T4CG Conference 2013
The Together for the Common Good in September 2013 was a key stage in the T4CG research process. Entitled ‘Understanding how faith-based collaboration works best for the Common Good’, it was a significant gathering of 170 leading figures from across traditions, sectors and interests. We have set out below a report of the proceedings.
In these difficult times, with increasing centralisation of power, dispossession of the marginalised and pressure on the disadvantaged along with rising social fragmentation, the need for a rebalancing and reconciliation in society is more urgent than ever. Churches and faith-based organisations have long worked side by side with communities to improve people’s lives. In the new financial and social context this task will be most effective where the different Christian denominations and other faiths work together, and so there is a pressing requirement on the different traditions to collaborate.
Who was there? In what was an unusually diverse gathering, over 170 delegates including activists, organisers, leaders of social justice organisations and on-the-ground practitioners, clergy, lay people, academics, MPs, commentators and policy makers came together for this intensive working weekend designed to make maximum use of their joint expertise. It is not often that such a mix of interests comes together in one place. Uniquely, the conference integrated contemporary players in faith-based social justice together with several key figures with first hand working experience of the Sheppard Worlock years. See page 8 for a list of organisations represented.
Themes A flavour of what was discussed is laid out the Sessions Digest below. The three days were intense and proﬁtable, characterised by a shared awareness of the growing crisis of poverty and social fragmentation. Discussions centred on the principles underpinning the complementary Christian social justice traditions; definitions of the Common Good and the content of Catholic Social Teaching; the role faith-based organisations can play within civil society to rebalance the centralisation of power in the state and the markets; the direction of ecumenism; the extent of the problems among the dispossessed and marginalised in the UK; the relationship between faith and politics; the nuts and bolts of collaboration; what action is required and where and how this will be most effective – and much else besides.
The overall T4CG project is informed by current and past examples of joint working, drawing on the Anglican, Catholic and Free Church social justice traditions and is inspired by the legacy of the Sheppard Worlock years. The project consists not only of the conference but also the T4CG research process (January 2013 - January 2014) and at least one publication planned for late 2014/early 2015. The project is guided by a Steering Group of six: Tim Livesey, Revd Dr Peter McGrail, Rt Revd Stephen Platten (Chair), Professor Hilary Russell, Revd Professor Nicholas Sagovsky and Jenny Sinclair (née Sheppard). The project is operating on a very limited budget and is supported by Access 4 Trust, Hymns Ancient and Modern, Josephine Butler Trust, Liverpool Hope University, Garfield Weston Foundation, Owen Family Trust, Sisters of Mercy, P H Holt Foundation, Church Urban Fund, anonymous donors and The Tablet and Pastoral Review.
The T4CG research process The conference was designed to generate material to feed into the T4CG research process, which is exploring how people of different Christian traditions, other faiths and their secular allies can work better together side by side with communities for the common good. T4CG addresses practical collaboration and aims to identify useful strategies to support the churches and faith-based organisations as they forge stronger and better partnerships to work for the common good.
The conference schedule was intensive, with a series of prepared talks, open debate plus two working sessions, for groups of 10-12 delegates, which examined past and present-day case studies. As a briefing tool, delegates were provided on arrival with a booklet containing a brief summary of the preliminary findings from the T4CG research process so far. Time for networking, worship and reflection was built into the packed programme. With refreshment breaks taking place alongside ten organisations exhibiting in a marketplace, the conference provided a dynamic forum for the exchange of good practice for the diverse group attending.
Working Groups sessions on two consecutive days captured delegates’ responses to a systematic set of questions designed to feed into the T4CG research process. Delegates were pre-assigned to groups in terms of expertise, denomination, age and gender to ensure the balance and diversity of the membership. Questions centred on ‘the nuts and bolts’ and the critical factors that make collaboration work best. Delegates were asked to consider the ‘do’s and don’ts’ of partnership, lessons learned that can shape future practice, emerging issues, resources needed, the advantages and disadvantages of collaboration, how church leaders can support local activity, what makes faith-based collaboration distinctive.
Material The range and depth of expertise among those present provided valuable material. Recordings of all sessions captured every discussion and these are now feeding into the remaining three months of the research, which in turn will inform a publication planned for late 2014/early 2015 as well as other possible outcomes. All conference speeches are being transcribed and full texts are being made available along with video of all sessions here.
Outcomes The gathering was profitable not only from the point of view of the research process. The T4CG Steering Group made it clear that T4CG is not an organisation and is not positioning itself to lead, but rather it intended that the conference might serve to inspire and provide a crucible for new initiatives coming from delegates. This proved to be the case: a range of practical resolutions were made as delegates voiced increasing indignation at growing inequality alongside a passion to work together with disadvantaged and dispossessed communities.
With so many resolutions announced, only a flavour is possible here. Numerous delegates, many of whom are in a position to influence decisions, voiced their commitment to work together to generate a nationwide movement to out-trade pay day lenders and develop the network of alternative financial institutions such as credit unions and debt advice services. There was widespread and vocal support for the campaigns for the Living Wage and against the Bedroom Tax as well as initiatives to develop the articulation and understanding of the Common Good in different contexts. Others felt drawn to set up social enterprises and start grassroots collaborations. Delegates from all Christian traditions expressed delight at discovering the resource of Catholic Social Teaching and pledged to learn more and bring an understanding of it to their own communities and networks.
Feedback Delegates gave valuable and detailed feedback on the conference, which is being analysed and will add into the research. Overall the majority of delegates rated the gathering as ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ and when asked what might be the way forward, there was a clear appetite for further activity with recurring desires for ‘Harnessing the energy and influencing the political agenda’; ‘Maintaining the energy generated by the conference’; ‘Developing networks’; ‘Follow-up information’; ‘Being action focused’; ‘Moving towards more inter-faith and secular engagement’.
Delegates’ comments: “Inspirational and motivational.” “It has rekindled my own commitment to the Common Good, and to encourage our churches to get involved, to increase awareness.” “Stimulating; recovery of vision.” “It was inspirational and encouraging to carry on.” “Invigorated and disturbed by the input.” “Amazing network of key leaders in this field.” “Made some good connections, had some wonderful conversations and certainly some new work will begin as a result.” “The conference struck me in many ways: in particular in feeling personally very challenged to speak up more and to act and not just think about the common good and social justice.” “I came with an academic interest – which was fed – but I left wanting to take some action.”
1. Pilgrimage To mark the inspiration underpinning the Together for the Common Good project, the gathering began with a pilgrimage walk along Hope Street, which joins Liverpool’s two iconic cathedrals. Delegates were welcomed by Canon Myles Davies at the Anglican Cathedral’s Lady Chapel, where delegates joined in a prayer, sent by Archbishop John Sentamu and led by Revd Professor Nicholas Sagovsky. There was a pause to see the Sheppard Memorial before setting off on the 30 minute walk. Half way down Hope Street delegates stopped at the 15ft bronze Sheppard Worlock ‘Better Together’ monument. At the other end of Hope Street, Canon Tony O’Brien welcomed delegates to the Catholic Metropolitan Cathedral, showing delegates the Unity chapel and the tomb of Archbishop Derek Worlock before everyone joined in a prayer in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, sent for the occasion by Archbishop Vincent Nichols and led by Revd Dr Peter McGrail. [no video available]
2. Welcome and Opening Welcoming delegates to Liverpool Hope University, Vice-Chancellor Professor Gerald Pillay acknowledged that the University owed its foundation and ecumenical heart to “two great visionaries”, after whom the University’s Sheppard Worlock Library is named. Formally opening the conference, the Chair of the T4CG Steering Group, Bishop Stephen Platten noted that “ecumenism began with human solidarity…we have to seek ways of making the gospel work for our common humanity”. [Video/download text here]
In a quick fire opening session chaired by Roger Phillips of BBC Radio Merseyside, delegates and speakers then introduced themselves and their motivation for coming, with many expressing how impressed they were by “the collective knowledge and experience present.” A list of organisations represented is on page 8. [Video only here].
3. Keynote Address: Together for the Common Good? Dr Anna Rowlands set out the guiding principles of The Common Good, saying “At its root politics and faith are mutual expressions of the question: what life do we wish - or in our case are we called - to live together?....The common good is about human value rather than human function….We need the language of the common good because it seeks to be a way of speaking and acting that unites rather than divides. It is in its origins and essence a language of relationship…The politics of the common good is generous and spacious.” Quoting Jim Wallis she said: “It’s time to find a better vision of our life together”. Dr Rowlands made common good thinking concrete by focusing on her particular interest, immigration, both as a way of sharing her passion for the common good and to illustrate just how challenging it can be to current government policy. [Video/download text here]
4. A Challenging Scenario: Liverpool in the 20th Century To inform thinking and practice today, delegates were encouraged to consider the Sheppard Worlock years as a case study and to look at the post industrial city of Liverpool, with its range of specific challenges, as an example. The session was chaired by Professor Hilary Russell, with three speakers: [Video/download text here]
- Revd Dr Peter McGrail, Head of Theology at Liverpool Hope University, sketched the history of bitter sectarianism in Liverpool, pointing out the factors behind Liverpool “not going down the Belfast route.” Explaining that in spite of their predecessors’ ecumenical progress, Sheppard and Worlock “had been repeatedly warned to leave well alone” and “not to demonstrate an over-enthusiastic promotion of Christian unity.” He said that the unique characteristic they brought was their friendship, together with the “combination of Sheppard’s tradition of urban ministry and Worlock’s formation in Catholic Social Teaching.”
- John Flamson, now Director of Partnerships and Innovation at Liverpool University, painted a vivid picture of the mood during the “bleak” years. A regeneration expert who has overseen investment in the region across the past 30 years, he said it felt “as if this city had been ravaged.” Acknowledging “the critical intervention” of Sheppard and Worlock both behind the scenes with business leaders and at street level with communities, he said “people need hope before they need a plan” in order for regeneration to take hold. He added that they “had recognised and celebrated… what the people had forgotten: the pride in themselves…they understood the biblical image of dwelling in the city….not just residing in it but being in it as God dwells in man.”
- Chief Executive of Liverpool Vision, Max Steinberg worked alongside Lord Heseltine when he was Minister for Merseyside. He said the pervading issue in communities had been fear: “fear about not understanding how you could bring forward your children in the context of a city that was failing”. Drawing on his own Jewish tradition, he said, “the antidote to fear… is faith, a faith that knows the dangers but never loses hope.” He urged “more church leaders and synagogue leaders [to] express their views” and “bring forward [the] voices that need to be heard”. “We have to discover a national mission. We need a mature discussion and, if politicians can’t have it, church leaders must have it.”
5. Question Time, chaired by Roger Phillips, was a lively and at times fractious session. [Video/download transcript here]
- Frank Field MP, answering a question about the role of ecumenism said, “I think the whole of the ecumenical movement has been a demonstration of the politics of decline.” He commented that there wasn’t time for churches to discuss “what the common good is or what social justice is….we live in a society where the bottom is falling out” and what was needed was “very simple programmes which people of goodwill can group behind”, citing the Living Wage as an example.
- This was echoed by Neil Jameson of Citizens UK who commented that “most unequal societies have the greatest social difficulties” and that too much time is spent discussing the issues “and not enough on the practical tools” such as how to organise and persuade those in power to do the right thing. Commenting that “people working together is just good for its own sake” he added “it’s better to initiate than protest: if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
- “When we see injustices in the world we will march,” said Claire Dove, Chair of Social Enterprise UK and Chair of Liverpool Fairness Commission, “but we have to be at the table.” She added, “The measure of the church is if it will stand up and be the voice of the people on the ground.” She agreed that working together for social justice is the best way forward for ecumenism, but only if the outcome is “something substantial that moves our communities on, and makes things better for the lives of the many.” She challenged the churches to look at how they use their wealth, saying, “procurement is one of the major ways in which you can change people's lives”.
- Robin Millar, a Fellow of the Centre for Social Justice and the only Conservative on the panel disagreed with Frank Field’s comment that self-interest is necessary for successful politics, saying that “financial self-interest is one of the pillars of macroeconomics that got us into the mess we’re in now” and added that businesses should “demonstrate more responsibility in the communities in which they operate”. Doubting that “the existing political structures” can deliver, he suggested “trying your local authority…” since they now “have discretion over roughly three quarters of their income.”
- Revd Phil Jump, Regional Minister at the North West Baptist Association, said, with the General Election in sight, the church should stand up and say, ‘this is what common good is about.” He added that what struck him about the Sheppard Worlock relationship was “that willingness to forge partnerships that some thought were unthinkable” and now we should “be willing to form relationships….with those we disagree with.” His comments on ecumenism challenged some of his fellow church leaders as he commented that the term “possibly says more about where we've come from than where we are.”
6. Faith, politics and the Common Good: The motivation of Sheppard and Worlock, explored the formation of the two bishops whose ground breaking partnership led to much of the joint working between the churches that we now take for granted. Chaired by Clifford Longley, the session’s three speakers showed how influences on the bishops led to different but complementary strengths and skills, and demonstrated that they “were both loyal to their own traditions…asserting a basic Christian position which includes ‘a bias to the poor’.” Crucially, both had been formed by engaging “directly with local people at their level on their agendas.” [Video/download text here]
- The Rt Revd Rupert Hoare described Sheppard’s “driven” style of leadership, learnt through his education, captaining England and early experiences with politics and the media. An evangelical conversion in Cambridge taught him how “Old Testament prophets linked the knowledge of God with justice for the poor.” His immersion in the “heady world of South Bank religion” led to a key role in ‘Faith in the City’ and his lifelong commitment to working against a range of carefully targeted issues of injustice, whether it was unemployment, apartheid, racism or poverty. His journey was an unlikely one, from evangelical Christian to ecumenical partnership with Worlock, whose formation was explored under the title ‘Sharp Compassion.’
- Pat Jones said Worlock took the view that “compassion must be specific, not general. It is the particular crisis which calls forth effective reaction.” His analytical skill and political astuteness was influenced by his parents’ political interests and his years as a Church diplomat. Acknowledging his devotion to Catholic teaching and in particular Vatican II, she highlighted the Young Christian Workers movement as the primary influence, where members were exhorted “to transform the world around them” using the method “See, judge, act.”
- Dr Eliza Filby brought the sharp analysis of the historian, calling them “messenger boys, heavily conscious of the voiceless with an outward, rather than inward, view of faith and the church”. She explored their relationship to local and national government during the Thatcher era, then expanding on the nature of the relationship between church and politics. She noted the “immersive nature of their ministry”, involving careful consultation with communities and then articulating their concerns “to the Church, government and the wider public”. Concluding that “the Worlock Sheppard partnership does offer a blueprint for modern churchmanship” she challenged the conference, saying, “how can you find a common language and a mode of action that all faiths (and none) can embrace?”
7. Better Together? Where Are We Now, What Has Changed? In an after dinner debate, chaired by John Battle, two speakers drew on stages in European history to paint a picture of a country in need of dramatic political change. [Video/download text here]
- Phillip Blond, Director of think-tank ResPublica, unsettled many by saying that “the overwhelming majority of people believe in nothing… we must be clear that this is what we face.” Referring to Charles Taylor’s book ‘A Secular Age’, he said “people stopped believing in God when Christianity stopped being about the incarnate world out there, and took up residence in the head.” His view was although the bishops “did a great work, they were already out of date” and that they had lost to a “philosophy that didn’t believe in the common good.” He asked “what can we do to recover common values if they have genuinely gone?” Arguing that “the church must stop being apologetic” and endorsing Archbishop Justin Welby’s ‘War on Wonga’ campaign, he advocated that the Church “has to become a new platform for mass social activity, mass practice.”
- Lord Glasman, adviser to Ed Miliband, developed the discussion about usury and said “Like Marvin Gaye, we have to ask ourselves “What’s going on?” “8 million people went for loans last year…because they don’t earn enough.” Describing “an unbelievable process of centralisation of power and wealth in the market and the state” he said what was needed was “a politics of the Common Good that digs deeply into our history and into the things that we know…Tradition is the new.” He said Sheppard and Worlock “resurrected a dead tradition and gave it life.” Like them he said, “we need to build a reconciliation of interests between capital and labour, between faithful and secular. It is going to be built around the living wage, an interest rate cap, building alternative banking institutions.”
8. Better Together Today: Sharing Common Good Language was chaired by John Battle, bridging the session the night before. Three speakers responded to what they had heard the previous day and were particularly challenged by the comments about ecumenism and the impatience of many with the role of the Church. [Video/download text here]
- The Reverend Ruth Gee, this year’s President of the Methodist Conference, countered the perception that the churches are not doing enough, saying, “We are doing it now. We are doing it differently because we have to do it differently.” She spoke of the importance of “prophetic voices” and said “We have changed things” referring to the 'Truth and Lies About Poverty' campaign involving Methodists, Baptists, the United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland working together. She went on to say “‘I am’ rather than ‘I do’ is at the heart of social action. I am in a relationship with God. It transforms and directs our responses to situations”, adding “listening well, to a variety of voices, especially to those quite often silenced is essential.”
- Dame Mary Tanner, President for Europe of the World Council of Churches and a major player in the ecumenical field, gave a courageous and moving speech and responding to criticisms aired the previous day that ‘ecumenism’ was irrelevant, said “I knew I’d be challenged. I just didn’t know quite how much.” Referring to those working on ecumenical dialogue, she said, “We’re not where we were. Perhaps it’s a crisis of possibility.” She had become convinced overnight that “we need a more realistic analysis of what’s going on in this country” and made a plea for people of faith “to open themselves to the world.” “Some churches have retreated into narrow identities…in many cases we build higher walls to protect ourselves.”
- Bishop David Hamid, Anglican Co-Chair of IARCCUM (the International Anglican Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission) responded to the previous day’s criticisms with a defence, saying if ecumenism is “primarily about navel gazing, and about inward-focussed issues, while the world is in need of engagement by the Churches in real life and death issues…. it has no place in our discourse today.” “We Christians are in the same business. We must avoid competition. We don’t need to agree with everything in order to get on with building the Kingdom together.” He praised the new leadership and the “prophetic joint initiative” of Pope Francis and Archbishop Justin, hinting that they will be “challenging the assumption of an economy that treats people merely as consumers.”
9. 90 Second Challenge – from motivation to practical action With Roger Phillips in the chair, the mood in this penultimate session was one of reinvigorated commitment and a sense of urgency for the common task ahead, as delegates came forward to share their personal resolutions (referred to in ‘Outcomes’ above). Everyone also had the opportunity to record their resolve in a sealed letter to themselves setting out their individual commitment which T4CG will post back to each delegate in three months’ time. [Video only here].
10. The Closing Address In the final session chaired by Revd Professor Nicholas Sagovsky, Archbishop Bernard Longley said that the common good was about dialogue and common witness and “the dignity of the human person…rooted…in the image and likeness of God.” Quoting Pope Paul VI’s ‘characteristics of dialogue’ he outlined: “clearness, meekness, trust and prudence”, suggesting these can help when we “set out to work together…with the humility to seek a real partnership of equals.” He added that “when sin influences our relationships with one another and with God it always has the effect of dividing us from others.” Quoting from Sheppard and Worlock’s 1988 publication, ‘Better Together’, he said, “The sharing of minds is at least as important as the sharing of resources. That will come only through knowledge and trust, which result from habitual sharing. We do believe that…we do it better together.” [Video/download text here].
The Together for the Common Good Conference has shown convincing evidence of commitment, expertise and energy, in relevant networks and organisations, to pick up the challenge to work together for the common good with a renewed sense of urgency and mission. What happens next depends on the actions of each of us. In these difficult times, the need for a rebalancing of power and reconciliation of interests is more urgent than ever. In the stark reality of the current economic and political context, empowering civil society will be central. This great task will be energised where people of different Christian denominations, faith communities and their secular allies collaborate, working together alongside their communities. What are you going to do?
A list of organisations represented by those who attended – not necessarily in an official capacity
Access 4 Trust, Anglican Diocese in Europe, Anglican Roman Catholic Dialogue, USA, Archbishop of Canterbury's Representative to the Holy See, Archdiocese of Birmingham, Archdiocese of Liverpool, ARCIC III, Austin Smith Memorial Fund, BBC Radio Merseyside, Better Together Trust, Blackburne House, Broadbent Studio, Cambridge Conversations, Cardiff Citizens, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Cardinal Hume Centre, London, Caring Services Department, Diocese of Hallam, Caritas Social Action Network, Cathedral Innovation Centres, Catholic Association for Racial Justice, Catholic Bishops Conference, Centre for Social Justice, Centre for Theology and Public Issues, University of Otago, New Zealand, Chemin Neuf Community, Christians Against Poverty, Church Action on Poverty, Church of Scotland's Priority Areas Programme, Church Urban Fund, Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Churches Together in Cumbria, Churches Together in England, Churches Together in the Merseyside Region, Citizens UK, Community and Youth Work Programme, Durham University, Conservative Christian Fellowship , Contextual Theology Centre , Department of History, Kings College London, Department of Sociology at the University of Exeter, Department of Theology, Philosophy and Religious Studies at Liverpool Hope University , Diocese of Carlisle, Diocese of Chichester , Diocese of Croydon, Diocese of Durham, Diocese of Ely, Diocese of Gloucester, Diocese of Leicester, Diocese of Liverpool, Diocese of Ripon and Leeds, Diocese of Southwark Urban and Public Policy, Diocese of Wakefield, Division of Mission and Public Affairs, Church of England, Durham University, East Durham Circuit, Methodist Church, European Institute for Urban Affairs, Liverpool John Moores University, Facolta Teologica Dell'Emilia Romagna in Bologna, Italy, Faith and Citizenship Programme, London Metropolitan University, Faith Based Groups Project, London, Faith in Community Scotland, Faithonomics, Families and Communities, Forest Heath District Council, Focolare Community in Liverpool, Birmingham Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education, Hope Community Project, Wolverhampton, Hope+ Food Bank, Housing Justice, Human rights mission in Mombasa Kenya, Hymns Ancient & Modern, IARCCUM, Independent Monitoring Board, HMP Holloway, Industrial Christian Fellowship, Institute of Irish Studies, University of Liverpool, Inter Faith Northampton Diocese, International and Social Affairs Christian Network, Cambridge, Istituto Superiore di Scienze Religiose "B.C.Ferrini" - Modena Italy, Joint Public Issues Team: Baptist, Methodist and United Reformed Church working together, Judicial Appointments Commission, Justice and Peace, Archdiocese of Liverpool, King's College, London, L'Arche UK, Liverpool Archdiocese, Liverpool Archdiocese Justice and Peace Group, Liverpool Cathedral, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral of Christ the King, Liverpool City Council, Education and Children's Services, Liverpool City Council, Fairness and Tackling Poverty, Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool Hope University Chaplaincy Team, Liverpool Methodist District, Liverpool University, Liverpool Vision, London Churches Group for Social Action, London Citizens, M B Reckitt Trust , Medaille Trust, Mersey Synod of the United Reformed Church, Merseyside and Region Churches’ Ecumenical Assembly (MARCEA) 1989-1995., Methodist Church/URC Inter Faith Relations Group, Migrant Workers North West, Millar Consulting, Million Minutes, Mission in the Economy Merseyside, Missionary Society of St Columban, Multi-faith chaplaincy at Birmingham University, National Justice and Peace Network, National Youth Work Programme, Frontier Youth Trust, Near Neighbours, Near Neighbours Bradford, Oldham and Burnley, Neighbours in Poplar, North Western Baptist Association, Nugent Care, Office of the Leader of the Opposition, P H Holt Foundation, Pax Christi, Porticus UK, Princes Park Ward, Liverpool City Council, ResPublica, Rights & Humanity UK, SCM Press, Shrewsbury House Youth and Community Centre, Social Enterprise UK, Social Justice Programme, Diocese of Salisbury., St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, Sustainable Brampton, The Anglican Centre in Rome, The Craighead Institute of Life and Faith, Glasgow, The Labour Party, The Lincoln Theological Institute, Department of Religions and Theology, University of Manchester, The Methodist Conference, The Northumberland Anti-Poverty Commission., The Passage, The Passionist Order, The Tablet, UNISON, University of East London, University of Liverpool, Von Hugel Institute, Wakefield and District City of Sanctuary, West Cumbria Child Poverty Action Group, West Yorkshire Destitute Asylum Network, William Temple Foundation, World Council of Churches , Young Christian Workers, Zacchaeus 2000.