This Lent promises to be unlike any we can remember. In our shared grief, in our separation and our longing for physical presence, this is like a time of wilderness. You may feel frustrated that your plans are thwarted. But this is a time to listen, to become open to God’s grace.
Even with the arrival of the vaccine, the fallout from the pandemic is only just beginning. The effects are unevenly spread: our poorest communities are the worst affected. As families have struggled, Christian groups have been among those who have stepped up as service providers and this emergency response has been rightly praised.
However, Jesus regarded the poor not as beneficiaries of his “social action” but as brothers and sisters gathering as equals around a shared table. Just like everyone else, they want the dignity of work and do not wish to live long term on handouts. As we look to recover from the effects of the crisis, it will be important to bear this distinction in mind.
Attempts at Common Good theology start with the premise that without poor people the body of Christ is incomplete. This includes not only the destitute but all people on low incomes, across all ethnicities. All are worthy of love and affection. A congregation with good relationships in this regard can start to build a Common Good: a shared life enriched by the interests, gifts and discipleship of people who happen to be poor. Given that many churches have fallen out of relationship with ordinary working people, this is a painful challenge.
Below you will find two such theologies: an essay setting out guiding principles for the Church Urban Fund by +Adrian Newman, and a study commissioned for Clapton Commons by Peter Leith. Churches fulfilling a Common Good theology may look different from what we might expect: what matters is whether they are fulfilling their mission. Below we share a story by Tom Ketteringham about a thriving church behind a shopfront in a backstreet in Grimsby.
The desire across the Christian traditions to serve struggling communities is undimmed.
Yet churches are vulnerable too. The trajectory of decline has accelerated. Some things we thought were secure may not survive. A wilderness time like this can feel like a cruel test, an uprooting. But amid the wreckage, God is moving. The next chapter is unfolding – as we have explored in our letters The Plague and the Parish and Renewing the Covenant. Our third letter will be published soon.
Lent is a time to go back to the Word. Time to draw on the wisdom of the Prophets, and this year, on the Gospel of John. Spending unmediated time with God and with each other strengthens the human soul. Francis Stewart has written a beautiful reflection on “holy time” which you’ll find below, along with our Lent Devotional, a simple weekly rhythm to deepen your awareness of what God is doing in your life, your relationships and your neighbourhood.
Times of wilderness are hard and we may be intimidated by the dark powers of the world.
The pandemic is wreaking terrible damage and accelerating pre-existing, dehumanising trends. In the wider context, global capital, big tech and media, Chinese Communist Party ambitions and divisive ideologies of both left and right are all sowing division and taking advantage. Each threatens the possibility of a new settlement for the Common Good.
And yet, those worldly powers are fragile by God’s standards. The crisis has revealed the extraordinary resourcefulness, beauty and goodness of humanity, and by the grace of God, we will prevail.
Wishing you well for a holy Lent,
Together for the Common Good