Revd Dr Simon Cuff is Assistant Curate at Christ the Saviour, Ealing and a Research Associate of CTC. Here he blogs about how Community Organising and building relationships is key to everything we do…
Towards the end of last week, I was asked to turn to the person next me and discuss the mission statement of my organisation. It happened that I was sitting next to a minister from the black Pentecostal tradition. We reckoned that, as Christians, from the Pentecostal and anglican catholic traditions respectively, we should be able to come up with a mission statement that would describe the mission of both of our organisations and would suffice at least until our organisations achieve that unity of mission statements which Christ wills. We each agreed that our mission was ‘to be the body of Christ on earth, by proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed’.
Last week, I attended six days of training in community organising led by Citizens UK. An inpiring collection of pentecostal bishops, catholic and anglican priests, catholic layworkers, methodist and URC ministers, rabbis, imams, youth workers, young people and people of goodwill from across the United Kingdom devoted six days of their busy schedules to learning how to achieve effective change with and in their communities.
We learned much about how to listen to the needs of our communities, how to go about acting together to achieve change to meet those needs, as well as leaning how to reflect on whether the internal structures of our institution really serve our mission to the world.
Our experience of being trained in the art of community organising not only helped us to reflect on ourselves – on our individual interests and motivations, on what we really spend our time on, and onwhat we really motivates us and how our time is really spent within our institution. Throughout the week we challenged to reflect on how much of our internal structure is maintenance, keeping the show on the road, and how much is organised – developing leaders and building relationships within and beyond the walls of our institution.
Perhaps the most important lesson of the week came from the challenge to think about the mission statement of my organisation in conversation with a fellow Christian from another denomination. After a nearly a week of learning, reflecting and acting together, we both recognised the faithful discipleship of the other despite our denominational disagreements. The unity of Christ’s Body, the Church, may well never be achieved on earth, but if it is, it won’t only be achieved through doctrinal congress or by signing up to shared statements.
The groundwork for Christian unity will only be laid through relationship and shared action. Relationships between Christians of different denominations will enable each of us to learn who each other is, and what in our traditions must be maintained and respected in order to achieve that unity for which Christ longs. As important, and arising from, these relationships is the programme of shared action where we each learn to see how our sisters and brothers live out their faith and act in the world through their reading of the Gospel.
Six-day training with Citizens UK is not only an introduction to the art of community organising, but a lesson for the prospects of oecumenism: churches together must act for change in the world.
The benefits of engagement with community organising do not end with the prospects for oecumenism. On Tuesday, most of the trainees went together to see Selma – the movie about Dr Martin Luther King’s struggle for the right of black American to vote. During the film we saw how Dr King (himself a clergyman) called clergy from across America to come together to Selma to march for change, and how they did so. Oppressed black Americans were joined in their second march from Selma to Montgomery by clergy and religious from all denominations and ethnicities. At the end of the film, an Islamic trainee embraced me to thank me for what my fellow clergy did in America at that time. ‘Your people did great things then’, he said. Training in community organising reminds us that we still can, and must.