BLOGS

With people, not just for them

The Centre for Theology & Community l

Applications for the 2021-22 Buxton Leadership Programme are open until 26 April. One of this year’s participants, Josh Price, blogs on his experience of the programme. 

For me, there were three immediate attractions to the Buxton Leadership Programme.  First, I was tired of hearing hands-tied, party political-answers to straight forward questions on breakfast politics programmes. I wanted to discover if honesty and integrity could prevail in Westminster. Second, I loved the idea of stepping out from Church, building relationships with neighbours, and seeing practical change first-hand. And third, I didn’t know what to do long-term and was drawn towards an opportunity to really explore what God might be calling me into.

In my Parliamentary placement, I’ve been working alongside Tim Farron MP and the Liberal Democrats. Through St. Mary’s Walthamstow, I’ve seen the first fruits of Community Organising campaigns centred on the climate crisis, racial justice, and parking mayhem.

Although I’ve tried and developed many new skills this year – writing Parliamentary speeches and Early Day Motions, crafting listening campaigns, managing an MP’s diary, tailoring one-to-one conversations – the lessons and reflections which will stick with me for life are those which aren’t easily summarised on a CV.

Politics shouldn’t weigh us down.

Timothy Keller, in Generous Justice, writes, “If a person has grasped the meaning of God’s grace in his heart, he will do justice”. Wanting to fix injustice is the natural overflow of God’s love for us.

In a Buxton Programme seminar with Dr. Anna Rowlands, a member of the six-person panel which presented Pope Francis’ recent encyclical ‘Fratelli Tutti’,  we discussed how, unpruned, this intrinsic Christian desire can make us feel lost and confused. Faced by the scale of the world’s shortcomings, we feel a weighty responsibility to fix everything. And we question if we’re on a path to achieve that:

What if I worked for the United Nations?

Maybe I could be an MP.

Tearfund?

Do I need a Masters?

Maybe I need to learn Arabic

…and Spanish.

The Buxton Programme is named after Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, William Wilberforce’s successor as leader of the slavery abolition movement in Parliament. Christians often look to Wilberforce as an example of how to put faith in action through politics, and Wilberforce said this: “God Almighty has set before me two Great Objects: the suppression of the Slave Trade and the Reformation of Manners.”

Two things. That’s it? I think I could handle two things. Maybe God isn’t expecting me to heal the world of all its problems individually. Phew, that’s liberating.

What’s in my hand?

You may think ‘yes, but those are two fairly HUGE things’. Well, you’re right. But William Wilberforce was an MP prior to becoming a Christian and receiving this commission. Likewise, in Exodus, Moses told God that he’s picked the wrong guy to lead the Israelites out of Egypt – ‘How could I do that?!’

God asked Moses, “What’s in your hand?”. A shepherd’s staff. The most ordinary, common thing…an embellished stick. A stick which led the Israelites out of Egypt.

We often convince ourselves we’re not cut out for the fight. We need to have better qualifications, to have taken a different path. But the question the Buxton Programme has taught me to ask is not ‘what don’t I have?’, it’s ‘what’s in my hand?’

Community Organising encourages similar questions. Where does our power lie? Who do we have relationships with? We only pursue campaigns which we believe have a genuine chance of winning. Big problems are broken down into smaller issues and tailored to the resources, relationships, skillsets, and self-interests of the community.

In Walthamstow, we broke the big problem of racial justice into the smaller issue of ethnic minority representation. Our listening campaign brought up discussions about representation in football management, a hugely important issue but one beyond our current capacity to affect. What we did have was several artists, a borough famed for creative industries, and a community left frustrated by a new mural painted by the Council.

From this anger, ‘We Are Walthamstow’ – a team working to create a constantly changing community mural to display the stories of friends and family members who are often underrepresented – was born.

With people, not just for them.

When I applied for the Buxton Programme, I hadn’t fully understood what Community Organising was. I assumed it was a Church-led response which provides a service for the community to plug a gap left by people in power: starting up a parent-toddler group, a language café for refugees, or an after-school football club.

But Community Organising crafts actions with people, abandons preconceived ideas, lets the shared interests of local people drive the approach, and calls for a response from the powerholders.

In February, a resident from the estate opposite St. Mary’s phoned, exasperated that the Council had surrounded their homes with double yellow lines, towed their vehicles, and forced them into Pay & Display zones. It was extremely uplifting to hear that they trusted the Church, our network of institutions, and realised they would be stronger with the whole of Walthamstow in their corner.

It’s not difficult to get out of bed for campaigns like this. They’re always exciting because, emerging from strong listening campaigns, I know that it’s what the community wants to be doing. When I look around Westminster, it’s obvious that the most effective politicians and policymakers are those who also realise the importance of listening.

I cannot recommend applying to the Buxton Programme enough. It is an incredible opportunity to gauge which aspects of public life motivate and inspire you, to discern where God may be inviting you to go, and to pursue political change from all angles.

For more information about the Programme, click here

Applications close on 26th April.

 

 

Conference on “A politics rooted in the people”

Community Organising, The Centre for Theology & Community l

Pope Francis’s new book Let Us Dream will be the basis for an international conference on April 15th 2021. Grassroots leaders, community organisers and academics will gather to take forward the Pope’s remarkable call for the Church to embrace “a politics rooted in the people,” with a focus on broad-based organising and “popular movements”.

The conference will be convened by CTC in partnership with Catholic institutions in the United States, European Union and United Kingdom. It will form part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of the Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD), the domestic anti-poverty program of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which empowers low-income people to participate in decisions that affect their lives, families and communities and nurtures solidarity between people living in poverty and their neighbours.

Austen Ivereigh, who helped Francis compile the book, has said that Let Us Dream contains the clearest endorsement ever by a Pope of broad-based community organising, and the “inclusive populism” it embodies. Dr Ivereigh will give a keynote address at the conference, after which there will be presentations involving grassroots leaders, community organisers and Catholic academics.  

The aim of the conference is to help the Church respond at all levels to Pope Francis’ call for engagement with popular movements, and to ensure that such engagement flows from the heart of the Church’s life and prayer.

Alongside CTC and CCHD, conference partners include Caritas Social Action Network (an agency of the Catholic Bishops Conference for England and Wales), Boston College Law School, the Centre for Catholic Social Thought and Practice, the Institute of Pastoral Studies at Loyola University in Chicago, the Katholische Hochschule für Sozialwesen in Berlin and the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (Anglo-Irish Province).

The conference will run from 1600 to 2000 UK time (0800 to 1200 Pacific Time, 1700 to 2100 Central European Time) on 15th April 2021. It will be possible to watch and to participate via webchat without any need to register. The conference programme will be available from 26th March on a dedicated conference website – www.letusdreamconference.org

 

Two exciting new job opportunities

The Centre for Theology & Community l

CTC is recruiting for two part-time lay (that is, not ordained) Mission Chaplains to work with us and our partner churches – St George-in-the-East in Shadwell and the Lombard Parish in the City of London – to build relationships with local workers. We want to particularly concentrate on building relationships with cleaners and hospitality workers, but also security guards, construction workers, and others in low-wage or insecure jobs.

We want to get to know those who work in our neighbourhoods better and understand their needs, and we want to work towards planting new worshipping communities among them. This might be an early morning Bible study, or a bilingual Mass, for example.

Chaplains will receive a lot of support and training including in the practices of community organising, and will part of the friendly and committed staff team at CTC.

For more details please download and read the advert here

Or contact the project lead, Fr Josh Harris, at josh [AT] stgeorgeintheeast [DOT] org

Crises force Choices

Community Organising, Prayer l

Fr Josh Harris, CTC’s project manager for Organising for Growth and Curate at St George-in-the-East reflects on the pandemic as a time of revelation.

Crises force choices. 

When we face adversity – whether as individuals, peoples, institutions or nations – we face choices. Scarcity of money, of opportunity, of time or energy, compels us to decide what to act on, where to add what value we can, who we treasure.

Spirituality and Action in Shadwell

Community Organising, Prayer, The Centre for Theology & Community l

Since 2015, CTC has been engaged in a partnership with St George-in-the-East to renew the parish’s life, and to help it renew others, through community organising rooted in prayer and theological reflection. Last week, in a lecture at Ridley Hall in Cambridge, Fr Richard Springer (Rector of St George-in-the-East, and Director of CTC’s Urban Leadership School) and the Revd Alanna Harris (Curate at St George-in-the-East) reflected on the relationship between spirituality and action in the parish’s life.

Places beyond the pandemic

Community Organising, Housing l

This week, members of churches and mosques in Shadwell were involved in a unique co-design event. It was the latest stage in an exciting journey of community organising for affordable homes in the area.

Angus Ritchie explains more about the work in a new report by UK Onward and Create Streets on Creating Communities: Places beyond the Pandemic. The full report – which includes a keynote address by Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick MP – is online here. Below, we reproduce Angus’ essay – with a short video telling the story of the co-design process so far…

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