ and (ii) to believe sexual intercourse should only take place within heterosexual marriage without being a ‘bigot’   Rowan has sought has to remind us both that there is an orthodox case for what is often mistakenly called the ‘liberal’ view of gay relationships – and  that to remind us that ‘inclusivity’ can sometimes be a cloak for permissiveness and a lack of seriousness about the Christian call to repentance and transformation.  To speak truth to all the warring factions in this debate has been a hugely difficult task.  We should be thankful for the patience and dignity with which he has sought to carry it out.

In our sadness at Rowan’s decision to stand down, there is something here we all need to mourn – and to repent of at real depth.  Despite his best efforts, we have not managed to move beyond name-calling and parody.  This failure of charity has been very harmful to our wider mission.  Each side is convinced that its victory will enable the church to have a more credible, honest witness.  In fact, the greatest damage to our witness has been the lack of love with which we have spoken to each other, and to the wider culture.

This damage comes at a time when the wider society shows signs of real hunger for the Gospel.  At his best, Rowan was able to speak into that hunger.  Just after his appointment, there was significant and sympathetic coverage of the questions he was asking of our culture – about its shallowness, its focus on materialism over relationships, the disturbing signs of failure in the formation and care of each new generation.  More recently, his engagements with Philip Pullman, A.C. Grayling and Richard Dawkins have given the lie to the notion Christianity has been ‘intellectually disproved’.  Like Pope Benedict, our Archbishop gives the lie to the notion faith must involve the abandonment of reason.

On the day Rowan’s resignation was announced, the Gospel set for the Eucharist was Mark 12.28-34.  In it, Jesus’ tells the scribes that ‘there is no commandment greater’ than that to love God and neighbour.  It is a salutary reading for us all.  For Rowan’s leadership reminds us that loving is a difficult task.  It love is not a matter of being easily inclusive. The love which Jesus embodies presents a challenge to every section of the church and of society.   We should pray not only for a worthy successor to our Archbishop of Canterbury, but for a willingness to hear that challenge for ourselves.

Welfare into work: a theological perspective

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With the ‘welfare to work’ debate continuing to rage, we reprint the article Angus Ritchie wrote in the January edition of Christianity magazine – responding to a piece by Peter Oborne hailing the Christian inspiration of Government policy
Poverty has spiritual as well as material causes.  This is why Jesus told his disciples that the poor would always be with them.  From Amos to St James, the Bible identifies these causes as the greed and indifference of the ‘haves’ much more than the indolence of the ‘have nots’.
So Peter Oborne’s article tells only one part of the story.  He is right to criticise new Labour for treating poverty as a purely material matter.  And he is right to denounce the welfare system for incentivising unemployment, and for its bias against families.
However, unemployment has not shot up because of an epidemic of laziness among the poor.  Its rise has been caused by a deep and prolonged recession –itself generated by an under-regulated, over-greedy financial system.  That is the real issue, both spiritually and materially.
The poor have not lost their appetite for work.  Across the East End, members of London Citizens (an alliance of churches, mosques and other civil society organisations) have been running ‘Olympic Recruitment Fayres’.  They are on track to secure over 1500 jobs for local people.  The energy local people have put into this process speaks volumes about their hunger for gainful employment.  
Here, as across the UK, there are real obstacles to the move from welfare into work.  If an unemployed person gets any job offer at all, it is likely to be time-limited or insecure.  When such jobs end, the welfare system cannot be relied upon to start payments again in a timely and accurate manner.  That is one reason for the profusion of Food Banks up and down the country.  People who are willing to work still lack the means to eat.  
In this economic climate – where unemployment has been caused by a morally bankrupt financial system, and the benefits system makes it hard to move from welfare into work – we should be very wary of a narrative which blames the poor for their lot.

Prayer diary: day 8 of Lent

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Please pray for S.T.O.R.M a community based organisation in North Battersea which aims were to support single/lone parents and women back into employment, with the motto “Out of the darkness and into the light”.

The name stands for Support, Trust, Opportunity, Rebuilding and Motivation and was founed by Marie Hanson, a single mother living on the estates of North Battersea. Motivated by her own personal experiences, she started the organisation in 2005, as a self help group for single mothers aimed at rebuilding lost self esteem and confidence. Marie found that many of the women and mothers she worked with had been victims of domestic violence, poor educational achievement, unsuccessful relationships and missed life opportunities.

The Church Urban Fund is supporting S.T.O.R.M.’s conference which will support single parents who have suffered domestic violence, and who are facing other difficulties such as financial problems.

Pray also for the Contextual Theology Centre and its work with Citizens UK to develop ‘Joseph Generation’, a programme to develop young leaders from ethnic minorities, working particularly through its partner Pentecostal churches.

Dawkins and Williams: No knockout, but a success!

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The commentators are unusually united: yesteday’s debate between Archbishop Rowan and Richard Dawkins lacked a ‘knockout punch’. Among colleagues in Oxford, there was general agreement that no-one had a decisive victory.  For all that, Dawkins was the only one who ever found himself on the ropes.  Indeed, there were a few moments when Dawkins seemed more like an undergraduate being probed by a kindly but rigorous philosophy tutor.  At one point, Dawkins was reduced to protesting that he was not, after all, a philosopher.  That invites a question the Archbishop was far too kind to ask: Why, then, does Dawkins feel able to make dogmatic assertions about the philosophical implications of modern science?

A win on points for the Archbishop – indeed anything short of a knockout punch from his opponent – throws serious doubt on Dawkins’ position. Dawkins doesn’t just hold that atheism is, on balance, correct.  His position is that religion is irrational nonsense.  Rowan Williams has never made such dismissive noises about atheism.  The Archbishop admits that there are also intellectual challenges for theism (especially around the problem of evil). Nothing less than a clear win for Dawkins would justify his claim that religion is obvious, demonstrable nonsense. For something to be demonstrable you have to be able to demonstrate it.

So last night represented a significant loss of ground for Dawkins’ polemical brand of atheism. It modelled a very different conversation between these incompatible worldviews – not based on woolly relativism but on rigorous and mutually respectful dialogue.

As I have argued before, Dawkins’ crusade against religion in public life, and his repeated claims that religious people ‘indoctrinate’ children only make sense if belief in God is palpably ludicrous. And whatever else one thinks of last night’s debate, Dawkins failed to justify that claim.

By Canon Dr Angus Ritchie, Director of the Contextual Theology Centre

New course on faith and organising

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This week’s Church Times covers the launch of Call to Change – both the new website and the four-week CTC course has launched (for Lent but also for other times of year) on Scripture and community organising. The course was produced by the Centre’s partner churches in Citizens UK, the course has been trialled in its Anglican Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal and Salvation Army congregations.  It equips participants to engage in ‘listening campaigns’ in their area, and work with other local congregations and organisations on issues of common concern.

Secularism and Christianity: A Round-up of the Week

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Few weeks pass by with such an intense succession of stories about the relationship between Christianity and the state, and about the (a)political role of Christian values and practice.  Perhaps there is something to be said for new stories in quick succession; this week has not felt like the classic outworking of a set piece confrontation.  While the first story of the week, concerning prayer at Bideford council, showed all the promise of a standard set-piece conflict between secularism and the praying Christians, this story was quickly overtaken and cast in a changing light by subsequent events.  Here is a round-up of events this week, with some of the most thoughtful or agenda-shaping articles penned in their wake.

Bideford Council

Mr Justice Ouseley ruled that Bideford town council acted unlawfully by allowing prayers to be said at formal meetings.  Eric Pickles was among those quick to criticise the move, and the point was made by several commentators including Jonathan Chaplin that the ruling was in fact a setback for secularism rather than a success.  As Elizabeth Hunter of Theos suggests, the judgement perhaps showed more confusion about the nature of secularism than an enforcement of it.

Called to Change: Seeing God’s glory

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As part of the Call to Change initiative, the Jellicoe blog now includes a weekly post on the lectionary readings, and how they relate to the Gospel call to social transformation.

For the two Sundays leading up to Lent, the Church of England lectionary chooses special readings to prepare us for the season.

Last Sunday’s readings reminded us that God’s glory is found in engagement with, not evasion of, the material world.  In Christ, the divine life has ‘moved into the neighbourhood’, and so all aspects of life can reveal the glory of God.

That message is reinforced this week with the Gospel of the Transfiguration (Mark 9.2-9).  We are given a glimpse of our destination as Christians – as the glory of God shines out through Jesus Christ (something echoed in the Epistle, 2 Corinthians 4.3-6)

It is a particularly appropriate reading as we stand just days from Lent. The Transfiguration is like a ‘fast-forwarding’ of salvation: a moment, before Jesus begins his journey to crucifixion, where we glimpse the purpose of the cross.  The purpose is the salvation of all things – spiritual and material – so that the whole created order can shine forth with God’s mercy, love and glory.

We need these kinds of ‘mountain-top’ experiences as Christians – moments which lift the heart, and raise our vision beyond the daily grind to glimpse our destination.

Lent is a good time to take stock and re-balance our spiritual lives.  Do we spend too much time on the ‘mountain top’?  If so, we need to hear Jesus’ call to return down to the level ground – so that the glory we glimpse in worship and prayer becomes more of a reality in our relationships and our communities?  Or are we so ground down by our daily labours that we have lost our sense of perspective and direction?  If so, we may need to make more time in our lives to allow God to lift our hearts and raise our vision, as Jesus did on the mountain.

Called to Change: Putting relationships first

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As part of the Call to Change initiative, the Jellicoe blog now includes a weekly post on the lectionary readings, and how they relate to the Gospel call to social transformation.

For Roman Catholic churches, and others following the Revised Common Lectionary, the Gospel for next Sunday (19th February) is Mark 1.2-12.  

Seeing [the] faith [of his friends], Now some scribes were sitting there and they thought to themselves, “How can this man talk like that?  He is blaspheming.  Who can forgive sins but God?'”
Jesus…said to them, “Why do you have these thoughts in your heads?  Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, pick up your stretcher and walk?’

The crowds have heard of wonder-workers before, and they have listened to teachers – but never have they known anyone to declare the forgiveness of sins.  That is in God’s power.

Jesus isn’t saying that physical illness is a sign that our relationship with God is wrong.  He explicitly denies that in other healings.  What he’s doing is moving from the physical issue this man faces to the spiritual issue we all face – the health of our relationship with God and neighbour.  And because he is God, he has the power to heal that relationship too, if we are willing to open our lives to his grace.

“My god is that which rivets my attention, centres my activities, preoccupies my mind and motivates my action.” (Luke Johnson)  Is it true in my life that “God is love” – or do I value things above people?  Is my prayer life with God focused on getting things from God – or deepening our relationship?  What ‘gods’ stand at the centre of our current economic system – and what would our economic and social order change if we placed relationships at their heart?

Called to Change: Next Sunday’s (CofE) readings

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If you go into most bookshops today, the ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ section is larger any the section marked ‘Theology’ or ‘Religion’. People are attracted to a form of ‘spirituality’ which treats them like consumers. ‘Spirituality’ becomes another off-the-shelf product. The season of Lent show us a very different vision of the spiritual life – where we need to look outwards as well as inwards. We need Lent now more than ever, so that mind, body and spirit can be released from the self-indulgence of a consumerist, individualistic society. The ‘Good News’ of Lent is how much more we believe there is to life than this.

The Church of England offers special readings for the two Sundays before Lent begins. We can all use these to help us prepare for the season.

The readings for next Sunday (13th February) are John 1.1-14, Colossians 1.15-20, Psalm 104.26-37 and Proverbs 8.1,22-31

The Roman Catholic lectionary is different for the next two Sundays, and we have blogged on this in the previous post.

John 1.1-14 tells us that Jesus has humbled himself to enter our flesh, so that in our flesh we might be united to God. John writes that the disciples “have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father”. This glory is a foretaste of that which God wants us all to share.

It is tempting to think that we find the ‘glory of God’ by running away from ‘the world,’ as if Christian spirituality were about ‘other-worldliness’. But John 1 reminds us that it is into this world that God has entered. He has (in Eugene Peterson’s translation) ‘moved into the neighbourhood’.

This world is capable of showing forth the divine life, and the divine glory. Our calling as Christians is to work with God to make that vision a reality. As today’s Epistle (Colossians 1.15-20) puts it:

In [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and things on earth, visible and invisible… all things have been created through him and for him….

God was pleased … through him to reconcile all things to himself, whether things on earth or things in heaven , by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

John’s Gospel uses the term ‘the world’ in two very different ways. Sometimes it means ‘everything God has created’. As we read in Genesis 1, God looked at the world and saw it was ‘very good’. And s John 3.16 reminds us that ‘the world’ is something God still loves, even after its fall. Indeed, God loves the world so much that he gave his only Son for its salvation.

Sometimes John’s Gospel uses the term ‘the world’ rather differently. ‘The world’ sometimes means, not creation in general, but creation in rebellion against God. In this sense, the disciples are not of ‘the world’ – and Jesus says he ‘overcome the world’ (John 16.33).

So we are called to be ‘in the world’ – called to be in the creation God has made and sent his Son to save, called to be ‘good news for the poor’, challenging injustice and calling for a right use of wealth and power. But we are not called to be ‘of the world.’  The values we are loyal to as Christians are often in conflict with those which dominate the wider culture.

Jesus’ glory is revealed from a manger and cross, not a palace or an earthly throne.  This reminds us that Christian discipleship involves a challenge to the values of our broken world. In Lent, we are called to remove the idols of money and power from the thrones they have in our hearts and in our society. In Lent, we remember that money and power are to be placed at the service of Christ, and of his Kingdom of justice and of peace.

Called to Change: Catholic lectionary readings

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Each week, the Jellicoe Blog will be publishing a reflection on the forthcoming Sunday’s lectionary readings.  On Sunday 12 February, the Church of England and Roman Catholic churches have different readings set.  Here we blog on the Gospel for the Roman Catholic lectionary – a blog on the C of E readings follows:

A leper came to Jesus and pleaded on his knees: “If you want to” he said “you can cure me.” Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him. “Of course I want to!” he said. “Be cured!” And the leprosy left him at once and he was cured. Jesus immediately sent him away and sternly ordered him, “Say nothing to anyone, but go and show yourself to the priest, and make the offering for your healing” (Mark 1.40-45)

In the Greek in which Mark wrote, there is an undercurrent of anger in Jesus. This is something most of our English translations miss. Jesus is not simply sorry about the man’s condition, and eager to put it right. He is angered – maybe even outraged – by it.
Why is this? Lepers are treated as the ultimate outcasts in Jesus’ society. If a “clean” person touched them, that person became unclean. By that law, when Jesus reaches touches the man, Jesus should become unclean rather than the leper becoming clean.
In casting out demons and curing lepers, Jesus proclaims God’s Kingdom as one of liberation – liberation from prejudice and injustice; liberation from the spiritual and physical forces which stop us flourishing. It is not an easy task. Jesus is crossing a boundary, challenging a taboo. He is placing himself next to those his society holds to be worthless.

Called to Change

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Canon Dr Angus Ritchie, Director of the Contextual Theology Centre, blogs on a call to prayer, listening and social action this Lent

Lent is traditionally seen as a rather gloomy time, when we turn inward in tortured self-examination.  The truth is very different.  The deeper purpose of this season is to draw us outward – into a deeper communion with God and with neighbour.  Lent is a time of judgement, certainly.  But the ultimate purpose of God’s judgment is always that of love.

God’s judgment confronts us with reality.  His word pierces through our layers of self-deception.  It pierces through the false gods of profit, popularity and status on which we set our hearts, and through our shell of self-protecting cynicism. 

Under the loving judgment of God, we see ourselves as we really are.  We see the futility of our self-deception, the emptiness of our false gods and the destructiveness of our cynicism.  Why does God force this painful truth upon us?  For this reason: it is only when we face the reality of our lives that change and growth become possible.

The prayers and practices of Lent exist to open us to reality.  Their words of penitence urge us to face the truth about our sins and their impact on others.  The chastening words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy ‘Remember thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return’ force us to face the truth of our mortality. 
We won’t go on forever.  The choices we make each day mean there are paths down which we have decided not to travel, possibilities we have shut down, perhaps permanently.  We need to ask what kind of values we will affirm, in our deeds as well as our words.  As I face my mortality, I am forced to ask: what do I want this life to say?

This question needs to be considered alongside an honest examination of what my life currently says.  What would you say my values and priorities were if you looked, not at the beliefs I profess, but at the ways I spend my time and money, the things that preoccupy and vex me, the ways I treat the people around me? 
Lent helps us to explore the gap between the answers we give to these two questions: what does this life say? and what do I want it to say?

These are questions we can also ask of our common life.  In The Rock T.S. Eliot asks:
What is the meaning of this city?
Do you huddle together because you love each other?
What will you answer? ‘We all dwell together
To make money from each other?’ or ‘This is a community?’

Today, many people are asking these questions with a new intensity.  There is a large and growing gap between rich and poor, one which politicians of all parties say they want to see reversed.  And we all live with the ongoing and unpredictable consequences of the global financial crisis for years to come.

This Lent, two Christian social action charities – The Contextual Theology Centre and the Church Urban Fund  – are issuing a Call to Change.  (This is online at and on Twitter at @calltochange.)  It builds on decades of ministry by churches in some of England’s poorest neighbourhoods.  It seeks to draw more people into their work of prayer, of listening and of action for social justice.

The Call to Change is not a call to scapegoat someone else – be they a ‘benefits scrounger’ or a banker.  Each of us is called to open ourselves to reality.  We do this through prayer: as we encounter the ultimate reality of God in Scripture, worship and personal devotion.  We do it through listening: and in particular, a serious engagement with the voice of England’s poorest communities. 

Words are not enough.  They need to take flesh in action.  The experience of our partner churches points to concrete things every Christian and congregation can do – to tackle poverty, and build an economic system that works for poor as well as rich. 

It is through such changes that we grow together into ‘life in all its fulness’.  That is the message of Lent.  And, more importantly, it is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, God’s word of love made flesh

Diaspora, Democracy and Citizenship

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Jellicoe intern and researcher Caitlin Burbridge is working with the Congolese community within London Citizens.  On 10th December, her first three months’ work culminated in London Citizens first Diaspora Peoples’ Assembly.  She reflects on the event, and its implications for the way we think about citizenship:

With the roll call of London Citizens members waving flags and representing their various diaspora communities, 700 people gathered together for the first time with a great sense that this was to be a historic moment. Saturday 10th December saw the UK’s first ever Diaspora Peoples’ Assembly in City Temple, Central London, bringing together migrant communities who have settled in the UK from across the globe. The assembly marked a significant step towards building the power of those communities who are, as yet, vastly under-represented.

The event served two prime purposes. Firstly, it enabled the people who were forming this new power collective to recognise their mutual challenges and subsequent potential as change makers. Secondly, the assembly held to account those in influential positions on issues of street safety, immigration legal advice, opportunities for young people, and deportation.

Aside from the momentous drama of the day which saw multiple cultural performances, the celebration of diversity through song and the expression of creativity through the use of national dress, a perhaps more poignant question in my mind was raised around the nature of citizenship. For Naila Kabeer, ‘citizenship is important because it can reflect more about the ‘collective associations’ people ascribe to than ‘apparent membership of a nation state (which) often means little to its members’. The word ‘can’ in Kabeer’s statement is crucial. How does this translate into a context where official ‘citizenship’ or ‘membership’ of a nation state is insecure?
Being an official ‘citizen’ and recognised by the state is crucial to your ability to participate in a functioning democracy. Legal status allows access to the job market, and it can be argued that engaging with the communities around which one lives can broaden an understanding about how UK society functions. Often, for the diaspora communities represented at the assembly, ‘citizenship’ is defined not by membership of the state, but by exclusion from that membership; not only through a lack of legal status, but also a lack of cultural proficiency to understand how to engage with society as a whole. Therefore Kabeer’s ‘can’ alludes to a vision of citizenship which is outside the realms of ‘official democracy’.
The model which London Citizens practices seems to be one of ‘redefining democracy’ and is not dissimilar to Andrea Cornwall’s understanding of citizenship. For Cornwall, ‘enhancing citizen participation requires more than inviting or inducing people to participate’. In the context of practising democracy, how do we create an environment in which people who have never experienced democracy can empower themselves to engage with a form of ‘citizenship’ of which they have no previous experience? One group I have been working with particularly closely has been London’s ‘Congolese community’ who, having grown up in the DRC, have almost no experience of what it is to engage in a democratic society. Perhaps this is a challenge for the future journey of this diaspora power collective? How do we redefine citizenship to open space for a new form of participation, as opposed to inviting people to participate in a form of citizenship which has already been defined?   
The challenges of this form of community organising are very different from models set up in the US and UK. The communities which gathered on 10th December have a rich and varied experience of citizenship in their own countries. In the UK, citizenship tends to be discussed in the rather conservative context of a working ‘democracy’. Yet not only do some diaspora communities lack the cultural proficiency to understand the UK’s working democracy, but challenges for these communities are often perpetuated by other factors: language barriers, qualifications which do not translate to the UK, lack of documentation fuelled by a highly inefficient and unjust ‘naturalisation’ process, unequal access to the UK labour market, and a lack of spaces within which to integrate into wider UK society.
Yet the presence of these communities in the UK provides an opportunity and opens up debate around the existing structures within which we reside. The form of organising required is different and demands those involved to consider what cultural proficiencies currently exclude migrant communities, as well considering what existing forms of cultural proficiency migrant communities bring with them to the UK. Maybe now we will begin to be a little more creative with what we expect from democracy, while we consider how we can redefine citizenship as a collective who may or may not have grown up here. Here’s to a new form of citizenship, a citizenship which is enhanced by diversity and ‘actively defined’ by its integrated citizens. 

TELCO is 15: So much done, so much more to do!

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Tom Daggett, Manager of CTC and Jellicoe intern at Stepney Salvation Army, blogs on last night’s TELCO assembly:

Last night, I had the pleasure of being part of TELCO’s 15 th Anniversary Assembly, held at the Troxy: a 2000-seater 1930s cinema just round the corner from the Contextual Theology Centre’s Limehouse home.  Delegations from many of TELCO’s member institutions (including our wide range of partner churches) proved enthusiastic participants in a celebration of 15 years of working together for social justice in East London.

Showcasing singers, poetry readers, and even a 30-piece orchestra from Trinity Catholic High School, the assembly was an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza. Over the course of the evening, scores of people – young and old, of faith and of no faith – had the chance to tell the story of TELCO as well as of their own institutions. Framing both what the organisation has achieved, and what it is yet to achieve, the assembly presented a clear message – that by acting together, we are more powerful.

One of the central stories told in the assembly was of TELCO’s recent Olympic Jobs Fayres – in which I and my placement church have played an active role.  These were run by local people, for local people, and were intended to take the pain out of applying for a job on the Olympic Park. Importantly, the jobs on offer are Living Wage jobs, and it is a triumph that London CITIZENS, working with LOCOG, has managed to secure the first ever Living Wage Olympics – covering all 130,000 jobs building the site and running the games! This story of success became real when we heard powerful testimonies from two people – Jan Harris, who invested so much energy as a TELCO leader into the interview process, and Maria Cheeseman, who has been offered a job through TELCO after years of unemployment. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

The celebration continued when Lord (Sebastian) Coe, Chairman of the London 2012 committee, was welcomed to the stage to present certificates to successful candidates (including Maria) who came through our Jobs Fayres. After this act of recognition, the assembly turned its mind to the future, and Paul Deighton, CEO of LOCOG, was invited into a discussion with Fr Sean Connolly (Parish Priest in Manor Park and Assistant Director of the Contextual Theology Centre). On behalf of TELCO, Fr Sean managed to negotiate the possibility of 2000 Olympic-funded internship opportunities for talented young people in East London with leading UK businesses. There was a great buzz about the room.

Hearing also about TELCO’s Community Land Trust bid, CitySafe campaign, as well as more local actions, the room returned home at the end of the evening with a renewed appetite for action. We’re all looking forward to the 30th anniversary!

The Church and the Camp

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Canon Dr Angus Ritchie, Director of the Contextual Theology Centre, has recently contributed to the ResPublica blog about the Occupy camp at St Paul’s.

The post is one of a number of recent attempts by church leaders to engage seriously and constructively with the substantive issues raised by the presence of a disparate group of protesters outside the cathedral.

Another contribution worth reading is by Graham Tomlin, who argues that repentance needs to be central to the way forward.

And some of the other articles which have added value to the debate are:

The City’s ethics don’t bear scrutiny, Independent leader

Sitting on a fault line at St Paul’s, Giles Fraser

The Real Battle of St Paul’s Cathedral: The Occupy Movement and Millennial Politics, Luke Bretherton

Occupy London are true followers of Jesus, even if they despise religion, Terry Eagleton

What is the role of the Church in all of this?, Caroline Julian

Outside St Paul’s Cathedral sits a mess, but it’s a holy mess, Alan Green

As always, linking to external blogs and articles does not necessarily imply endorsement by the Contextual Theology Centre of the views expressed.

Four weeks in Somers Town

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Dr Dominic Keech, an ordinand at St Stephen’s House, spent four weeks this summer on placement in Fr Jellicoe’s old parish, as part of the Jellicoe Community.  Dominic worked alongside Fr John Caster, who is preaching the 2011 Jellicoe Sermon at Magdalen College, Oxford on 23rd October.

In July, I spent four weeks living and working in the Anglican parish of Old St Pancras, based at one of its four churches: St Mary the Virgin, Somers Town. This part of the borough of Camden forms a rectangle lengthways between Euston station and Mornington Crescent tube, bordered at the West by Eversholt Street and at the East by St Pancras International. It grew in the mid-nineteenth century with the train-lines running north. It is now an archetypal inner city hub of shops and offices, high density housing and travel interchange.
Somers Town is better known than the many urban estates which reflect it, perhaps through the documentaries which have told its important history, and the 2008 film Somers Town, by Shane Meadows. In common with much of London at the turn of the twentieth century, Somers Town was a place of condemnable conditions: dilapidated and infested housing, poor sewerage and intense overcrowding. In the 1920s, the remarkable ministry of Fr Basil Jellicoe initiated a scheme of slum clearance, and the foundation of a housing cooperative in which local residents – re-housed in new buildings but within their existing community – could vest their interests. Unlike much of Camden surrounding it, Somers Town remains a place of predominantly social housing, and many of the people who live there are related to the first residents of the St Pancras Housing Society homes.
Fr Jellicoe is symbolic of social action, deeply and stably engaged in a community, which flourishes in real change for people on the ground. It is a model of commitment to community which the parish of Old St Pancras (which also includes St Michael’s Camden Town, St Paul’s Camden Square and St Pancras Old Church) continues to take seriously. It is an inalienable part of the Anglo-Catholic tradition of those churches, which believes the Incarnation and the Sacraments of the Church are here to catalyse change in the world, and not only adorn it.
The parish has been involved in the foundation of North London Citizens from its outset, and established a listening campaign within its four churches early in 2011. The issue which surfaced most pressingly in those conversations was housing: as a basis for stable community for everyone, but particularly for the elderly and infirm; for vulnerable adults; for unrepresented and transient immigrants, and for low income families. This concern presented itself most consistently in Somers Town, where peoples’ homes are administered by housing associations, and the borough council.
I was invited to come to St Mary’s by its priest, Fr John Caster, and the Rector of the parish, Fr Philip North. They asked me to build in some way on their listening campaign, by hearing myself what was concerning people, and relating it to the bigger picture of social housing policy in a time of considerable political change. My time in the parish was split between investigating the history and current state of Somers Town’s housing stock, local government housing policy, and national plans laid out in the Welfare Reform and Localism bills; and listening to people talk about their housing situations.
Both national and local policy promise to change the way social housing is funded in a very radical way. This in turn will have an effect on the way housing associations and councils set rent levels – to perhaps as high as 80% of the market rate, an impossible increase for lower and even middle income households in urban areas. Inner London estates, in close proximity to high-cost private housing, are therefore in a highly compromised position. If welfare reform reduces the level of Housing Benefit without regard for local variations in real housing cost, this looks set to impact some of the most vulnerable people in our cities. I produced a detailed discussion paper for the parish, which attempted to draw together these different aspects of the housing scene as they are emerging. I hope it will be of use as the Old St Pancras team develops its role in the work of North London Citizens. It was a privilege to be so warmly welcomed by people at St Mary’s, who want to make sure that the inheritance of Jellicoe carries on animating their community to come together, and change things for the better.

October prayer diary

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The new academic year brings a number of new staff and interns to the Centre and the Jellicoe community – and we would be grateful for your support for them (and the communities in which they will work) in your prayers:

Tom Daggett continues to work with us as a Jellicoe intern at Stepney Salvation Army, and will combine this with a three day a week role as Centre Manager – working with the Director on our growing range of projects.

Emmanuel Forlemu is a new Jellicoe intern at St Peter’s Bethnal Green, building on some excellent work by our summer interns.  Pray for the growing CITIZENS team at St Peter’s, and the links it is making with tenants and residents associations and other faith groups in the area – as they seek to make local streets safer, and address the growing drugs problem in the area.

Caitlin Burbridge will be our first Global Action intern – linking community organising in London’s diaspora communities with movements to renew civil society in other parts of the world.

Liliana Worth moves to co-ordinate our growing Oxford Jellicoe Community, as she starts some further research work

Former Jellicoe intern Arabella Milbank and community organiser Ruhana Ali will be working with our Director, Angus Ritchie and Senior Fellow Vincent Rougeau on an exciting new research project funded by the University of Notre Dame – looking at how different faiths and worldviews work together in east London for the common good.

In addition, the Centre is sponsoring a vital piece of work by Alvin Carpio (community organiser in Haringey) looking at the state of civil society, and the causes of the riots, in Tottenham.  Pray for this, and for all the work going into understanding and addressing these causes – and healing the communities affected by the violence.  Pray for the Centre’s staff and partner churches across east London as we seek to do a wider piece of reflection and action in the months ahead.

Please also pray for

…the priestly ministry of our Director, Angus Ritchie – assisting at St Peter’s Bethnal Green, and now also as Chaplain for Social Justice at Keble College, Oxford

Karen Stromberg, a Hackney resident now beginning a two-year MA in Community Organising at Queen Mary University of London with our first ever Jellicoe Bursary

…the process of appointing a new CitySafe worker in Bethnal Green and a Jellicoe intern from one of our partner Pentecostal churches in Newham – both made possible by some successful fundraising (for which we give thanks!)

…the Near Neighbours programme which is gaining momentum, and will be selecting some new interns in the next few months

…Archbishop Rowan’s inter-faith adviser Toby Howarth as he gives the 2011 Presence and Engagement Lecture – and all whom the Presence and Engagement Network seeks to equip for ministry and mission in multi religious contexts

London Looting: Some of the best contributions so far

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A great deal has already been written on the recent outbreak of looting across London and in a few other cities.  Here is a pick of some of the most thought-provoking and agenda-setting contributions so far:

‘The moral decay of our society is as bad at the top as the bottom’ by Peter Oborne in The Telegraph

‘Tough love: The riots and limits of Liberalism’ by David Goodhart on the Respublica Blog

Bearing fruit

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A community’s bonds of trust are tested by the big events; outbreaks of rioting and looting, the threat of a neo-fascist march.  How it responds depends on many much smaller events; encounters and actions which build trust across boundaries of faith, age, ethnicity and language.

This summer, four Jellicoe interns have been working in the estates nearest to the Contextual Theology Centre –  Sarah Santhosham and Tom Daggett with local churches and Abdul Jama and Abdi-Aziz Suliman with local mosques.  They are building on work done by previous interns, as catalysts for communities to identify and act on issues of common concern.  Previous blogposts and tweets tell of the work done by last summer’s interns and their year-round counterparts – organising a listening campaign (July 2010), helping organise a Mayoral Accountability Assembly (October), relationship-building meetings between local churches and mosques (November), a Community Walk to challenge neglect to parks and housing (April 2011) and a Scriptural Reasoning event on Christian, Muslim and Jewish attitudes to money and exploitative lending (May).

July saw further progress – with St Paul’s Shadwell and Dar Ul Ummah mosque securing the refurbishment of a neglected property used as a crack den and members of Stepney Salvation Army, East London Mosque and other local congregations forming a trust to run a local park which the council had planned to close.

The last two weeks have shown how this work stands up in testing times – with over 200 members of these congregations gathering in a witness to peace after the London riots, and ongoing work to persuade the Government to ban the proposed English Defence League march in Tower Hamlets in September.

‘Tomorrow the analysis – today the cleanup’

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London Citizens leaders, including several of the Contextual Theology Centre’s officers, took part in an emergency meeting this morning to co-ordinate a response to the recent violence.  The statement below has just been issued.

Jellicoe Interns and CTC staff are working with churches in London Citizens – taking part in the cleanup; checking up on the wellbeing of local people; helping to arrange and promote acts of prayer and witness.  We will be tweeting details of events as they are arranged – follow us on @theologycentre

Tomorrow the analysis – today the cleanup

London Citizens member communities across London are located in many of the areas where the current disturbances and looting have taken place. We condemn any acts of violence and vandalism and call on all in civil society to work together for the common good using the creative tools of politics as the vehicle for change. Leaders, Trustees and Organisers met in reflection this morning to share stories, experiences and consider a constructive reaction to the present chaos and fear which is threatening the good community relations which existed in most of our neighbourhoods. We agreed to meet with Citizens member communities immediately at a Borough level and consider civic action at that level, at this stage. This should include reaching out to the traders, the police and young people and their families.

It was also agreed to start action with the clean up that is proposed in the neighbourhoods most effected by the vandalism – so before the analysis there must be the clean up.  Please check with – or or Twitter-@riotcleanup.

The analysis of the present crisis in our communities will not stop but be shaped by our experience over the next few weeks and related developments. It was agreed to hold an open meeting for member communities and organizers in St John-at-Hackney Church, Mare Street in Hackney on Wednesday, August 31 st for a wider and more considered reaction to the rioting and any related actions over the next two weeks.

One of Citizens UK’s strap line’s is ‘teaching the art of politics in action’. Yesterday was no different.  A snap shot of what this meant for Citizens UK on Monday, 8 th August was; in Deptford, Lewisham 9 Citizens Chinese leaders met with Police to negotiate better protection for their community from random attacks and muggings; in Hackney Central, 15 Citizens young leaders visited local shops in Mare Street to successfully persuade them to sign up as City Safe Havens; in Whitechapel, Tower Hamlets a working group of 6 Citizens leaders and organizers met to plan how to get local people recruited into the 4,000 jobs on offer with the 2012 Olympics in Stratford; in Victoria 8 Citizens leaders met with officers from Westminster City Council to try and save the Westminster Centre for Independent Living; in Tottenham, Haringey over 200 leaders from civil society met in a Vigil for Hope, supported by most of Citizens member groups and the organizers in that Borough; in Shadwell, Tower Hamlets 20 Citizens leaders stood together by their Mosque and the Watney Market Shopping Centre to protect both and support the traders; in Whitechapel a group of 5 Citizens leaders met to agree to work with the Mayor of Tower Hamlets and other civic groups to lobby the Home Secretary to ban the proposed ‘March’ through Whitechapel by the English Defence League on September 3rd .
London Citizens member communities have recently launched a ‘Listening Campaign’ across our 250 member communities focused on the London Mayoral Election in May 2012 – hundreds of delegates from our membership will meet in Assemblies in October and November to debate and vote on the issues they wish to put to the main candidates for Mayor. These will be ready to present to the various competing camps by mid January 2012 and a major Assembly of 2,500 Citizens is planned for April 26 th 2012 – it has been agreed to encourage London Citizens member communities to widen the scope of their ‘Listening’ and One to Ones to include all groups in their neighbourhoods – and traders and young people particularly to invite them to join them at the great Assembly on 26th April to prove that social and political change is possible provided you organize and work democratically with other people.

Manor Park gains a new Youth Group

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Richard Hill (Magdalen, Oxford) writes about his month in Manor Park

For the last four weeks I’ve been based at St Stephen’s and St Nicholas’ Catholic churches in Manor Park with three other interns, working to improve relations between members of the congregation, particularly helping the young people of the parish to organise themselves into a Youth Group. Manor Park itself is one of the most diverse areas of the country, and the ethnic mix is reflected in the makeup of the congregation: the parish primary school, St Winifred’s, has pupils from 59 countries, 60% of whom speak English as a second language. We have been fortunate to be stationed at a Church which already has a solid foundation of community organising work which we were able to build upon. I was pleased to discover during one of my one-to-ones that the lady whom I was talking to conducted one-to-ones herself with other parishioners on a fairly frequent basis.

Our work was split between two main tasks: doing one-to-ones with parishioners and working with the younger people, helping them to organise a community day for the parish on the 31st July and to set up a Youth Group. The two tasks fed into each other; one of the concerns which arose from our conversations with people was the fear that the youth were insufficiently engaged with the life of the Church. When we talked to younger people, it was clear they wanted to get more involved, and the idea to set up a professionally run Youth Group came entirely from them, not us interns.

We needed to raise money for the Group, so we put on a fundraising community day for the whole parish, involving food, sports, fun activities for younger children, and several performances. Once again, although we co-ordinated their efforts, it was the young people themselves who came up with the ideas for what to do; they also manned the stalls. The community day thus enabled the youth to develop their own leadership skills. It was really great to see how enthusiastic everyone was in taking the initiative and making things happen: all the feedback we have received after the event has been very positive.

Although we were only at St Stephen’s for a month, we took a lot from it. The most exciting parts of the month were those moments when people expressed a desire to get more involved in Church life, and followed up on their word. Without the contacts made at one-to-one meetings, no one would know who to ask to help at particular events, or even if people were willing to help. Community organising is a more effective way of achieving congregational unity than simple top-down leadership, because through one-to-ones and further meetings there is an increased awareness of people’s specific talents and how they can best contribute to the community. After my experience at Manor Park I would definitely be interested in getting involved in another of London Citizens’ projects, for example the Living Wage campaign, to see how community organising functions on a wider scale.

Three Weeks in Shadwell

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Sarah Santhosham (Corpus Christi College, Oxford) returns to East London after undertaking a Living Wage Internship with London Citizens in 2010, and describes her experiences as a Jellicoe intern this summer

Over the last three weeks I’ve been based in Shadwell as a Jellicoe intern, getting to know the local area and people, and participating in the pattern of worship at my host churches (St Mary’s Cable Street and E1 Community Church) and at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine’s. The parish of St Mary’s consists of ethnically and religiously diverse communities, and borders the Ocean Estate in Stepney, one of the largest and most deprived housing estates in Europe. My work within the parish has been focussed on continuing that of previous interns over the last year: primarily, to continue engaging in relational meetings with parishioners and facilitate one-to-one meetings between people with shared concerns in the local community.

Actively engaging in relational meetings and linking people together has served to continue to build networks within the local community, transgressing cultural and religious divides. Although I have previously been involved with the work of London Citizens, at a TELCO Tower Hamlets borough meeting last week I was impressed to see the diverse nature of leaders who were present, spanning different religious backgrounds, including a varied group of religious denominations, representatives from schools and from community groups. Despite the many surface differences between these groups, hearing the specific issues around which people were working together, for example affordable housing and the Living Wage, and perceiving their collective power further emphasised the power of relational meetings as a tool for identifying leaders and their passions, and as a mechanism for bringing people together to effect change for themselves.

Using the tool of relational meetings has been invaluable in my work, together with fellow intern Tom Daggett (based with the Salvation Army in Stepney), to build up a campaign to secure the future of a local playground on the edge of the Ocean Estate. Having identified the lack of youth provisions in an estate where 26% of the population is aged under 15 as a key local concern, we met with local parents and community leaders who were passionate about keeping the playground open as a community asset, since it is one of the few safe and supervised areas in that part of the estate, owing the presence of anti-social behaviour and drug-dealing in neighbouring open spaces. After arranging an open meeting, we were able to organise the collective experience and skills of the group and decide how best to challenge and engage with those who have the power to make decisions about the playground’s future.

Community organising uses the experience of people within a meeting and does not do for others what they can do for themselves. By being placed in Shadwell as a community organiser I have seen how we can act as catalysts for change by bringing a diverse group of people (in terms of experiences and backgrounds) with a shared concern together, and enabling them to take a step into public life as an organised group with power and hold their elected representatives to account.

First two weeks in Bethnal Green

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Gina Byrne (LSE) and Andrew Hood (New College, Oxford) describe their first fortnight on a Jellicoe Internship at St Peter’s, Bethnal Green
In the two weeks since we arrived in Bethnal Green, we’ve experienced the full vibrancy and diversity of East London. As Jellicoe interns at St Peter’s Church Bethnal Green, our primary task has been to conduct a listening campaign, particularly focusing on the estates surrounding the church. The core organising technique we have employed is the one-to-one relational meeting. The counterintuitive idea behind such meetings is that they have no agenda beyond a better understanding of the passions and motivations of the other individual. Together we have assembled a map of the relationships, concerns and interests of the local community.
Prominent among those concerns is drug dealing in nearby estates and parks. This trade brings with it anti-social behaviour and a feeling that the community’s ownership of public spaces has been lost. A further worry often expressed is the lack of integration between the different sub-communities of the East End. Whilst the traditional East End dynamic of neighbourliness is far from extinct, there is a desire for both the Asian community and the “Shoreditch Set” to become part of the circle of trust and mutual concern.
Broad-based community organising has proved itself to be a powerful tool in the context in which churches such as St Peter’s work. On the very local level, organising’s focus on the realisation of the common good allows a church in an ethnically and religiously diverse area such as Bethnal Green to speak to all individuals and institutions in the community. The idea of holding power to account through the relational strength of communities and securing concrete improvements really does grab people’s attention in a way that a mere expression of goodwill cannot.
Getting to know the community of Bethnal Green has been an eye-opening experience for both of us. The most valuable aspect of our time here has been a deeper understanding of the complexity of plural society, and how the church in that context can ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city’ (Jeremiah 29:7) through building relationships and alliances in the pursuit of justice and the common good.

Praying for the Jellicoe Community

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This is one of our regular blogposts of prayer requests for the Jellicoe Community and the wider work of the Contextual Theology Centre

We’re one week into our summer Jellicoe Internship programme – with around a dozen students working in four locations in East London to promote congregational engagement in community organising.  They have certainly hit the ground running, and will be blogging about their work soon!  Please pray for them, and for the communities in which they are working.

In Manor Park, Richard Hill, Alice Kallaugher, Iarla Manny and Nathan Mulcock (all Oxford) are working with our Assistant Director, Fr Sean Connolly, to develop the team engaged in community organising at SS Stepen & Nicholas Catholic Parish, Manor Park – and Nitasha Kadam (Notre Dame) is continuing to help the church develop links with the local Hindu community.

In Shadwell and Stepney, Tom Daggett and Sarah Santhosham (Oxford – both returning after internships last summer) are working with Capt Nick Coke at local Anglican, Baptist and Salvation Army congregations, and Abdi-Aziz Suliman (Sheffield) and Abdul Jama (Oxford) with local mosques, on issues of common concern – including drug-related crime and the state of local parks. 

In Shoreditch, Gina Byrne (LSE) and Andrew Hood (Oxford) are working with the Revd Adam Atkinson at St Peter’s, Bethnal Green (a founder member of Shoreditch Citizens) and Luke Martin (Oxford) is about to join them to work with Gracechurch Hackney – a plant from St Helen’s Bishopsgate

In Hackney, Emma Pritchard and Gregers Bangert (Oxford) are working with ordinand Stephen Parker (St Stephen’s House, Oxford) and Fr Rob Wickham at St John-at-Hackney to engage local shops in the CitySafe campaign.

Two interns are pioneering new parts of the Jellicoe programme – Isaac Stanley (an intern in Manor Park last summer) working is the Congolese community in London, and Dominic Keech (an ordinand at St Stephen’s) bringing the internship home to the Parish of Old St Pancras – which encompasses the church and community in which Fr Basil Jellicoe worked in the 1930s – with Fr Philip North and Fr John Caster.

Please also pray for…

Those co-ordinating the programme – Angus Ritchie, Tom Daggett and Sr Josephine Canny (Chaplain to the interns)

Those involved in the £5m Near Neighbours Programme in the Church of England and Church Urban Fund – of which CTC is the local hub, especially Angus and Susanne Mitchell – and their new colleague the Revd Timothy Clapton, who has been appointed Near Neighbours Co-ordinator for Eastern London.

What the Archbishop really said

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A miniature media storm has been whipped up this morning about comments made about the Coalition in a leader article in the New Statesman by Archbishop Rowan Williams.  Having read the blog posts, tweets and commentary so far, you have to wonder how many people have actually read the article.

Unfortunately that may be because only just came onlineA much edited and somewhat unbalanced retelling of it was available instead.  So when the storm began brewing I popped out of the office to the local newsagent and read the article itself.  Perhaps to the modern-day tweeters and bloggers the idea of reading a paper magazine just doesn’t come to mind.

I have no intention of launching a full defence of the Archbishop’s comments.  Nor am I inclined to engage in the wider question of whether he should be commenting at all.  This will not be the last time, and is definitely not the first, that those in power and those close to them grind their teeth at a troublesome priest.  Personally, if vocal and ardent atheists are going to comment on public affairs by virtue of their identity as atheists then I see no reason why Christians (or any other confession for that matter) are different.  Indeed, Cranmer has explained why – even though he disagrees with Rowan Williams – he gives the Archbishop three cheers and Alastair Campbell has ridden to his defence.  But that is another issue for another day.

It would simply improve the quality of comment far more if people read the article for what it actually says.  Some left-wing commentators are celebrating the Archbishop as the new champion of opposition.  Meanwhile, ConservativeHome has gone into an overdrive defensive operation ranging from childish kneejerking to righteous indignation.

Alarmism over Islamism?

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Over on Conservative Home, Luke de Pulford has offered an interesting contribution to the debate about revelations in the Jewish Chronicle concerning a London Citizen’s deputy chair making supportive remarks about Hamas.

Luke writes:

The Citizens UK solution is about gathering people together around a common cause, building relationships between distant communities, giving a sense of common ownership. In a word: dialogue. The alternative (if you can call it that – and I’m doing my best to steer clear of hyperbole here) would be to leave alienated and isolated communities to their own devices whilst occasionally  bringing to justice some hate-filled, rabble-rousing ringleader, guilty of inciting violence or threatening the status quo.

You can read the full article here.

Jellicoe & CTC prayer diary

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Each month, we post prayer requests for the work of our Jellicoe Interns, and the wider life of the Contextual Theology Centre

Please pray for…
– the 20 students from Oxford, Cambridge, London and Sheffield who will be coming on Jellicoe Internships this summer, and the congregations in East London which they will work;
– Ian Bhullar and Liliana Worth, who have worked so hard and to such effect for the Centre in this last year, and are going on to new roles in the year ahead (Ian in China and Liliana in Oxford) – and Thomas Daggett who will help manage this summer’s internship programme;
– Joshua Harris, our Research Co-ordinator, as he helps us plan an exciting event with The Children’s Society in September.  We will be bringing together Christian thinkers and practitioners to discuss how best to challenge he yawning inequalities of wealth in our society;
– Angus Ritchie, Susanne Mitchell and Michael Ipgrave as we develop the East London  Near Neighbours programme – building and deepening relationships across faiths and cultures.  Pray for the sister programmes in Bradford, Birmingham and Leicester – and for the process of recruiting staff in each place;
– the Jellicoe Community in Oxford – especially remembering those who heard Pastor Peter Nembhard preach so powerfully last week, that his words may have an ongoing impact on their lives;
– all who have attended the wide range of teaching events we have been involved in this spring.  In particular, please remember the 100 Christians who have completed our Building a People of Power course on faith and community organising; the 150 Christians, Jews and Muslims involved in our Scriptural Reasoning event on money and justice, and around 200 church leaders in the East Midlands who gathered to reflect on The Church and the Big Society.  Pray for the congregations in which participants worship and minister, that the relationships built and ideas shared at these events may bear fruit in their local contexts

Pastor Peter preaches at Merton

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Peter Nembhard, Pastor of one of our Pentecostal congregations, preached a powerful sermon on Moses, anger and justice – at a special Jellicoe event in Merton College, Oxford.  Song of Moses brought together a group of Christians from very different traditions and contexts – College Chapels and St Aldate’s and St Mary Magdalen Churches in Oxford and Pastor Peter’s ARC in East London – to pray and reflect together on the call to social justice.

Jellicoe intern Daniel Stone gave testimony on the impact of being on placement at ARC.  Daniel has since been elected Vice-President (Charity & Communities) of Oxford University Students Union.

The service was one of a series of events in which the Jellicoe Community has been connecting faith and life in Oxford, including
…an extended Mass at St Mary Magdalen, interspersed with teaching on why things are done as they are in the liturgy – and its implications for Christian life
…a series of workshops on Community Organising (arranged by Sarah Santhosham, who will be a Jellicoe intern in Shadwell this summer)
…sermons at Balliol, Corpus Christi and Magdalen by clergy from our partner churches

Coming up – on the evening of Wednesday 22nd June – is an event with two of the leading thinkers on faith and organising, Baron Glasman and Prof John Milbank.  Full details of this final Jellicoe event of term will follow soon!

The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox

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A new e-book has today been published representing some of the recent debate about the future of Labour.  It reproduces papers and responses to them from four seminars held in Oxford in 2010-11.  Contributors include CTC Fellow Maurice Glasman and former Jellicoe Intern Stefan Baskerville.  The e-book is entitled The Labour Tradition and the Politics of Paradox and is edited by Maurice Glasman, Jonathan Rutherford, Marc Stears and Stuart White.

One response to the publication has come already from Mary Riddell at The Telegraph.  A mixed but intriguing review of the Blue Labour phenomenom, she identifies the opportunity and the hurdles to overcome in advocating a (small c) conservative turn for Labour’s renewal.

Yet although Mary Riddell refers to this new book as Blue Labour’s ‘Bible’, a more accurate picture is painted by David Lammy MP who describes Blue Labour not as an invitation for factionalism “but as an opening salvo in a conversation that involves people who hail from different traditions across the party”.  The party is increasingly being given material to sink its teeth into as it searches for its misplaced sense of mission.  The debate, regardless of who wins, will be stronger for it.

When Blue Labour Met the Fabians

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As this blog has mentioned before, the Blue Labour movement is attracting more attention and, inevitably, closer examination.  Tim Horton, Research Director at the Fabian Society, met with Maurice Glasman to debate the currently competing strands of thought in the party and to defend the Fabian record against Glasman’s localist critique.

From a Fabian perspective, I’d agree with Blue Labour and others that rethinking the role of the state should be an important part of Labour’s policy review process. A self-critical party must develop an account of where the state over-reached itself as well as where Labour neglected important non-state vehicles for social justice. And of course there are big future challenges to the role of the state that social democrats must take their heads out of the sand and start to confront.

The Bible and Politics

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Nick Spencer from public theology think-tank Theos has written a new book to mark the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible entitled Freedom and Order: History Politics and the English Bible.  It discusses the relationship over history between politics and English politics.

Over on the Theos website, Nick Spencer has sparked some thoughts on tolerance connected with the book which are worth a read.

And on the Biblefresh website can be found an article exploring the Bible’s contribution to politics in Britain.

Bretherton on Blue Labour

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Luke Bretherton, a Fellow of the Contextual Theology Centre, has written an article exploring how Blue Labour welcomes religious belief.  He writes:

The demos is not an ochlos, or crowd, in which each does their own bidding; it is a body of people undertaking common action in pursuit of shared goods. And the only real power democratic citizens have is the power of association or relational power: the ability to turn out and act together. Yet people will only act together on the basis of what they hold dear, what gives them a sense of belonging and that in which they discover purpose and meaning.

It does not, of course, automatically follow that religious affiliation is the only form of association which can provide the basis of common action.  But it is clearly for many in society, still, a place of purpose and belonging.  As such it can provide a powerful ground for action, and a deep source of mutual solidarity.

Unique interfaith event on Scripture & money

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Leading Muslims, Jews and Christians will meet tomorrow to compare the texts of their holy books on money and justice. In a unique event, 150 scholars and community leaders will gather at Methodist Central Hall, Westminster to use the method of ‘scriptural reasoning’ – discussing what their scriptures teach on issues such as the charging of excessive interest on loans and a just wage.

Participants in the event, which forms part of Citizens UK’s 2nd May “Day for Civil Society”, will afterwards join more than 2,000 people in the Hall to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Living Wage campaign.

The Scriptural Reasoning event is being organised in association with the Contextual Theology Centre (CTC) and Cambridge University’s Interfaith Programme.  CTC Director Fr Angus Ritchie said:  “The deeper Christians, Muslims and Jews go within their scriptures, the louder they hear the call to justice and mercy. These texts have incredible power and relevance today. They are the foundation of our action for a more just and compassionate economy.”

Dr Muhammad Bari, Chair of East London Mosque said: “This unique event of reading from the scriptures is a testimony of our common root and shared values. In Islam ‘the best of companions with God is the one who is best to his companions and the best of neighbours to God is the one who is the best of them to his neighbour.”

Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Rabbi of New North London Synagogue, said: “In a week when we read from the Torah that you shall love your neighbour as yourself it is especially important to be together among our neighbours of different faiths in London discussing our shared values.”

Film on Nehemiah 5 Challenge

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Leaders from our Pentecostal partner churches explain the Nehemiah 5 Challenge – a Biblical call to action against exploitative lending – in a film directed and produced by Jellicoe intern Liliana Worth.

The Nehemiah 5 Challenge will be launched by Citizens UK at a service on May 2nd at Emmanuel Evangelical Church, Westminster at 10.30am – before a 2000-person assembly in Methodist Central Hall. This is part of Citizens UK’s Day for Civil Society.

The Contextual Theology Centre has further materials for congregations in Citizens UK on a new website –  These include a booklet on The Bible, Debt and Usury by Dr Sola Fola-Alade (Trinity Chapel, Beckton) and Centre Director Dr Angus Ritchie – and a briefing on Christian teaching on usury by Centre Fellow Dr Luke Bretherton.

Andrew Brown: Behind the Burqa Ban’s Reasoning

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Andrew Brown has posted a characteristically balanced and intelligent article on the Guardian website about the ban on women wearing the burqa or niqab in public just introduced in France.

He is caustic in his argument that the ban is not about free speech as such, but about the state’s right to make and promote value judgements:

This seems to me to be less about speech than about beliefs: it implies a claim that French citizens believe – or at least live as if they believed – in particular values. Is that something that a state can legitimately ask? The question is idiotic. It is something that all states do, in fact, demand. In the case of France, there is a well worked-out set of principles to which all citizens are expected to subscribe. This is more than Charles de Gaulle’s “certaine idée de la France“: it is a particular idea of being French. Values and people cannot be disentangled. A state that is grounded on particular values demands that its citizens live by them, too.

Though this remark evokes a fair degree of chagrin in the comments section following his article, Andrew Brown’s argument has a touch of the Emperor’s new clothes about it.  It is incredibly hard to sustain a convincing argument that the state can be genuinely neutral. Indeed, Britain may not be the ‘Christian’ society it once was but it remains heavily value-laden. Laws against discrimination – especially when some rights are decided to trump others – or the expression of hatred, for example, clearly express values.

Yet acknowledging that our society remains underpinned by values – however opaque – is an uncomfortable truth for many to hear when set alongside the liberal mantra of free choice. It is a truth which exposes those values to scrutiny. That is not to say they are necessarily wrong, but it does caution us to not see them as immutable.

This is particularly important when it comes to the issue of social cohesion. If we lose sight of the values underpinning the state and therefore stop articulating, justifying and defending them, then we should not be surprised when people ‘turn off’ from politics.  As Andrew rightly observes, a state that rules by force alone is tyranny.

A constant refrain among critics of the current government is that people did not vote for them. That may be true, but it exposes an ignorance of how a plural democracy is supposed to work. Competitive electoral systems like ours often have a fragmentary impact on political and social divisions, breeding a ‘winner takes all’ attitude. In the absence of a shared conception of the common good for which our government should strive, a democracy gives the victor all the power and all the decisions. Opponents feel powerless in response.

Losing a sense of the values underpinning our state may well be a contributory factor feeding the current sense of political discord and disillusionment. The answer to that will not be a change of government. It may be to recognise once more that our state, like any state, is based on values. Identifying, sharing and defending those values might just be a step in the direction of a more consensual system and more empowered electorate. And it might help us think more clearly about what is going on elsewhere in Europe.

Billy Bragg: Not So Blue

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It is a sure sign that an idea is gaining ground when those opposed to it begin doing so publicly.  Yet it is also concerning when that opposition is based on a fairly fundamental misunderstanding.

Billy Bragg is the latest figure on the left to come out against ‘Blue Labour’.  He describes it as economically liberal but socially conversative.  It’s main flaw, Bragg believes, is the same as New Labour’s: being “too blue”, or “too free market”.  Anyone who has actually listened to Maurice Glasman describe Blue Labour wouldn’t recognise this accusation.

Bragg’s conclusion for what Britain needs, though, is straightforward:

What they want – what they need – is a Labour party that remembers what it is for: a party that defends the ordinary working people against the ravages of the free market; a party that holds those who wield great financial power to account; a party that provides people with a sense of security in an ever-changing world.

Last time I checked, that’s precisely what Blue Labour is meant to be.  Several times Bragg contradicts himself by denigrating the use of tradition, while also plaintively calling for Labour to return to its roots. 

It is perhaps not coincidental that Bragg’s condemnation of Maurice Glasman appears on the same webpage as an article co-authored by Glasman and Jon Cruddas MP entitled “Theft in a City State”.  If you’d just read Bragg’s article, you may well think it was a tirade against new taxes.  But no, it is an attack on the City of London’s treatment of the Billingsgate fish porters.  That sounds a lot like defending the ordinary working people against the ravages of a free market.

This small snapshot of the confusion facing the Labour party as it seeks to determine what it is for (and against) in the post-New Labour era is instructive.  Those seeking positive renewal (defining Labour as being for something, and not simply against what it perceives the Coalition to be doing) of Labour have a lot more explaining, and discussion, to do.  Until those hard conversations take place, expect to see many more straw men.

Jellicoe interns presented to The Queen

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Last week, The Queen visited the Royal Foundation of St Katharine – home of the Contextual Theology Centre and several of its Jellicoe Interns – to mark the 60th anniversary of the consecration of the Chapel.  After a service of thanksgiving, Centre staff and resident interns were presented to Her Majesty.

Pictured: Centre Director Angus Ritchie presents the Jellicoe interns – (l to r) Joshua Harris, Liliana Worth and Katy Theobald. Also presented were Ian Bhullar (Centre Manager and 2009-10 Jellicoe Intern) and Susanne Mitchell (Co-ordinator of the Greater London Presence and Engagement Network

Copyright/credit: Layton Thompson / Royal Foundation of St Katharine

Human Rights and the Crucifix

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Andrew Brown on the Guardian Comment is Free website has posted an interesting piece on the use (or abuse) of human rights in political struggle over religious symbolism.

Commenting on the recent decision by the European Court of Human Rights to continue allowing Italian schools to display the crucifix, he says that “the idea that human rights legislation should be used to prevent children from being exposed to a crucifix is a profoundly totalitarian and superstitious perversion of one of our civilisation’s best inventions.”

Procedural secularism – the neutrality of the state towards religious (un)belief – is not the same as promoting atheism.  Andrew Brown suggests that trying to use human rights legislation to advance a political (or indeed religious) agenda risks undermining the broad popular support on which human rights, which are essentially artifical constructs, depend.

Blue Labour on the BBC

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The BBC has trailed tonight’s edition of Radio 4’s Analysis which looks at Blue Labour, the left’s response to the Big Society.  The programme will examine the tensions in Labour between a liberal wing which emphasises equality and diversity and a conservative strand, newly resurgent, which emphasises instead solidarity, mutuality and community.

As the BBC article makes clear, the “intellectual godfather” of Blue Labour is the Labour peer and academic Maurice Glasman who is a Fellow of the Contextual Theology Centre.

This month’s prayer requests

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Each month, we post prayer requests for the work of our Jellicoe Interns, and the wider life of the Contextual Theology Centre

Please pray for…

– the Christians in East London who have just begun Building a People of Power, a four-week course on faith and community organising.  Pray for all the organising work already going on in these churches – particularly on street safety, affordable housing and the Living Wage.  Pray for the course leaders, and ask that the process will yield a deeper engagement with Biblical teaching on social justice, and stronger relationships between the very different congregations who are involved.

– all those who are trapped in a cycle of debt, particularly those who have fallen victim to irresponsible and exploitative lending.  Give thanks for churches involved in the Nehemiah 5 Challenge – a Biblical call for a more just financial system, with a cap on interest rates and a responsible banking code. 

– all those involved in the planning and delivery of the Near Neighbours programme – especially Susanne Mitchell, Angus Ritchie and Michael Ipgrave in eastern London.  Pray that it will build and deepen relationships across faiths and cultures here and in Bradford, Birmingham and Leicester

– the first dozen students chosen to be Jellicoe Interns this July, and the partner churches in which they will be placed

– plans for a Day for Civil Society on 2nd May – that it will be an opportunity to link prayer, reflection and action in a way that deepens our Christian engagement with community organising, and achieves real progress in the struggle for a living wage and responsible banking

– next week’s events in Shadwell, including a relationship building event at Dar-ul-Ummah Mosque (with members of our partner churches, including CTC Manager Ian Bhullar) and the Queen’s visit to the Royal Foundation of St Katharine (home of the Jellicoe Community and of several of our staff and interns)

Jellicoe Review published

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The Jellicoe Review 2010/11 is now online – with testimony from, and articles by, many of our interns and staff.  It also contains articles by Bishop Richard Chartres and Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch on Fr Basil Jellicoe, and the ways he has inspired the Jellicoe Community’s ongoing work, and Bishop Doug Miles’ Jellicoe Sermon at Magdalen College.

It’s an excellent way to get a sense of what the Jellicoe Community is and does, and what our internships involve.

Bishop Stephen to preach at Jellicoe service

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Pastor Peter Nembhard’s powerful sermon launched what is going to be a termly act of worship – in East London and also in Oxford – for the wider Jellicoe Community.  
We will soon be announcing dates and venues for our summer term services, but in the meantime we are delighted to confirm that the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell will preach at our autumn act of worship in East London.  This will be on the evening of Tuesday 11th October, at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine.

“Meekness isn’t weakness”

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It’s been a week of action for the Jellicoe Community.  At our home, the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, a packed chapel heard Pastor Peter Nembhard’s powerful sermon on Action, Power Justice.  Pastor Peter (above) is Senior Pastor at ARC (A Radical Church) in Forest Gate, Newham – host to three of our Jellicoe interns.  He preached on the story of Moses, drawing out the ways in which God called him to channel and discipline his anger at injustice – turning him from a violent and impetuous young man, to the leader of the Hebrew slaves in their journey of liberation.

Drawing on later examples of Biblical leaders, and in particular the leadership exercised by Jesus, Pastor Peter told us that “Meekness isn’t weakness.  It is power which is obedient to love”.

Also this week…

the first dozen Jellicoe interns for this summer were selected after interviews in Oxford.  We also hope to have interns from the Universities of East London, London and Cambridge
…Mgr John Armitage describing the roots of Catholic social teaching in historic struggles for justice in East London – and its more recent application in London Citizens’ Living Wage Campaign – at this term’s Jellicoe Seminar at St Stephen’s House, Oxford
…Contextual Theology Centre staff teaching on Citizens UK’s five-day training
…the launch of the Centre’s new booklet on Effective Organising and Congregational Development and a new four-week course on faith and organising – details online at

An eventful week…

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We’re in the midst of an exciting week of activity at the Centre:

  • We’ve just joined with community organisers and Pentecostal pastors in Citizens UK to plan the Nehemiah 5 Challenge – bringing Biblical teaching on usury to bear on today’s complex economic realities. This builds on Bishop Doug Miles’ visit to East London last November – and on our earlier publication of Crunch Time: A Call to Action
  • Today, the Department for Communities and Local Government announced a £5 million programme called Near Neighbours, which will bring diverse communities together for association and social action.  The Centre is one of four hubs for this work.
  • Tomorrow (Monday 21st) we welcome Pastor Peter Nembhard from ARC (A Radical Church) in Forest Gate to preach at a new termly service for Christians engaged in community organising – with members of our wider Jellicoe Community.
  • On Tuesday Centre Director Angus Ritchie is teaching on Citizens UK’s National Residential Training, and launching Effective Organising for Congregational Renewal – a new guide for our partner congregations, with stories from both sides of the Atlantic.  Later in the week, Assistant Director Sean Connolly will also teach on the course.
  • On Wednesday, Senior Tutor Adam Atkinson and Community Chaplain Sr Josephine Canny will interview around fifteen potential Jellicoe Interns from the University of Oxford – and Centre Fellow Mgr John Armitage will lead a Jellicoe Seminar on Catholic Social Teaching and the Living Wage Campaign at St Stephen’s House, Oxford.

Praying for a change

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At the start of each month, we will be posting some prayer requests for the work of our Jellicoe Interns, and the wider life of the Contextual Theology Centre

Please pray for…
– all whose lives are affected by the scourge of drug and alcohol abuse and the work of congregations in and around the Ocean Estate who are seeking to tackle these issues.  In particular, please pray for Nick and Kerry Coke at Stepney Salvation Army, and for the work of Jellicoe interns Liliana Worth and Katy Theobald
– deepening relationships between faiths and cultures – for the forthcoming Tower Hamlets Leaders’ meal at the London Muslim Centre, and for and Ruhana Ali (Community Organiser) and Ian Bhullar (CTC Manager) as they engage local congregations in this work
– all whose lives are affected by the challenging times for our economy, and those who depend on public services at a time of austerity.  Pray for churches involved in the Living Wage campaign, and in applying Biblical teaching on economics (and in particular on exploitative lending) to today’s context
Power, Action, Justice, a service of praise and thanksgiving for Christians engaged in community organising on 21 February.  This is part of the growing work of the Jellicoe Community in London and Oxford, deepening the connection between prayer, reflection and action.  Pray for Pastor Peter Nembhard as he preaches, and for all who will attend.
– the churches’ response to the ‘Big Society’ agenda.  Pray for the research being done by Angus Ritchie and Josh Harris at the Centre and by Helen Moules, Adam Atkinson and Chris Sparrow in its ‘Shoreditch Group’, and, as they seek to equip churches to respond faithfully and effectively
students applying for Jellicoe internships in community organising this summer; for Angus Ritchie, Laurence Mills and Sr Josephine Canny as they manage the application and discernment process

Give thanks for…
– the growing community organising teams in ARC, Forest Gate and SS Stephen and Nicholas, Manor Park, the fruit of work by our Assistant Director Sean Connolly, Newham Community Organiser Emmanuel Gotora and our Jellicoe Interns (currently Amma, Nitasha and Luke) – with twenty shops and offices signed up as ‘CitySafe Havens’ for young people in danger of gun crime
– two successful events in the Presence and Engagement Network (the Seek the Welfare of the City conference in November and a conference for Curates in Chelmsford Diocese last month) – with increasing understanding and discussion among Christians in different traditions and contexts as they reflect on the challenges and opportunities of a multi-faith society. Pray for the Network Co-ordinator, Susanne Mitchell, and all the members of the growing PEN team
– the continuing fruit of Bishop Doug Miles’ visit last November, with increased engagement by Pentecostal and Baptist churches in our Congregational Development process.  Pray for our next workshop for church leaders on 7th March, and for plans for a Lent Course on Equipping Churches to Transform Communities

Celebrating Fr Basil & the Jellicoe Community

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Sermon preached at Magdalen College, Oxford on 6th February 2011, to mark the anniversary of Fr Basil Jellicoe’s birth, by The Revd Dr Angus Ritchie  (Fr Angus is the College’s Jellicoe Chaplain, and the Director of the Contextual Theology Centre in East London, which runs the Jellicoe Internship programme)

Many of you will have seen this week’s Chapel posters. Fr Michael has chosen a wonderfully retro photograph (above) – with a becassocked cleric, standing behind a bar. The priest in question is Fr Basil Jellicoe, Magdalen’s Missioner to Somers Town – back in the 1920s, one of the most wretched slums in London. (Our College Trust, which disburses funds to charities each term, is the successor to the Mission.)

Among his many distinctions, Jellicoe – slum priest, retreat conductor, social reformer – is the only Anglican priest to have inspired an entire musical. Jellicoe: The Musical had its brief moment of glory eight years ago, treating the residents of Somers Town to such hits as ‘St Pancras House Improvement Society’ and ‘A Parson Running A Pub’. While it has yet to hit the West End or Broadway, the musical is indicative of Jellicoe’s larger-than-life character, and the affection his memory continues to inspire in his old parish.

Jellicoe exemplified the best characteristics of that generation of Anglo-Catholic clergy. He had passion and prayerfulness, humour and charisma. Above all, he was inspired by the conviction that the life of God could and should become flesh in every earthly community.

Born on 5th February 1899, Fr Basil studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, before training for the priesthood at St Stephen’s House. Upon ordination, he was appointed Magdalen’s missioner to Somers Town. Jellicoe regarded the state of his parishioners’ housing as a scandal. As a good Anglo-Catholic, he knew the Eucharist to be “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spriritual grace” – a sign of the way God in Christ enters and redeems the material world. His sermons attacked the slums were a theological as well as a social outrage – they were, he said “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual disgrace.”

Jellicoe had been born into privilege and used his many connections to assemble a powerful alliance for change – enlisting the support of the Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Housing Minister in his St Pancras House Improvement Society. He understood the importance of dramatic flourish – erecting vast papier mache effigies of the rats and bugs that infested the slums, and ceremonially torching them as the first slums were demolished. And he used the ‘new media’ of his age: making an early film of the conditions in which his parishioners lived, and making a mobile cinema in a trailer, so that those who lived in prosperity up and down the land could see what life in the slums was really like. After each showing he told them: “Now you know what life is like. You have no excuse for inaction.”

The Times’ obituary gives some flavour of Jellicoe’s extraordinary energy and enterprise: telling its readers that Fr Jellicoe “resolved that he would not rest till his people had homes fit to live in, and the rehousing schemes started by his society have already provided many excellent flats with gardens, trees, ponds, swings for the children, and other amenities. Although the rents charged are not more than what the tenants paid for the old slums, the loan stock receives 2 per cent and the ordinary shares 3 per cent.”

Jellicoe asked local people what they wanted (not a common practice at the time), and ensured the housing was beautiful as well as functional, with space for socialising and creativity. Not surprisingly, the beauty and layout of this college was also an important inspiration. Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch has observed: “Half a century before the development of London’s docklands, Fr Basil Jellicoe had pioneered an economically viable and morally inspiring form of ‘regeneration’. More recent initiatives have all too often alienated and displaced the original residents. Jellicoe’s version of neighbourhood renewal took local people seriously, and ensured their needs were given pride of place.”

Jellicoe’s vision transcended the narrower tendencies of Anglo-Catholicism. Archbishop Rowan Williams recounts a characteristic incident: “Father Basil was challenged by some of his more narrow-minded High Church friends about why he would come to celebrate and preach in a parish church like [St Martin-in-the-Fields] where the Blessed Sacrament was not reserved. Jellicoe said he had no problem at all in coming to preach in a church part of which was reserved for the service of Christ in the form of his poor.” The sacrament we celebrate today was, for Jellicoe, about a deep and generous engagement with the world – not a pious retreat from it.

Fr Basil was a realist – living in the world as it is, and inspired with a vision of the world as it should be. We see this realism in the economics of the St Pancras House Improvement Society, and in Jellicoe’s willingness to move beyond the confines of one church tradition. We also see it in his attitude to alcohol. Jellicoe himself was teetotal, and yet one of his most controversial schemes was the establishment of a College for Publicans. His reasoning was pragmatic not judgmental. He wanted the drinkers of Somers Town to get good service and good beer – and to save them from the kind of pub that made its money by encouraging alcoholism and so devouring the whole of a family’s much-needed income.

Seven decades on, the Jellicoe Community was founded here at Magdalen. Its aim was to enable another generation of students to live Jellicoe’s convictions, on residential placements in East London. More recently, interns have been drawn from a much wider range of institutions – last year, Magdalen’s Antonia Adebambo and Ellen Lynch were joined by around 20 other students.

Today’s interns are placed in Christian congregations from a wide variety of traditions. Within the Church of England, these vary from charismatic evangelical right through to the smells and bells of Jellicoe’s own church, St Mary’s Somers Town. Jellicoe interns are also placed in Baptist, Catholic, Methodist, Pentecostal and Salvation Army congregations.

These churches are all members of London Citizens, the capital’s broad-based alliance. It contains over 160 dues-paying organisations – alongside churches there are mosques, temples, schools, student and trade unions. Their common action has achieved some striking results. London Citizens has won over £60 million pounds for low-paid workers, and secured the world’s first Living Wage Olympics. The Citizens UK Assembly in May secured commitments from David Cameron and Nick Clegg to the end of child detention in the asylum process, and to Community Land Trusts as a way of achieving decent, affordable housing in our own generation.

In organising, the action grows out of the relationships – relationships based on an attentive listening to people’s circumstances, passions and values. Community organising is not unique because of the things it campaigns for. What’s distinctive is the process. The action is not merely for the poorest and most marginalised in society – it is taken by them. People used to being passive recipients of whatever the political process deals out become agents of change. The process matters every bit as much as the results.

The work of community organising is very much in the spirit of Jellicoe: in its commitment to valuing and listening to local people; in its invitation and its challenge to those with wealth and status and in its realism – its willingness to engage with the world as it is and not simply to dream of the world as it should be. I hope community organising can also learn from the less positive aspects of Jellicoe’s story – focusing not on a charismatic individual (with the attendant dangers of burn-out – Fr Basil died of exhaustion, aged just 36) but participating in a process which is actually led by local people.

At a time when young people are supposed to be apathetic, the growth of Jellicoe Community shows there is a real appetite for engagement with social and economic justice – engagement driven by the very people who are supposed to be hardest to involve. At a time when they are supposed to have given up on institutional religion, we find students increasingly drawn to a form of social action built on the life of local congregations. And at a time when the media is full of stories of church disunity, we find Christians working together across a wider and wider range of denominations and traditions. The approach of community organising is to build relationships around the issues on which we can agree. This is not to evade the serious issues of disagreement. Rather, the hope is through organising on the areas where passion and vision are shared, we can come to more contentious issues with deeper bonds of trust and solidarity.

In denouncing slum housing as “an outward sign of an inward disgrace” Jellicoe’s words and deeds proclaimed the intimate connection between spirituality and social justice. Fr Basil knew that when the Spirit of God warmed and transformed human hearts there would be evidence of this in the public sphere as well as the personal, in the transformation of slums as well as the celebration of sacraments. Of course, the Jellicoe internship is just one of many different ways in which you might rise to that challenge.

Last term, Bishop Doug Miles preached the Chapel’s annual Jellicoe sermon – choosing as his theme ‘A Life That Counts Beyond The Self’. Basil Jellicoe lived such a life; a life that counted for something, a life that is still having an impact, many decades on.

Like Bishop Miles’ sermon, today’s readings [Isaiah 58:7-10; Matthew 5:13-16] both challenge us. They ask what kind of life we want to live, what kind of church we want to be. Will we follow the stale path of maximising earnings and minimising engagement beyond the circles of the prosperous and fortunate – a life that may be outwardly religious but which is hardly salt or light? Or will we allow Jesus Christ to call us out beyond our self-absorption – into a life that is richer, fresher, fuller – a life that changes, and is changed by, the poverty and injustice of our own age?

New Jellicoe Study Group

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Arabella Milbank (Jellicoe Intern in Hackney, summer 2010) introduces this new group on theology and radical politics:

The Jellicoe Study Group is a reading group in political theology, which will meet in Oxford four times a term for evening discussion.  We will be asking a core question: what has the juncture of religion and radical politics meant for those who are called to practise both in this country?  Taking texts from Oxford movement priests to Fr Kenneth Leech, we will be seeking to understand their view of church, state and society and its relevancve to what has been called our ‘post-secular’ age.

The group welcomes all comers, whatever their background in faith or politics, and particularly hopes to provide context for past and future Jellicoe Interns to deepen their reflectoon. 

Meetings will be taking place on Wednesdays of 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th weeks (i.e. 2nd, 9th, 16th and 23rd February) at 8.15pm in the Red Room, New College

Praying with the Jellicoe Community

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For Christians, action for justice is always a response to the divine initiative – we love because he first loved us (1 John 4.19).  So prayer is at the heart of the Jellicoe Community. You are welcome to join us at any of the regular events below:

Daily prayer in East London, to which all are welcome, at the Centre
Weekly prayer in Oxford – on 8am every Thursday in Magdalen College Chapel (Full Term only)

You are also invited to a Contemplative Prayer Group which meets at 6.30pm on the following dates:
19 & 26 January; 9 & 16  February; 2, 9, 23 & 30 March; 13 & 20 April.  Meetings begin in the Director’s Flat at the Centre, and then move on to the Chapel.

Happy New Year!

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The ‘Fourth Debate’ with Cameron, Clegg and Brown held to account by our local leaders… a record number of Jellicoe interns… the 70th anniversary of Jellicoe’s death (with articles on Fr Basil, and the Community, in the Church Times – and the Bishop of London’s anniversary sermon )… Bishop Doug Miles’ launch of the Oxford Jellicoe Community…

…all these made 2010 a momentous year – with 2011 promising to be at least as full of action and of growth.

Events already in the diary include

– A new termly act of worship for Christians involved in citizen organising – on the evening of 21 February, with Pastor Peter Nembhard from ARC in Forest Gate

– The monthly Jellicoe Book Club in London – with our next meeting on 25 January (to discuss Phillip Blond’s Red Tory)

– a major national event on Bank Holiday Monday (2nd May) – details to follow

We will soon be blogging details of events in Oxford: our termly Jellicoe Seminar (this time on the Living Wage Campaign); a new Jellicoe Study Group; and a briefing for those interested in a Jellicoe Internship this summer or in the next academic year

Bouquets and brickbats…

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Last Wednesday was awards night at London Citizens, with CTC Assistant Director Fr Sean Connolly collecting ‘Congregation of the Year’ award on behalf of S Stephen and Nicholas Catholic Parish, Manor Park.  Key to the congregation’s development has been Fr Sean’s commitment to ‘one to ones’.  Interns from Notre Dame and Cambridge University have also played their part in this.

CTC Director Angus Ritchie was one of the Tower Hamlets team collecting the award for ‘Borough of the Year’ – and again, Jellicoe interns have had a significant role in the deepening of engagement in organising.

Congratulations also go to one of our Muslim friends and neighbours, Mahera Ruby of Muslimaat, recognised as ‘Leader of the Year’.

A number of employers, including KPMG, got awards for applying and promoting the Living Wage. If there has been a wooden spoon award, it might well have gone to The Disney Store – where this evening we took part in a carol service with a difference.  A blend of traditional carols and Living Wage songs were sung by not-entirely-welcome gathering in Disney’s Oxford Street branch. Follow the events, with pictures and (soon) video via the CTC and Citizens Twitter feeds (#DisneyLivingWage)

Jellicoe Sermon: ‘A life that counts beyond self’

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Bishop Doug Miles, from koinonia Baptist Church in Baltimore, is a leading figure in community organising in the US.  Last week, he preached the 2010 Jellicoe Sermon in Magdalen College Chapel:

As I prepare to preach this sermon, I am requesting those present who are 35 and older to help me preach. If you are in agreement with what I say, give affirmation by a nod of the head, the wink of an eye or by letting a smile play across your lips.

M. Craig Barnes, in his marvellous book ‘When God Interrupts’, makes the assertion that “God must save most of us from ‘the life of our dreams’”. That most of us do not end life, nor find ourselves at this junction of life doing what we thought as teenagers or even young adults doing what we had wished for or expected doing, most of us are not married to the heartthrob of our teen years. Many of us are not doing professionally what was our original life’s quest. Many of us are not living where we thought we would reside or are not travelling roads we thought we would travel.

Thanks be to God that in His omniscience, He has delivered us from the life of our dreams. Why does he do this? I venture to say that He does so for one of at least three reasons.

1. The life of our dreams may not have been what was best for us.

2. It may not be what God wants for us.

3. It may have ended in our destruction rather than our usefulness for the kingdom.

This was true of a shepherd boy king named David in his humanity; and probably true for Jesus in his ever dawning sense of his divinity.

David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons, in the culture from which he comes, could not have dared dream that his life would carry him down the road its does nor to the dizzying heights he attains. In Jewish culture of that day the youngest son was last in line for inheritance, last in line for the patriarchal blessing last in line to secure a wife, last in line to leave the father’s house. Last, last, last. It did not matter how gifted he was, nor what spirit of ambition drove him or how willing he was to work – his destiny was to be last.

Yet David probably never dreamed of becoming a great psalmist and blessing family, friends and the kingdom with the gifts so richly bestowed upon him. Hear him:

“In your strength the king rejoices, O Lord
And in your help how greatly he exults.”

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
The world, and those who live in it.”

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.”

“The Lord is my light and salvation: whom shall I fear?”

A blessed musician with ability that far exceeded the ordinary, David probably dreamed of dazzling the ladies with the playing of the lute or mesmerizing a generation with the melodies produced at his hand.
He never imagined he would be King of all Israel and called a “Man after God’s own heart”.

And most assuredly our Lord – Jesus – made a similar journey to his place between two thieves on a cross on a hill called Calvary. In his humanity as a child, he could not have possibly the winding road of his life nor that one day, centuries later we today would be gathered in this place dedicated to His glory as we worship Him as “King of kings and Lord of lords”.

He had such an impossible beginning that we have glossed over with tradition and the hindsight of adulation. A bastard child of what seemed an illicit relationship between a young woman engaged to a man probably four times her age who on the eve of her marriage turns up pregnant by an unknown father.

Tradition said and literally required that she at worst be stoned to death for her seemingly shameful dalliance and at best be returned in shame to the house of her father as damaged goods.

So as a child – a middle child of a stepfather with sons and daughters both older and younger than Jesus, and Jesus as Mary’s eldest child who bore the chief responsibility for her welfare in old age – his horizons were severely limited by life’s circumstances.

Yet he probably dreamed of becoming a master carpenter in the king’s service who one day would be called upon to design and build the framework for some magnificent structure in Jerusalem – a structure that would dazzle men and be blessed by God. And as in the case of David, he too had to be rescued from the life of his dreams.

There are some seated here today who will be delivered from the life of your dreams and thanks be to God for that deliverance.

So how do we get from the life of our own dreams to a life that counts beyond itself? Allow me to suggest three quick points and I will be done.


To claim a life that counts beyond self one has to come to a day of decision for God.

Our faith is not a faith of osmosis whereby we can acquire a relationship with God simply by being around people who have such a relationship. Religious faith is like a tooth brush – each person should have his or her own and use it regularly. And life will lead you in some directions that will cause you to choose for or against God, especially if you seek to be open to His revelations.

David found this to be true early in life. As he kept his father’s sheep there was a time when a bear came to destroy the flock and he slew the bear with sling shot in hand. On another occasion a lion attempted to harm the flock and once again sling shot in hand he killed the lion. What some would have pointed to as either luck in human skill David saw as divine intervention for His sake.

The Bible informs us that age 12, Jesus is found by a frantic Mary searching for what she believed to be her lost son, finds him in the Temple in Jerusalem, and when chastised Jesus responded, “Did you not know I must be about my father’s business?”

We do not know what revelation led to that declaration but we do know that 18 years later he sits in a synagogue in Nazareth, quotes from the prophet Isaiah, and claims a place in the prophetic tradition of Israel: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me…”

If you want a life that counts beyond self – in the days of your youth choose for God.


To live a life that counts beyond self requires a willingness to take risks, we are challenged to dare to be different – to march to the beat of a distant drummer.

One day David took provisions to his older brothers who were engaged in battle against the Philistines – as he approached the battlefield he found a giant named Goliath daring the children of Israel to send down to the valley a man that would dare to stand up to him. David saw “teachers, scholars, pastors and preachers, captains and generals” on the mountain side afraid to go down to the valley. And this shepherd boy, this slight lad of shepherd status dared in the name of God to go forth and sly the giant.

Our Saviour, Jesus Christ, one day walked away from his carpentry shop, walked away from family and risked scorn, ridicule and pity because of what he believed to be God the Father’s claim in his life.

What are you willing to risk to be on the right side of justice, to be on the side of that arc of the universe that bends towards justice?

Are you willing to do as Jesus did and exchange the truth the moment for the fact of the matter?

The truth of the moment – Jesus gives up carpentry
The fact of the matter – He claims the Sonship of God

The truth of the moment – the lure of the prosperity of the healer
The fact of the matter – true treasures are found in heaven

The truth of the moment – the ridicule of men
The fact of the matter – The affirmation of the father: “This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

What are you willing to risk to claim a life beyond self?


To claim a life beyond self requires a willingness to be available to God.

In all his shenanigans and moral mess David always made himself available to God when god wanted to use him.

Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane made the conscious choice to make Himself available for a divine appointment on Cavalry.

God does not call us to be the best at anything – though some of you are and will be.

He does not challenge use to be the brightest – though some of you are.

He calls us to show up, available and willing to be used.

He calls up to show up, as Noah did to build the Ark.

To show up as Joseph did to save his family from famine.

Show up as Moses did to go back to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go.

Show up as Joshua did to fight the Battle of Jericho.

Show up as Daniel did to meet and slay a giant named Goliath

Show up as Nehemiah did to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.

Show up as Esther did proclaiming, “If I perish, I perish. I am gone to see the king.”

Show up as Jesus did for a date on Calvary.

And if we show up, God will show off in and through our lives.

Are you willing to live a life that counts beyond self?

Packed launch event

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Oxford saw two packed Jellicoe events this week, both with the inspirational Bishop Douglas I. Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church in inner-city Baltimore.  Bishop Miles has been at the heart of broad-based community organising, in the city which originated the Living Wage Campaign.  He preached the Jellicoe Sermon at Magdalen on Sunday, and addressed the launch of the Oxford Jellicoe Community on Monday.

His sermon will be online soon – and the Oxford Jellicoe Community is now on Facebook here

Pictured: Bishop Miles (centre) with Jellicoe Community Development Manager Laurence Mills and 2010 intern Antonia Adebambo

Living Wage @ UEL

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Jellicoe interns joined hundreds of other East Londoners to celebrate two stunning Living Wage victories at this year’s East London Communities Organisation (TELCO) Assembly in Walthamstow on Tuesday.
University of East London Vice-Chancellor Prof Patrick McGhee committed his institution to a Living Wage – speaking powerfully about his own experiences of poverty in Glasgow, and responding to testimony by Jhon (a cleaner at the University living on low pay). 

UEL’s Politics Department has now joined TELCO, and among those cheering these exciting developments was Amma Asante – the first Jellicoe intern at the University!  Summer interns Rebecca Fay, Daniel Stone and Antonia Adebambo also have much to celebrate, as their Pentecostal placement church, ARC (A Radical Church) also joined up.

Barts and the London NHS Trust has also gone for the Living Wage.  In this video clip, Pastor Davy Johnson – a key speaker at the assembly, and Pastor of Mile End New Testament Church of God – explains why the Living Wage matters so much:


Launch event for Oxford Jellicoe Community

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United… for a Change
Organising for renewal in Church and Society

St Aldate’s Church – Monday 22nd November (7th Week) – 7.30 to 9pm

Come and hear Bishop Doug Miles – founder of Koinonia Baptist Church, Baltimore – on way Community Organising has transformed both his congregation and its inner-city neighbourhood…

…and find out how you can get involved in this work today – through the Jellicoe Community, which brings together Christians of all denominations and traditions to work and pray for social change.

New interns…and Tower Hamlets Mayoral Assembly

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The new term has got off too a busy and exciting start – with five year-round Jellicoe Interns in East London:

Josh Harris completed a summer internship at St Paul’s Shadwell, and is now back for a year-round placement
Liliana Worth has likewise chosen to come back to work at nearby SS Mary and Michael Catholic Church
Katy Theobald joins us from Balliol College, Oxford to work with Stepney Salvation Army on the Ocean Estate
Amma Asante continues a placement at the University of East London, where the Living Wage and CitySafe Campaigns are gaining momentum
Nitasha Kadam joins us from the University of Notre Dame, and will be helping to build Hindu engagement in community organising
On Wednesday, we had our first public action – TELCO’s Accountability Assembly for the candidates for Mayor of Tower Hamlets.  It is a controversial race, with Cllr Lutfur Rahman initially barred from the Labour shortlist, then topping the poll, then removed by the Party’s National Executive and replaced by Cllr Helal abbas.  Cllr Rahman is now standing as an Independent.  These two men were held to account (along with the Conservative, Green and LibDem candidates)on TELCO’s agenda for a Living Wage, Community Land Trusts,  CitySafe Havens and summer placements for young people.  Dave Hill blogged on the eve of the event, and Ted Jeory offers this verdict on proceedings:  

In answer to [the Assembly’s] five questions (will you as mayor meet with Telco twice a year; will you encourage employers to adopt the living wage; will you support subsidising criminal record checks [for CitySafe Havens]; will you deliver 1,000 work experience placements in the council and other public organisations; and will you support the development of community land trusts as a way of boosting social housing), not one candidate uttered the word ‘no’.

His verdict?

As a way of strong-arming candidates into commitments, it was fabulous; as a spectacle for those of us who have grown use to Tower Hamlets tub-thumping, it was a touch too grown up.

Introducing the Jellicoe Community

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This homily was preached by Angus Ritchie last night to the Isaiah Community in Waterloo.  It explains the vision of an expanded Jellicoe Community, as a fellowship open to people who are not on internships.
This summer marks the 75th anniversary of the death of Fr Basil Jellicoe, at just 36 years of age – bringing to an end an extraordinary ministry, rooted in the slums of north-east London.  Jellicoe exemplified many of the best characteristics of the Anglo-Catholic clergy of his day.  He had passion and prayerfulness, humour and charisma.  Above all, he was inspired by the conviction that the life of God could and should become flesh in every earthly community. 
Jellicoe studied at Magdalen College, Oxford, before trained for the priesthood at St Stephen’s House.  Upon ordination in 1922, he was appointed as Magdalen’s missioner to the slums of Somers Town, near Euston Station.  Jellicoe regarded the state of his parishioners’ housing as a scandal.  He preached against it as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual disgrace.”   Jellicoe had been born into privilege and used his many connections to assemble a powerful alliance for change – enlisting the support of the Prince of Wales, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Housing Minister in his St Pancras House Improvement Society.
The Times’ obituary gives some flavour of Jellicoe’s extraordinary energy and enterprise:  telling its readers that Fr Jellicoe “resolved that he would not rest till his people had homes fit to live in, and the rehousing schemes started by his society have already provided many excellent flats with gardens, trees, ponds, swings for the children, and other amenities. Although the rents charged are not more than what the tenants paid for the old slums, the loan stock receives 2 per cent and the ordinary shares 3 per cent.”
As Diarmaid MacCulloch has observed: “Half a century before the development of London’s docklands, Fr Basil Jellicoe had pioneered an economically viable and morally inspiring form of ‘regeneration’.  More recent initiatives have all too often alienated and displaced the original residents.   Jellicoe’s version of neighbourhood renewal took local people seriously, and ensured their needs were given pride of place.”
There was a breadth and generosity to Jellicoe’s vision, which transcended the narrower tendencies of the Anglo-Catholicism.  Rowan Williams recounts a characteristic incident:  “Father Basil was challenged by some of his more narrow-minded High Church friends about why he would come to celebrate and preach in a parish church like [St Martin-in-the-Fields] where the Blessed Sacrament was not reserved. Father Jellicoe said he had no problem at all in coming to preach in a church part of which was reserved for the service of Christ in the form of his poor.”
Seven decades on, the Jellicoe Community was founded.  Its initial aim was to enable another generation of Magdalen students to live out these convictions, on residential placements in East London – more recently, interns have been drawn from a much wider range of colleges and universities.  Today’s students are part of a movement for social justice initiated by those living in the inner-city.  In the last couple of years broad-based community organising has received a new prominence in the media.  Some of you will recall the Citizens UK Assembly on the eve of the General Election, attended by the three party leaders, in which Gordon Brown encountered a Latin American family, the mother of whom cleaned the Chancellor’s office for rather less than a Living Wage.  Many more will be aware that it was the community organising alliance in Chicago that trained the young Barack Obama.  
Today’s Jellicoe Interns are placed in Christian congregations involved in broad-based community organising.  These churches span a wide variety of traditions – Pentecostal, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Salvation Army and Church of England.  
These churches are all members of London Citizens, the capital’s broad-based alliance.  It contains over 160 dues-paying organisations – alongside churches there are mosques, temples, schools, student and trade unions.  Their common action has achieved some striking results. London Citizens has won over £30 million pounds for low-paid workers, and secured the world’s first Living Wage Olympics.  The Citizens UK Assembly in May secured commitments from David Cameron and Nick Clegg to the end of child detention in the asylum process, and to Community Land Trusts as a way of achieving decent, affordable housing in our own generation.
In organising, the common action grows out of the relationships – relationships based on an attentive listening to people’s circumstances, passions and values.  Community organising is not unique because of the things it campaigns for –– what’s distinctive is the process.  The action is not merely for the poorest and most marginalised in society – it is taken by them.  People used to being passive recipients of whatever the political process deals out become agents of change.  The process matters every bit as much as the results.  
Those who run the Jellicoe internship programme have been surprised and heartened by the interest it is generating.  At a time when people are supposed to be apathetic, we are finding a real appetite for engagement with social and economic justice – engagement driven by the very people who are supposed to be hardest to involve.   At a time when young people are supposed to have given up on institutional religion, we find them increasingly drawn to a form of social action built on the life of local congregations.  And at a time when the media is full of stories of church disunity, we find Christians working together across a wider and wider range of denominations and traditions. The approach of community organising is to build relationships around the issues on which we can agree. This is not to evade the serious issues of disagreement.  Rather, the hope is through organising on the areas where passion and vision are shared, we can come to more contentious issues with deeper bonds of trust and solidarity.  
I’m delighted to be joined tonight by two of our summer interns – Antonia and Arabella, and two of organise the programme with me, Ian and Sr Josephine (who is the Chaplain to our Community).  There will be an opportunity to discuss our work and yours over tea and cake after the service.
The growing interest in Jellicoe internships – and in their combination of prayer, reflection and action – has led us to explore the idea of a wider ‘Jellicoe Community’.  This will bring together people, initially in Oxford and East London, who wished to give more depth and structure to their spiritual life and their social engagement.  We envisage a combination of local cells, occasional larger gatherings, and one-to-one mentoring by a team of Community Chaplains – helping members of the community to discern and live by a personal Rule of Life.  The development of this fellowship is at an early stage, and we are keen to learn from other communities such as your own.  
In denouncing slum housing as “an outward sign of an inward disgrace “ Jellicoe’s words, and indeed his whole life, proclaimed the intimate connection between spirituality and social justice.  Jellicoe knew that when the Spirit of God warmed and transformed human hearts there would be evidence of this in the public sphere as well as the personal. 
In many different Christian traditions, through many different initiatives and communities, there seems to be a new hunger for this holistic transformation – this renewal of hearts, of neighbourhoods and of societies.  May the Spirit of God, who has placed this work on our hearts, give us the wisdom, the grace, and the companions to fulfil that calling.  Amen.

Magdalen appoints ‘Jellicoe Chaplain’

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Magdalen College – Basil Jellicoe’s alma mater – has appointed the The Revd Dr Angus Ritchie as its Jellicoe Chaplain.  His role will be to oversee the development of the link between the College and East London, and act as Senior Member of the Jellicoe Society.  This is a continuation of work Angus has been involved in for some time – including setting up the Jellicoe Community, and arranging an annual Jellicoe Sermon in the College Chapel.

This year’s Jellicoe Sermon will be given by Bishop Doug Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church, Baltimore at 11am on Sunday 21st November.  Bishop Miles is a leading figure in BUILD, the city’s community organising alliance, and will be in the UK from 21-28 November on a speaking tour.  Other engagements include a keynote address at a conference on urban mission at Holy Trinity Brompton on 25th November.

Community walk in Hackney

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In the final blog post from our July interns, Jaya Carrier (Balliol College intern at St John-at-Hackney) describes the ‘community walk’ she and fellow intern Jim Barlow (Ripon College, Cuddesdon) arranged with local people to promote TELCO’s CitySafe campaign for safer strets

After four weeks of working at St. John’s, our community walk was organised on our very last day. Intended to be a reflective walk, it offered the chance for members of St. John’s to come with us to four designated places that had been the focus of local concerns in our one-to-one meeting. In a month that had been hectic and always throwing up the unexpected (!), the walk was a wonderful way for all to pause and be together.

Getting the walk together was tense at times; we were continually unsure of even a few people turning up, despite our bribes of tea and cake at the end! Also, in order to truly reflect our work overall, we were keen for there to be a representative spread of people across the parish. Therefore, we were really delighted to see that this all came together, with a sizeable and representative group coming along with us. What was especially heartening was the presence of young people and children; as something that was of such major concern to almost everyone we had spoken to, it was great to have their participation. The children were particularly engaged with the process; we created ‘wish tags’ that we had prepared to tie at each sight, that offered words of reflection. We invited the children to tie these, as well as offering the group to write on blank ones their own wishes and prayers. On what was a reflection of things that were occasionally rather solemn in tone, it was wonderful to have joy, excitement and participation in this way.

The feedback we received from those joining us on the walk was fantastic, and really allowed us to leave Hackney on a high. Perhaps the most uplifting aspect of the walk, however, was that the participants all stayed for tea and cake afterwards – some for some hours – just talking, catching up, laughing and reflection. This, for me, is what it is all about; togetherness.

Historic meeting for Housing Campaign

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It’s five years since communities in London Citizens camped in tents outside City Hall, to put pressure on the then Mayor Ken Livingstone to live up to his promises on a Community Land Trust.

Above: CTC Director Angus Ritchie (left) in a delegation of London Citizens leaders meeting Mayor Livingstone in July 2005, at the end of their encampment – reported by the BBC and Times

The Contextual Theology Centre, its partner churches and its Jellicoe interns have been at the heart of this campaign.  We are now celebrating success as the owners of the St. Clement’s Hospital site in Bow, East London have now agreed not to sell of the hospital site this summer.  Instead, they will be meeting with London Citizens local leaders to draw up plans for establishing London’s first ever Community Land Trust.

It’s a fitting piece of news to be blogging, 75 years to the day after Fr Basil Jellicoe died!

Celebrating Fr Basil

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Over 200 worshippers gathered on Sunday evening to honour Fr Basil Jellicoe, in this 75th anniversary year of his death.  The service, at St Martin-in-the-Fields, included readings and prayers by Jellicoe Interns, and a sermon by the Bishop of London.  This was followed by a reception with presentations by the interns on their work this month and songs from Jellicoe: The Musical – first performed in 2003.

St Martin’s was chosen because Fr Basil ministered there towards the end of his life.  The evening included testimony from the daughter of the then Vicar, who recalled his ministry in the parish.

We are grateful to Origin Housing – the successor body to Fr Basil’s St Pancras House Improvement Society – for helping to fund the reception, and for St Martin’s for hosting this inspiring event.

Two weeks in Newham

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Daniel Stone is a Jellicoe Intern based in Newham, East London – and a student of Economics and Management at St Peter’s College Oxford.  He blogs on his first two weeks on placement:

From the Barclays Tower in Canary Wharf to a small church hall in Stratford, the life of a Community Organiser is never dull! Two weeks ago I would have thought that people from such disparate ways of life would have nothing in common save their constant disappointment with the England football team! But I now realise that the link of commonality that binds people together runs deeper than material similarities towards motivations, frustrations and the answer to the famous community organisers’ question ‘What makes you angry?’

For many people in London regardless of their background; inner-city violence and the unneccessary death of countless numbers of young people makes them angry. The London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (meeting in Barclays Tower) is connected to countless numbers of people motivated by their faith, commitment to social justice or the heartache of personal bereavment, in wanting to make a difference so that future generations aren’t bound in a culture of fear and violence.

What is perhaps of greater concern is the sense of hopelessness that people find themselves in – a hopelessness that sees the 22 teenage deaths that have occured over the last 18 months as being something that is out of control and out of their hands. This simply isn’t the case and I have been encouraged by the organisations I have seen so far who are attempting to take up the gauntlet thrown down by the City Safe campaign, to tackle knife crime head on instead of passing responsibility onto the police.

One such community is that of the ARC based in Forest Gate, a church that 5 years ago was galvanized into action by the murder of one of their young people, Charlotte Polius. The vision of the church leadership and the enthusiasm of their young people has meant that rather than stirring up interest, the emphasis of my internship has been on building relationships and opening lines of communication with other members of their local community to act together for change.

I have come to realise the simplicity of community organising and just how beautiful this simplicity is! It is based purely on relationships – talking and acting with your neighbour – and is then something that we should all do naturally as relational beings. We introduced a number of young people to the City Safe campaign last week. During the meeting a young lady said that there wasn’t enough for young people to do and that one possible solution could be to encourage young people to take up boxing. Earlier that very same day we had been speaking to a former Ugandan Olympic boxer who wanted to expand his boxing programme to include more young people from Forest Gate!
The mission statement of the ARC is ‘keeping it simple, keeping it radical and always keeping it real’. For me this perhaps best sums up the aims of City Safe in that the issues of knife crime won’t be solved over night but by taking small steps to implement what we still sadly consider to be ‘radical’ ideas of community cohesion we can perhaps begin to change things.

From a programme to a movement

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The Jellicoe Community began as a programme for summer and year-round interns.  Out of this is beginning to grow a broader movement of students and young people committed to prayer, reflection and action.  The Mercers Company has just given the Contextual Theology Centre a grant which will enable it to employ Laurence Mills – one of the first Jellicoe Interns – to spend the autumn developing this wider community of young Christians.  So watch this space…

Summer internship: reflections on week one

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Tom Daggett is one of fourteen students currently interning with the Jellicoe Community.  He is based at the Salvation Army in Stepney. Here he writes about his experiences in the first week:
Community organising was something new to me when I was introduced to the Jellicoe Community, but when it was explained, it made so much sense, and I couldn’t wait to get involved. Much more than with typical internships, undertaken by typical Oxbridge students, this one excited me because of the prospect of engaging with people’s actual lives, of dealing with what it is that makes us human, of being able to offer my own experiences in dialogue with others’.

In the past two weeks, I’ve grappled with and reflected upon drug abuse, generational conflict, disability, racism, overcrowding, idleness, death, fear, and the relationship of these to faith. It would be easy to draw very negative conclusions about the Ocean Estate (supposedly one of the most economically deprived in the country), but I now know that there are people who are genuinely changing the area through friendship, leadership, and belief in God. I’ve had meetings with: exciting new committees on the estate; with people who have turned their lives around and who now inspire others through their own amazing stories; with local churches; with civil servants; with Oxbridge professionals; with the elderly; with evangelists; and with those sceptical of what I’m doing.

One inspirational experience has been to witness the homeless football team, which Nick Coke, Salvation Army Captain, helps to run. Each with their own difficult histories (and some without, but who just enjoy a bit of sport), the lads (mostly early 20s, representing diverse racial backgrounds) come together once a week to play a tournament, have a free lunch in a local church, and are invited to attend a non-compulsory bible study, after the lunch. It was remarkable to see how many chose to stay, and how each took the study seriously, making wise contributions which pertained to their own stories. The brotherhood that was fostered around those fold-away tables was astounding, and after speaking openly with these guys, I felt part of it. I shall never forget it; in that church hall I discovered so much humility.

This month, I’ll be working towards a long-term plan that will help local institutions in Stepney to support each other in London Citizens’ “City Safe haven” scheme. My one-to-one meetings will drive my work, and it’ll be great to get these people involved. It’s been great to get to know the other interns, too, whether over a curry, or over a pint whilst watching the world cup final!

75 years on…

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Fr Basil Jellicoe – slum priest, housing reformer and the inspiration behind today’s Jellicoe Community – died 75 years ago.  The anniversary will be marked with a special Choral Evensong at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square, London – with a sermon by the Bishop of London, and a drinks reception with this summer’s Jellicoe InternsAll are welcome.

East End United

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The march from Stepney Green to Altab Ali park – clergy leading the march included (l to r) Revd Adam Atkinson (Contextual Theology Centre Senior Tutor), Fr Alan Green (Area Dean of Tower Hamlets – in the biretta)  and the Revd Angus Ritchie (Centre Director)

How does a neighbourhood respond when the forces of bigotry and division come to town? The English Defence League (EDL) threatened to come to Tower Hamlets on Sunday – bringing an all-too-familiar blend of and anti-Muslim vitriol and intimidation.

The EDL had picked this date to come to Tower Hamlets, and then discovered a controversial Islamic conference was to be on the same date, at the Troxy (just round the corner from the Royal Foundation of St Katharine, the home of the Jellicoe Community). This became the focus of their action – until Tower Hamlets Council exerted pressure on the Troxy to cancel the event.

The EDL claimed victory, and called their Sunday demo off – but earlier in the week a number of their members were in town, insulting local Muslims and spreading tension and anger.

The community’s reaction? A demonstration with over 2000 local people – and speakers from local churches and mosques, Jewish organisations and trade unions presenting a united front against the EDL. Some of the political speakers felt the need to score points against each other – a regrettable decision on a day which was about stressing what East End residents have in common, not the things which divide them.

And how did it feel? Sometimes rowdy and raw, but almost uniformly peaceful – and in a community where the EDL’s activities have provoked rumours, fear and mistrust, a really important declaration that people of all faiths and backgrounds are willing to turn out to stand up for one another.

The Revd Adam Atkinson and Angus Ritchie (who supervise the Jellicoe Interns in Shadwell) spoke at the rally and Jellicoe intern Ian Bhullar played an important role in organising the Christian turnout. All three are involved in the round-the-year organising that brings Tower Hamlets’ faiths together around issues of common concern. It’s that ongoing work which builds the trust and commitment which was counted for so much on Sunday. That provided an inspiration, and also a challenge – to redouble the organising work so that the people of Tower Hamlets are even more united in trust and hope.

This summer’s team

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Last night, CTC Director Angus Ritchie and Manager Ian Vijay Bhullar briefed this summer’s team of Jellicoe’s interns – a dynamic group of students from Oxford, Cambridge and London who will be developing congregational involvement in community organising.

This summer’s interns and their placement churches are:

Parish of the Divine Compassion, Plaistow & Canning Town – Simon Cuff, Holly Terry & Greg Tucker (Keble, Oxford)
St Mary’s Cable Street and E1 Community Church – Emma Priddin (Trinity, Oxford)
St John-at-Hackney – Jaya Carrier (Balliol, Oxford), Jim Barlow (Cuddesdon, Oxford) and Arabella Milbank (New College, Oxford)
St Mary & Michael RC Parish, Limehouse – Liliana Worth (Wadham, Oxford)
St Paul’s Shadwell – Josh Harris (Keble, Oxford), Ellen Harvey (Magdalen, Oxford) and Alena-Rose Crayden (Heythrop, London)
St Stephen’s RC Parish, Manor Park – Isaac Stanley (Pembroke, Cambridge)
Stepney Salvation Army – Tom Daggett (Lincoln, Oxford)
Trinity Chapel, Beckton – Daniel Stone (St Peter’s, Oxford), Rebecca Fay (Queen Mary, London) and Antonia Adebambo (Magdalen, Oxford)

Back to the roots…

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It has been an amazing few weeks for all of us involved in citizen organising. The May 3rd assembly catapulted the movement into the media limelight, and also yielding substantial relationships with and commitments from the then PM, the new PM and the new Deputy PM! Citizens UK Director Neil Jameson was in No 10 yesterday – and the meeting is reported on our sister blog there.

A key challenge is to convert this excitement back into tangible change at the really local level, That is where our Jellicoe interns come in! Last night, we had our last Community Evening with Megan Dilhoff and Theodore Wold, who return to the US after building significant new links with Catholic parishes in Shadwell & Wapping. They will be much missed, and go with all our thanks and prayers.

Amma Asante continues her work at the University of East London, and Ian Bhullar at St Mary’s Cable Street (and the newly-recruited E1 Community Church). They’ll be joined by around 18 summer interns, focusing mainly on the CitySafe campaign – very local relationship- and trust-building, which is the lifeblood of citizen organising. It’s from this local base that we build up to the amazing national successes – the end of child detention, local mutual banking and a Community Land Trust on the 2012 Olympic site.

Citizens UK in Number Ten

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The follow-up to May 3rd continues tomorrow as Citizens UK Executive Director Neil Jameson attends a round-table with David Cameron and Nick Clegg on the ‘Big Society’. This is an exciting development – and one we hope will lead to further progress on the issues raised at the Assembly.

Our Homes, Our London

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This is a key campaign for the congregations in which Jellicoe interns are placed – one which stands very clearly in the tradition of Fr Basil Jellicoe . The Citizens UK Assembly secured a Community Land Trust on the Olympic site from all three party leaders – while locally, TELCO won backing from Tower Hamlets Council for a Trust on the site of St Clements’ Hospital. Here’s the video that made the case:


Whatever the coalition, Citizens are in relationship

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The Citizens UK Assembly and CTC from Contextual Theology Centre on Vimeo.

CTC has launched a short Vimeo slideshow on last week’s assembly.  In the midst of all the coalition horse-trading, our partner congregations are now in relationship with all the main parties – so whoever is on the Government benches, they will be attending future Citizens UK’s assemblies, answering to the promises made on May 3rd.

What did we win?

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It will take a while for the impact to sink in, but here are some of the key achievements of yesterday’s assembly – and links to media coverage.

The leaders of all the major party agreed…
– to be held to account by Citizens UK – in assemblies and round-table meetings – during the next Parliament
– a Community Land Trust on the Olympic Park after 2012
– caps on exploitative lending and a stronger mutual banking sector

– Labour committed to a Living Wage for Whitehall workers – something the Tories are also looking to fund
– Labour and the Tories committed to reviewing the practice of detaining children seeking sanctuary
– LibDems committed to ending child detention – and to a one-off earned amnesty for undocumented migrants

Today’s Guardian includes Patrick Wintour on front page (‘Battered PM finds his voice’); Allegra Stratton on p. 4 (‘Brown triumphs in unofficial fourth leadership debate’) and Marina Hyde on p. 5 (‘Real people, excruciating stories and a bit of recycling’).  The Telegraph has a sketch on p.8, emphasising the role of faith in the event – ‘Son of the manse in his element among the righteous’.  Online, there’s good coverage from the Finanical Times and Reuters.

The Contextual Theology Centre sponsored this historic event, and our officers, interns and partner churches were heavily involved:
– Fr Sean Connolly (CTC Assistant Director) was interviewed on Channel Four News as he led a pre-assembly study group on our new book Faithful Citizens
– Bethan Lant (St Mary’s, Cable Street) was one of the co-chairs and Fr Rob Wickham (St John-at-Hackney) introduced the assembly
– CTC Tutor Capt Nick Coke (Stepney Salvation Army) told the story of the CitySafe campaign – a key project of Jellicoe Interns
– Dr Luke Bretherton (CTC Fellow) handled some of the key public negotiations with David Cameron
– CTC Director Revd Angus Ritchie spoke alongside low-paid cleaners from the Treasury to present the case for the Living Wage to Gordon Brown – and Senior Tutor Revd Adam Atkinson (St Paul’s Shadwell) handled some of the key public negotiations
– CTC Fellow Mgr John Armitage (St Anne’s, Custom House) gave the final, rousing send-off to the 2500-strong assembly

Party leaders come to CITIZENS UK Assembly

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Hours before the final TV debate, Citizens UK confirmed that Cameron and Clegg will all be attending a historic Assembly in central London.  The PM has also been invited.  The 2500-person event on Monday will be the last at which the party leaders can all make their case to the people.  Uniquely, they will do it by responding to Citizens UK’s ‘People’s Manifesto’ – which calls for a Living Wage, Community Land Trusts, a cap on interest rates, an earned amnesty for undocumented migrants and an end to the detention of children seeking sanctuary.

The manifesto arises from Listening Campaigns and Delegates Assemblies across the Citizens network – in which Jellicoe interns and Contextual Theology Centre staff have played a key part.  The Centre is proud to be a sponsor of the Assembly.

For more news on the Assembly, sign up for our Twitter feed at

Keeping you in suspense…

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Jellicoe interns are involved in planning a major Citizens UK event in the week of the General Election… we’d hoped to be able to make an announcement by now – but it looks as if it will later in the week before we can go public with the news.  You can also keep up to date with developments by following us on Twitter

THURSDAY MORNING UPDATE: The event will be on the afternoon of Monday, 3rd May in Methodist Central Hall, with leading political figures.  We’re waiting for Citizens UK to make a formal announcement, probably later on today.  We will blog the news – and st information on TV coverage – as soon as we have it.

It’s all happening…

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Citizen organising remains at the heart of the election campaign, in a way we couldn’t have imagined even a few months ago…

Firstly  – as we covered in previous posts – we had David Cameron’s visit to London Citizens’ East End HQ and Labour’s manifesto commitments on our economic agenda

Secondly, our Jellicoe interns and staff were key to last week’s Tower Hamlets Accountability Assembly.  This included local MPs George Galloway and Jim Fitzpatrick, and Council Leader Lutfur Rahman – who gave his backing to our affordable housing campaign.  Here’s the video they were shown:

Thirdly, with the Clegg surge, Strangers into Citizens has gone centre stage (not least in today’s Daily Express…).  Nick Clegg agreed to back our campaign for an earned amnesty for undocumented migrants back when he was the LibDem spokesman on Home Affairs – and it’s in the manifesto.  It’s hard to write this off as his opponents want to – after all, the campaign also has the backing of Tory Mayor of London Boris Johnson and Labour Deputy Leader Harriet Harman!

Now, May 3rd is shaping up to be the biggest day yet for citizen organising and national politics.  Expect a major announcement here on Monday – if not before…

UPDATE: Magdalen College is hosting an election-night seminar on the impact of citizen organising on the campaign

New book on ‘the real Third Way’

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With community organising making such an impact on the election debate, the Contextual Theology Centre has released a timely new book on the subject.  Crunch Time: A Call to Action includes essays by Luke Bretherton, Vincent Rougeau and Maurice Glasman on London Citizens’ economic agenda – including the Living Wage and anti-usury laws (now in the Labour manifesto) – and ends with a tour de force by John Milbank on Christian social teaching as ‘the real Third Way’ between the ‘idolatry’ of State and market.

Jellicoe anniversary

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Heady times for Fr Jellicoe and the Jellicoe Community … who have both reached the front page of the Church Times this week!  The paper includes a piece by Prof Diarmaid MacCulloch, written to mark the 75th anniversary of Fr Jellicoe’s death, and another by Simon Cuff on his experience as a Jellicoe intern. 

The Bishop of London will preach at a service of thanksgiving for Fr Jellicoe and the Community on the evening of 25th July at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square.  This is timed to coincide with the summer internship, when we will have over a dozen students from Oxford and London Universities placed with churches in East London.

Living Wage ‘to be in Labour manifesto’

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According to today’s Daily Mirror, the Labour party is to put a Living Wage pledge into its forthcoming election manifesto – a huge success for London Citizens and all who work with them – including successive Jellicoe interns and the congregations in which they have been placed.  Contextual Theology Centre Director The Revd Angus Ritchie, who has been involved in the Living Wage Campaign from the start, hailed this as “really exciting news”.

“When London Citizens began the Living Wage Campaign, we knew it would be hard work to get this embedded as the policy of the Mayor of London.  We were delighted when Ken Livingstone and then Boris Johnson signed up.  I have to say, I didn’t think we’d get the backing of national politicians with such speed.  David Cameron told us last week that he was seriously considering the policy, and if this report is right, Gordon Brown is going to make a solid commitment to the Living Wage.”

Cameron visits London Citizens

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Key figures in all the main political parties are now engaging seriously with London Citizens – both with the method of community organising (at the heart of the Jellicoe internship programme) and with the platform of issues with which it is responding to the credit crunch.  David Cameron met with congregational leaders and community organisers yesterday at the office of London Citizens and Citizens UK.  These included Adam Atkinson and Nick Coke who supervise Jellicoe interns in their local congregations and Angus Ritchie (Director of the Contextual Theology Centre).  Cameron has announced plans to train an army of 5000 citizens in community organising – and indicated the possibility of joining Boris Johnson’s in writing the Living Wage into government procurement policy. “Boris has done a brilliant job by going for living wage and I think government departments should all consider that.”

While today’s news reports focus on the Conservative relationship with London Citizens, the impact of organising is clear on all three parties.  London Citizens leaders met with Vince Cable recently to follow up the commitments made at the alliance’s November assembly in the Barbican – and The Guardian reports that Ed Miliband’s drafting of the Labour manifesto shows “clear signs of influence” by London Citizens.

Hackney holds politicians to account

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As explained in an earlier post, one of our Jellicoe interns has left the UK to work for the Archbishop of the Sudan.  Rebecca Coleman had worked with the Parish of St John at Hackney, and during her internship the parish decided to join TELCO – the East London chapter of London Citizens.

Rebecca’s hard work is bearing fruit – as we see in this blog post from St John’s Rector, Fr Rob Wickham.  Fr Rob was previously Vicar of St Mary’s, Somers Town – the parish in which Basil Jellicoe served. 

About 150 people gathered at St John at Hackney Church on Monday night for the first TELCO Hackney Assembly since 2001. At this assembly, we gathered the four main Mayor candidates for Hackney, and we soughts pledges of support and partnership work from them in relation to the main campaigns of Living Wage, Strangers into Citizens and CitySafe.

In summary, all four main parties fully support The Living Wage Campaign, and have stated publicly that they will make Hackney into a Living Wage Borough in their new terms of office. This includes those employees employed by agencies on behalf of the borough.

All four parties said that they would work with TELCO on the Strangers into Citizens campaign, and they said that they would ask their respective political groups to support the pledge. The Labour candidate also stated that they would actively lobby MP’s to affect national policy. They also all said that they would work with us to look inot an Internship scheme, as proposed by TELCO.

Finally, they supported a presentation made by TELCO members from Hackney Free and Parochial School in relation to recycling, and also they would work with us as a response to the CitySafe proposal tio make all council buildings CitySafe Havens. This was following an excellent presentation made by Sandra Springer, whose son Mason presented Boris Johnson with his accolade for making City Hall the 200th Haven in London. Mason sadly died a few weeks ago. The Conservative candidate supported this proposal in its entirety.

Then, at the end, all candidates pledged their support in working with TELCO, and meeting at least every six months.

St John’s will be hosting two Jellicoe interns this summer – one from Rebecca’s college (Balliol), the other an ordinand from Ripon College, Cuddesdon.

Milbank lecture and book launch

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Current and prospective Jellicoe Interns were involved in an evening of reflection and celebration as John Milbank gave the 2010 Citizens UK Lecture – and a new book was launched.  Both events were sponsored by CTC, which was a partner in the publication of Faithful Citizens.  This new book is an accessible introduction to theology and organising.  It is recommended reading for present and future members of the Jellicoe community.

‘Dispatches’ documentary on East London Mosque

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Last week, Dispatches and the Sunday Telegraph claimed East London Mosque was the headquarters of a secretive, fundamentalist political network.  The Revd Angus Ritchie, Director of the Contextual Theology Centre blogs on local Christians’ experience of the Mosque:

Whether you read the papers, surf the net, or watch the TV, the media seems full of allegations against East London Mosque. Martin Bright claims it “plays a central role in promoting a sectarian Islam”. The Independent notes the Detroit bomber worshipped there. (On closer investigation, it turns out he attended three times – in a mosque that has six thousand at Friday prayers.) Last week’s Dispatches documentary on Channel 4 alleged the mosque and its allies were building ‘Britain’s Islamic republic’ here in Tower Hamlets– a shadowy conspiracy to place extreme Muslims in positions of power.

A frequent theme of such attacks is that the many dignitaries who visit and praise the mosque are naive – descending on Tower Hamlets in search of feel-good photo opportunities, while those who live ‘on the ground’ know the mosque to be a more sinister operation.

The truth is very different.

All too often, it is the journalists who descend on Tower Hamlets – in search of alarmist headlines. By contrast, those ‘on the ground’ know the vital role East London Mosque has played in promoting Muslim engagement with the wider community.

Broad-based community organising is now flavour of the month – through the good offices of politicians as diverse as James Purnell, Boris Johnson and of course Barack Obama. Fifteen years ago it was a very different story. East London Mosque was a crucial foundation-stone in London Citizens, the capital’s community organising alliance. It joined what was then an embryonic movement. Without the Mosque’s involvement and support, it would not have burgeoned into an alliance of 150 religious and civic groups – winning £25 million for low-paid workers in the capital, and influencing all three parties in their response to the credit crunch.

Not so quick, I hear the conspiracy theorists reply. Perhaps an alliance like London Citizens gives the mosque the cover it needs to advance a more sinister agenda? If East London Mosque was now climbing on the bandwagon of community organising, that claim might seem less ludicrous. But the mosque has been a loyal and constructive ally from the start – a crucial catalyst for the growth in relationships and in trust across the faiths and cultures of Tower Hamlets.

Neil Jameson, London Citizens’ lead organiser, says this of the East London Mosque: “They regularly send their leaders on our training. They work amicably and respectfully with Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Sikhs and Hindus and with Trade Unionists of faith and of no faith. I have visited, trained and worked alongside their key leaders for more than twenty years and can testify that they have been outstanding and loyal members of the alliance.” When an alliance which embracing atheist trade unionists and leading evangelical churches speaks of the mosque in such glowing terms, it’s time for the scare-mongers to listen up.

The depressing tide of suspicion and vitriol places Muslims – here in Tower Hamlets and across the country – in an impossible position. If they do engage in politics, they are damned as sinister conspirators. If they don’t, they are damned as isolationist.

It is time the rest of us accepted our Muslim colleagues for what they are: people who share the same streets and neighbourhoods, and many of the same hopes and fears as any other citizen. Christians who have lived ‘on the ground’ in East London for many years know them as colleagues and as friends. There are preachers of hate and violence in every community. We know that the best antidote to this is face-to-face contact and action together on issues of common concern. We are proud to count East London Mosque among our greatest allies in that work.

Successes in London and Oxford

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A new crop of Jellicoe interns is emerging from the Crunch Time week in Oxford University. Past and present interns and clergy from their placement congregations spoke to over 800 students about the work – and in a couple of weeks, we will be holding interviews for the summer internship programme.

Our current interns (pictured above) are making important progress…
Ian Vijay Bhullar is helping E1 Community Church move towards membership of London Citizens, in partnership with St Mary’s Anglican Church, Cable Street.
Megan Dilhoff and Theodore Wold are beginning a year of partnership between Jellicoe interns and the Roman Catholic Parish of SS Mary and Michael, Limehouse – as the priest and congregation explore membership of London Citizens
Amma Asante is working with other students at the University of East London to sign up local businesses to be ‘CitySafe Havens’ – and her work as a Jellicoe Intern has helped her secure a part-time job at St Peter’s C of E School in Wapping

We wish Rachel Coleman well in her new role working for the Archbishop of Sudan!  She leaves St John’s Anglican Church in Hackney now in active membership of London Citizens.  The parish has raised money for a Community Worker who will be taking this work forward – in particular on the CitySafe campaign.

Pictured (left to right):
Back row – Theodore, Amma, Adam Atkinson (CTC’s Senior Tutor) and Ian
Front Row – Beatrice Piloya (local parishioner), Sr Josephine Canny (Community Chaplain) and Megan

John Milbank on the Credit Crunch

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Prof John Milbank’s talk at the CTC-sponsored study day on Theology and the Credit Crunch is now online.  In the spring, the talk will be part of an essay collection the Centre is publishing – as a Christian contribution to the General Election debate.  It will include essays by Prof Vincent Rougeau and Dr Luke Bretherton on the significance of Christian teaching on usury for today’s economy, and Dr Maurice Glasman and Centre Director Angus Ritchie on London Citizens’ anti-usury campaign.

This term’s Jellicoe Seminar – Election Special

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On May 6th, Dr Rob Gilbert (Fellow of Magdalen) and Ian Vijay Bhullar (PPE, Keble, 2006-2009) will speak about the impact of community organising on the General Election.

Rob’s placement with the Contextual Theology Centre followed Citizens UK’s response to the credit crunch through the autumn – and as he speaks, the alliance has secured commitments from all three main parties on these issues.

Ian is currently a year-round Jellicoe intern, and his work on the Sanctuary Pledge will also be part of Citizens UK’s agenda at its forthcoming General Election Assembly in Westminster.

Book your place with the co-ordinator, Revd Angus Ritchie ( and join us at 9pm in the New Rooms, Magdalen College – for free-flowing wine and discussion… After the seminar, there will be an opportunity to go to a nearby room and watch the results of the election as they begin to come in.

Happy New Year

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2010 is shaping up to be an eventful year for the Jellicoe Community.  As we head towards the General Election, London Citizens’ anti-usury campaign will reach a new level – and our Centre will be playing a key role in this work.  In Oxford, we are planning an exciting week of events on Christian faith and community organising – including the launch of a short film on the Jellicoe Community at an event at Keble College with the Bishop of Oxford.  You can follow this on our ‘Crunch Time’ blog.

Later in the year, we will be marking the 75th anniversary of the death of Fr Basil Jellicoe – about which more details will follow soon.

Police quiz Santa Claus…

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This YouTube video shows the police quizzing two senior Anglican clerics – one a Canon of Westminster Abbey, the other a world authority on St Nicholas.  Their offence?  To try and deliver presents to refugees detained at Yarl’s Wood, on behalf of Citizens for Sanctuary (the campaign on which Jellicoe Intern Ian Vijay Bhullar blogged earlier this month).

This will be the last Jellicoe blogpost until after Christmas… so it comes with our good wishes to you all!

John Milbank to give CITIZENS lecture

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Leading Anglican theologian Prof John Milbank is to give the 2010 CITIZENS UK Lecture on Catholic social teaching and the new politics – an event co-sponsored by the Contextual Theology Centre and its academic partners.

The event will be on Tuesday 23rd March  at 6.30pm, and will be followed by the launch of Faithful Citizens, a guide to community organising and Catholic social teaching by CTC Fellow Dr Austin Ivereigh. Full details will follow in the New Year.

Christian financiers back anti-usury law

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UPDATE: This report has appeared in the Church Times today

The head of one of Europe’s largest hedges fund threw his weight behind calls for a 20% cap on interest rates. Paul Marshall was speaking at a conference on ‘Christian Responses to the Great Recession’, organised by St Mellitus College, King’s College London and the Contextual Theology Centre (CTC).

Marshall was one of a wide-ranging panel supporting the call for an anti-usury law. The call is being made by London Citizens – an alliance of over 150 religious and civic institutions – as part of a wider response to the credit crunch. Other proposals include the ‘London Living Wage’ which has already secured over £25 million for low-paid workers in the capital.

The panel was chaired by Dr Luke Bretherton, who played a key role in London Citizens’ recent assembly (Church Times, 4 December). At the event, he secured a commitment from the Conservative Treasury team to a cap on storecard interest rates, and a review of other ‘egregious’ financial products

Endorsing the call for an interest rate cap, economic commentator Andrew Dilnot urged church leaders to speak out more clearly on the issue. The conference heard testimony from individuals and churches affected by the credit crunch, including those trapped in loans with spiralling penalties and charges.

In a keynote lecture, Prof John Milbank that London Citizens’ measures were “only the start” of what was needed. Milbank argued that economics was gripped by a fundamentally mistaken view of the human person, as if they were “wholly driven by self-interest”. The truth, he claimed, was more complex: “we are created good, we are sinful, and we are capable of being perfected by the grace of Jesus Christ”.

The conference ended with a presentation by Phillip Blond. Blond recently launched the ResPublica think-tank, and its ‘red Tory’ philosophy is having a growing influence on David Cameron’s thinking. Blond argued that since the 1970s, the growing wealth in British society had failed to trickle down from rich to poor. He blamed this on the growth of both ‘monopoly capitalism’ and the welfare state – to the exclusion of the ‘Big Society’ for which Cameron is now calling.

Commenting on the day, CTC Director the Revd Angus Ritchie said “This event proves that Biblical teaching – on wealth in general and usury in particular – has huge relevance to today’s economy. Today, we heard of the impact this is already having on the political debate. If the church heeds this call to action, the impact could be even greater.”

Amma Asante on her summer internship

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Amma Asante is a student at the University of East London. She served as a Jellicoe Intern in July, developing the CitySafe campaign in Newham.  This is her blogpost on the summer placement…
I had the opportunity to join London Citizens during the summer (month of July 2009). As part of a group, our aim was to further the cause of the CitySafe campaign in Newham by building and developing relationships with member and non-member institutions in that area by engaging with members and non-members through conversations with shopkeepers. Our specific aim was to encourage as many Green Street shopkeepers and shop managers to sign up to the CitySafe charter and put forward their shops to be CitySafe Havens. We therefore had the opportunity to discuss the issues surrounding the CitySafe campaign with those working in and managing shops and also allowed us to discover what the experiences of these shopkeepers were, and as such to discern where the greatest sympathies with the campaign lay. We also had a neighbourhood walk as a means of keeping people up-to-date and raising an awareness of the activities of London Citizens and establishing a visible presence in the area. By the end of our internship, we had signed up sixteen shops in which more shops signed up to be havens as the weeks progressed.
Amma continues to be a Jellicoe Intern – now working to get students at her University involved in the campaign.  She’ll be posting on this as the action develops.

They are the champions…

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Our local partner churches scooped a series of awards last night as London Citizens celebrated another amazing year of action.  Capt Nick Coke of Stepney Salvation Army was East London’s Leader of the Year, and St Paul’s Shadwell was London Citizens’ Congregation of the Year.  Josephine Mukanjira won the presigious Founders’ Award for her work on developing the community organising team at St Martin’s Church, Plaistow. 

Two of the Contextual Theology Centre’s Fellows – Dr Luke Bretherton of King’s College London and Dr Maurice Glasman of London Metropolitan University – were jointly recognised as London Citizens’ Political Strategists of the Year for their work on the anti-usury campaign.  Both will be speaking at this Saturday’s Study Day on Christian responses to the Credit Crunch.

Congratulations to one and all!

Some reflections two months in

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Over the next few weeks we’ll have blog posts from a number of this year’s Jellicoe Interns.  Ian Vijay Bhullar begins the series.  As he explains, it’s not always easy to give a quick answer to the question ‘what do you do as a Jellicoe intern?’…

As a Jellicoe Community intern, I aim to engage the members of the St. Mary’s church, Cable Street, in community organising; I volunteer at events (like the 2000-strong London Citizens assembly at the Barbican); and I have chosen to conduct political research and attract supporters for the Sanctuary Pledge campaign with London Citizens’ Citizens for Sanctuary team.

But what does community organising actually aim to do? This was the question that really puzzled me during my earliest weeks here. What I’ve learned is that it actually can’t be defined by what it seeks to achieve: community organising is a process-of bringing people together so that they can actually develop the power necessary to achieving a wide variety of ends, most of which will only be fully conceived once we’re all together and able to discuss our interests. But in being a process without intrinsic ends, it’s by no means empty. Most importantly, it’s about empowering people, by bringing them and their broad networks and communities to campaign together, to deal with the challenges they face on a daily basis. Secondly, and very significantly in a city as diverse as London, it helps to bring people who otherwise wouldn’t meet into situations where they proudly cooperate for shared goods. In doing these two things, the process of community organising helps members to make massive leaps in campaigns like those for a living wage, affordable housing, financial literacy and city safe-havens.

I’ll be keeping you updated with my work as a Jellicoe Community intern, as it progresses.

Actions speak louder…

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A lot of ink has been spilt on the subject of the credit crunch.  Last night, 2000 Londoners showed that actions speak louder than words.  The London Citizens assembly, on ‘Taking responsibility in the economic crisis’ won commitments from politicians and business leaders.

Boris Johnson reaffirmed his backing for a London Living Wage – now paid to all the Greater London Authority staff and contractors – and an earned amnesty for undocumented migrants.

Executives at Barclays, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, Linklaters and KPMG, some of whom were initially deeply reluctant to pay a Living Wage , were recognised as Living Wage Employers.  They said the wage made business sense, as well as moral sense.  Ironically, only the Corporation of London is pleading poverty and refusing to pay £7.60 rate – though, after powerful testimony from an employee on a lower rate of pay, Cllr Mark Boleat promised this was under review.

Treasury spokesmen for the Tories, Labour and LibDems all promised to work with London Citizens on their five-point plan, which makes a controversial call for a cap on interest rates drawing on Scriptural teaching against ‘usury’.  Already the Conservatives have agreed to a cap on storecard rates, and they will work with London Citizens to identify other financial products where regulation could apply.

Jellicoe Community members have been at the heart of this assembly, and will be blogging on their work, and their impressions of last night’s event, in the days ahead.

Sen and Citizen Organising

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On Thursday, Nobel laureate Amartya Sen addressed a packed Sheldonian Theatre in Oxford at an event to mark the publication of his The Idea of Justice.  At a seminar that afternoon, he discussed the issues the book raises with a range of academics, policy makers and activists.  They will be available this week on podcast – and include contributions by James Purnell and Angus Ritchie on the importance of powerful local communities.  Angus’ talk makes particular reference to the forthcoming London Citizens assembly (see previous post).

Boris, Vince, Tessa, 2000 Londoners… and you?

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Students from our partner universities – Oxford, East London and Notre Dame – will be joining the floor team for Wednesday’s historic London Citizens assembly.  Boris Johnson, Vince Cable and Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell will all be there.  Let us know if you want to join the team.

The following Monday (30th) at 2pm, London Citizens’ Maurice Glasman will be speaking at the Jellicoe Seminar at Magdalen College on Red Tories, Blue Labour: The impact of Citizen Organising on British politics.  All students and staff are welcome.

Join us on December 1st

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The 2009/10 Jellicoe community has five members – Theo and Megan from the University of Notre Dame and Ian from Keble College, Oxford are part of the residential community, working in Shadwell, while Rebecca (Balliol College, Oxford) and Amma (University of East London) work in Hackney and Newham.  They are all under the oversight of Contextual Theology Centre director Angus Ritchie – and seek to engage CTC’s partner congregations in broad-based action for social change.
You are warmly invited to join them, and their partner churches, in worship and celebration at the Royal Foundation of St Katharine on 1st December at 7.30pm. Let us know if you plan to attend.

Introducing the Jellicoe Community

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Welcome to the Jellicoe Blog!  It describes the work of a community of interns who live and work in East London.  Drawn from Oxford, Notre Dame and East London Universities, they work with congregations in London Citizens – the capital’s broad-based community organisation.  Community (or citizen) organising is the movement which inspired and formed Barack Obama, and is having an increasing impact in the UK.

The community is a project of the Contextual Theology Centre, and is inspired by the life and witness of Fr Basil Jellicoe, priest and social reformer.

UPDATE: Plans are now afoot to create a broader Jellicoe Community, building on and extending beyond our internship programme.


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