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.

Will the first be last? New research project announced

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

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

Will the first be last? will include

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

– seminars, reports and articles

– materials for study groups

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

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

By Angus Ritchie, Director

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.

Big Society Needs Big Religion

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

Could this be the church to calm secularist outrage?

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

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

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


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