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In the Christmas season, as we celebrate God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ, we are thinking about how this great mystery infiltrates our life and work. In the incarnation, God not only shows us how to live but also reveals the union between the divine and the human person. But as events unfolding show, our notion of human identity has become dislocated: we have commodified nature and people, instrumentalised our relationships, and allowed technocratic systems to compromise our inner conscience.
We find ourselves in a season of geopolitical change; people are confused, looking for ways through. Tribal responses are making social fractures worse and the old political orthodoxies are breaking down. However, we believe the Common Good offers a way through that is deeply human, rooted in relationship, and is intensely practical and transformative.
In our last newsletter, Tell each other the truth, we explored the importance of listening to and learning from people with different views and life experiences to build a common life. This edition continues that theme, and celebrates how the Spirit is working so creatively through so many people across the Christian traditions and beyond, to transform society.
We're delighted that a community project, in which we were a partner, has won the WOW Educate Award in the North West: Alsop High School's Hope 2016 was a great success involving local churches, schools and community groups. We look forward to collaborating with them again in the new year on Faith 2017, a multiple partner social action focused initiative. Among our other projects, our joint venture with Bible Society, a pocket book on scripture and the Common Good, is now at design stage and is set to be published in March. We are also working with several partners to develop sessions in Common Good thinking.
For more news, take a look at T4CG in the news, the T4CG Twitter feed, and our Events listings. Finally we'd like to mention a recent keynote from T4CG's director, Jenny Sinclair, given at a conference in Oxford, Truth telling in Politics, described by Timothy Radcliffe OP as 'a courageous intervention [which] made a considerable impact.' He added that her input 'challenged me to reflect more deeply on what is meant by the Common Good and to broaden my understanding of it.'
What's going on
We cannot start with anything else except this report from Aleppo. We also reflect on how the world has got to this point, captured in this letter published in the FT. We share below just a few thoughts on the ongoing political and social turmoil.
To understand what is going on, we feel it is vital to listen and learn from all sides, not just from our own familiar sources. In 'Democratic politics in the age of Trump', Luke Bretherton stresses the need to understand power and move towards 'actively building relationship with people we don't like or find scandalous in order to "seek the welfare of the city" (Jeremiah 29.7).' And as Matthew Goodwin highlights, we should expect more upheaval across Europe in 2017, as rising inequality and cultural insecurity push voters away from established parties. Philip Booth cautions that the left will continue to lose ground until they start to empathise with their enemies and Simon Jenkins observes that 'cliches of left and right have lost all meaning'. Meanwhile, Canadian Catholic philosopher Charles Taylor talks about a renewal in politics and a democracy rooted in community and church.
Increasingly, the Common Good is being taken seriously as a way out, as Andy Walton writes in Christian Today: he says it offers an antidote to the 'anaemic vision [which] has dominated our culture for too long....the atomised notion that we are all individuals and can do as we please so long as it doesn't cause direct harm to someone else.' It's also good to see that Greenbelt has chosen the Common Good as its theme for 2017 and referenced our work in this blog.
A time of contemplation seems important now, and who better than Jean Vanier to help us understand humiliation and fear, and the need for a 'metanoia' if we are to find a way to live together. Take a look at this series of seminars recorded by Jean with Laurence Freeman OSB, a Benedictine monk, at L'Arche in Trosly, France.
This is a time for good leadership. Archbishop Justin Welby gave a must-read address in Paris recently on the common good and a shared vision for Europe for the 21st Century. A few days later in the House of Lords debate on British values, he argued that 'to apply a revisionist secularism to our notions of identity inhibits the ability to reassert the ‘deep values’ reflected in our common history .'
Philip North, Bishop of Burnley, in Heeding the voices of the popular revolution, citing both Pope Francis and Lord Glasman, urges that the C of E should do more to engage with forgotten communities, even if it changes the culture of the church itself. Fr Gary Waddington, in Estates, the poor and culture war stereotypes, tells a personal and authentic story, noting the C of E's Renewal and Reform programme commitment that funds will be made available for outer estates and other places of deprivation and dispossession.
We do not underestimate how challenging this will be. To build a church for everyone - rich and poor alike - we need to break down every wall of separation.
The barriers of a middle class church are explained in the results of the 'Church for the Poor' survey (organised by Word on the Streets with support form Church Action on Poverty and Jubilee Plus). Middle class churches wanting to engage with people who are poor will encounter difficulties if they continue with 'business as usual'. Read here how the 'hidden rules' at play can cause issues, but understanding them can help equip your church to meet this challenge. For an overview, it's worth checking the current national poverty statistics in Monitoring poverty and social exclusion 2016 just out from the New Policy Institute.
We also recommend the widely acclaimed Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, an autobiographical novel by J. D. Vance. Described by The Economist as 'a tough love analysis of the poor who back Trump....you will not read a more important book about America this year'.
Church Urban Fund is administering a new set of grants from DCLG via The Common Good Fund, an extension of the Near Neighbours programme - seed funding for local groups and organisations to address recent and long entrenched tensions in local areas between faith and ethnic communities and incidents of intolerance. Click here for more information.
While you know the activities within your own sector well, other Christian traditions may have specialist knowledge and reach into different areas. In this newsletter we regularly highlight examples of how the different church traditions engage with marginalised communities, from the Salvation Army to Caritas Social Action Network, from Cinnamon Network to the St Vincent de Paul Society. In this edition, we are spotlighting three stories highlighting very different expressions of church response:
The potential of the fast growing megachurch sector to help with community cohesion and integration is outlined in this short report on social engagement by London’s megachurches by Heather Buckingham and Andrew Davies (University of Birmingham).
The 'urban missionaries' movement is expanding too: read this short blog by Steve Small, in Merseybank, Manchester, who, like others in the Eden Network is choosing to live in the poorest urban areas in the country and build authentic community.
Meanwhile, Caritas Westminster is seeking to stimulate more social action in its parishes with the early pilots of Love in Action. This 7 week whole-parish immersion in Catholic social teaching operates on the see-judge-act methodology begun by Joseph Cardijn, including a parish mapping exercise, liturgy resources, group activities, workshops and school assembly materials. For more information, visit stepforwardinlove.org.
The uniqueness and challenges around Christian social action in the charity sector are examined in What a difference a faith makes, findings from research by New Philanthropy Capital and, in Doing Good a new report by Theos, which indicates that while raw church numbers have fallen, the breadth, depth and intensity of Christian social action is deepening and growing, which suggests a change in profile for the future of the church.
Getting love into the system
But work for the Common Good is much wider than social action: it is also about getting love back into systems that have lost their soul.
In this essay, ‘Love and Welfare’ Dr Simon Duffy, Director and Founder of the Centre for Welfare Reform, argues that the design of the welfare state is unloveable and that to get a better understanding of what we need, we should draw from thinkers like Jean Vanier and Simone Weil.
The dystopian prospect of an automated future is also territory where the Common Good can be helpful. A Blueprint for a Better Business brought together business leaders, NGOs, academics and politicians to debate the rise of automation in the workplace, exploring issues such as a universal basic income, the dignity of work and who is responsible for the Common Good in the workplace.
Blueprint also has been a member of the small working group behind Making Business Work for All, a report by the Centre for Social Justice. And in a recent discussion and publication, the Centre for Enterprise, Markets and Ethics had its spotlight on entrepreneurialism on God and Enterprise, while the Kingdom at Work project brought a Free Church perspective to ‘Servant Leadership’ in their current newsletter.
Meanwhile, Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK published Values: how to bring values to life in your business including stories such as a bank that responds to an ethical crisis and a fast-growing worker co-operative founded on the values of equality: the book is reviewed here and here.
Stakeholder capitalism and shareholder value was addressed in the A Better Way blog by businessman and B Corp UK champion, James Perry, and company law was scrutinised with the rigour of Catholic Social Teaching in this lecture by Professor Mark Hayes, from the Centre for Catholic Studies.
For news of activity in the financial inclusion and community finance sector we would point you to the Community Investment Coalition’s latest newsletter, and the JustFinance Foundation website. And following the Money Talks conference at Durham University on debt and financial inclusion in September we're happy to share here a keynote by Dr Anna Rowlands in which she explores the Christian attitude to debt, and how in this tradition money is seen as a public good as well as a personal possession.
Churches working together for the common good
London’s Church Leaders have launched #LondonUnited, a campaign encouraging churches representing the capital’s different Christian denominations to showcase their community work, particularly in response to the needs of refugees, asylum seekers and destitute migrants. Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, Chair of London Church Leaders, said: 'London must be a beacon for the uniting of neighbours across all barriers. We should celebrate the stories of our communities, and the actions of love that support them. Our message to future generations of Londoners is one of hope that will not falter, in the face of hatred and injustice.'
Read this blog on Christian unity by Pete Greig, founder of the 24-7 Prayer movement. He says" 'We are witnessing extraordinary - perhaps unprecedented - levels of Christian cooperation and reconciliation. My background is Free Church and yet I find myself spending a great deal of time these days serving the Catholic and Anglican traditions.'
Churches Together England held the first National Pentecostal Symposium in November, celebrating the 'quiet revolution' of the past few years, where Pentecostals and their newer Charismatic religious cousins have transcended cultural, ethnic and denominational boundaries to engage with each other in mission, in local communities and national life.
In the last edition we highlighted In Good Faith, a new national Christian-Jewish social action project involving rabbis and C of E priests. Since then Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield, has worked with Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent’s only synagogue. He and the Rabbi celebrated together the opportunity 'to contribute together to the common good of our communities out of the riches of our respective teachings and traditions, which resonate so well together.” And continuing their track record of strengthening diverse communities, Near Neighbours has helped Jewish and Muslim communities in Bradford come together through a project where places of worship host meals.
St Paul’s Institute is supporting a multiple church initiative crossing Australia, South Africa, the USA and the UK, called 'JustWater', to promote awareness about water and to equip church leaders to be active agents and advocates in their local contexts. They aim to work hand-in-hand with business, government and charitable organisations. Their website is worth a visit, and includes a programme of events coming up in 2017.
Calls for evidence
The Commission on Religious Education, chaired by the Very Rev Dr John Hall, Dean of Westminster, is calling for evidence - submissions can be made until 9am on 13th February. Please consider responding to this important enquiry, either in a personal capacity or on behalf of an organisation, or both. Click here for details.
Following their report on chaplaincy in the UK, A Very Modern Ministry, Theos are mapping the chaplaincy landscape in Norfolk and Cornwall. If you are, or know, a chaplain in those areas, please help them by filling out this survey. They are also researching Christianity and mental health: get in touch if you have information.
If you or someone you know is under 35 and interested in what Brexit means for young people, sign up to the Brexit Watch Bureau for young people run by CoVi to scrutinise the Brexit process. It doesn't matter whether you are for Remain or Leave, there will be opportunities to contribute via blogs, video interviews, podcasts, speak or organise at events, or conduct research and consultation work.
Click here for listings of events relating to the Common Good, including: Ashburnham Place; the Benedict XVI Centre for Religion and Society; Theos; Churches Together Britain and Ireland; Church Urban Fund; Financial Health Exchange; Transforming Plymouth Together; Housing Justice; Justice & Peace Assembly, Arundel and Brighton; Student Christian Movement; Centre for Enterprise Markets and Ethics; Church Action on Poverty; Newman House Chaplaincy, A Blueprint for a Better Business; Greenbelt, Gather, and many others.
We hope you enjoy this newsletter - please send us feedback and tell us what you think. For each edition we immerse ourselves in different sectors and traditions to bring you a flavour of our helicopter view; we then archive some items in our Further Study pages.
If you've read this far, we think it's fair to guess that you are interested in how T4CG operates. Just so you know, our new plans for 2017-2020 are shaping up and we have revised our governance. We are aiming to increase our capacity: growing momentum means our team of two is very overstretched. If you are in a position to support T4CG, we would welcome the opportunity to discuss how you might be able to help. Click here to contact us.
It's good to be in touch. We wish you a Christmas celebrating God becoming human in the person of Jesus Christ, and every blessing as you discern how this mystery infiltrates your life and work.
A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and yours,
Together for the Common Good
A big thank you to the Mercy Union Generalate for allowing us to use a beautiful office. We are grateful for financial support from CCLA, the URC Vision Mission Fund, the Passionists Grants group, and others.
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