Monthly Archives: December 2011

Responding to Richard Dawkins’ Christmas message

Richard Dawkins guest-edited the Christmas edition of the New Statesman – beginning with an open letter to the Prime Minister attackng faith schools, and calling for governmental “neutrality” on religious matters.  In this festive blog, Centre Director Angus Ritchie offers a response.

Dear Professor Dawkins

Merry Christmas to you too! I hope the authorship of this letter isn’t too big a disappointment. When you write to the P.M., you don’t expect the reply to be written by a cleric.

(Just to be clear, I have no authority – or desire – to speak on behalf of David Cameron. The views here are very much my own.)

Time is short.  It seems we both have carol services to attend! So let me cut to the chase. Your letter to calls for “state neutrality” on matters of religion, and an end to any government support for faith schools.  I think your position is anything but neutral.

You imply that the “neutral” way to bring up children is to avoid religious practice until they can decide for themselves. Hence your analogy with economics. We don’t bring up children as Keynesians or monetarists; we let them decide which to be when they are old enough to grasp the arguments. You think we should do the same with religion.

But you can’t bring up children “neutrally”. The economics analogy doesn’t really work. Long before they are able to evaluate the arguments for and against our view of the world, we have to bring children up according to some norms. We teach them by word and deed, what kinds of things are right and wrong, what they should value and what they should dismiss. Some of those norms will have religious, or atheistic, implications. We either bring them up as if God is a living reality, worthy of gratitude and worship, or we don’t. If (as I believe) there is a God, then it is the most natural and right thing in the world to pray to him from the earliest age. If (as you believe) there isn’t, then such a practice is worse than a waste of time.  Neither choice is “neutral”.

“Neutral” parenting cannot be expected of anyone. Some parents will pray with their children, and will also take them to church, and even send them to religious schools.  While we can’t demand “neutrality” from parents or from schools, there are some things we should expect. Every parent and school should bring children up with an openness to other worldviews – and, as they get older, the freedom to draw their own conclusions.

Let’s turn to the wider issue of governmental “neutrality” on matters of religion. You and I agree that the state should not impose atheism or religion on its citizens. But government policy is inevitably, and rightly, shaped by values. That’s something we need more of – now more than ever.

Politics is about how we build a common life, and discern a common good. You can’t expect me to participate in that without bringing my faith to bear. It is the foundation of my convictions about what is good and just. You will have different foundations (a matter to which we must return if this correspondence continues).

Christianity is a holistic view of the world, not a detachable set of private convictions. For a Christian, the nature of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ have implications for economic policy as much as ‘private’ ethical choices. The recent statements by the Vatican and the Archbishop of Canterbury on the financial crisis are a case in point.  That’s why churches are at the forefront of both the Jubilee 2000 campaign (on international debt), and Citizens UK’s Nehemiah 5 Campaign (against exploitative lending). The very names of the campaigns are revealing.

Of course, if Christians are to turn their ideas into reality, they need to win support from others. This involves making arguments that appeal to non-Christians. There’s nothing underhand about that; building coalitions across differences is central to all democratic politics. Whatever your worldview, turning your convictions into government policy involves two things.  Firstly, you try to persuade people of the truth of your worldview. Secondly, you build alliances with those who remain unconvinced. So, in the Nehemiah 5 Challenge, churches advance some reasons for public policy which are distinctively Christian, and some which are not. As part of Citizens UK, they work with mosques and trade unions, tenants associations and student unions, on this and many other issues. (These include the Living Wage Campaign – with deep roots in Catholic Social Teaching – which has now won £70 million for low-paid workers in London alone.)

Of course, Christians disagree amongst themselves – on economics as much as anything else. How to understand and apply the teachings of Scripture and Church is a matter for discussion. That’s one reason we have departments of Theology as well as Religious Studies in our universities (just as we have departments which reflect on moral and political issues without reference to God).

You may ask: “Why should I be forced to live with an economic system shaped by your religious views?” A good question! To which I would answer: “That’s the price of living in a pluralist democracy. I’m forced to live with a system shaped in part by the moral convictions of atheists, and you’re forced to live with a system shaped in part by the convictions of Christians.”  Neither of us is “imposing” our worldview on the other.  What we’re doing is negotiating a common life in the midst of deep ethical and religious disagreement. That’s the challenge, and the joy, of politics.

The elephant in the room – in your letter and in my reply – is whether religious views can ever be reasoned and reasonable.  In the end, your desire to relegate religion to the private sphere is anything but neutral.  It only makes sense if you believe religion has no rational foundations.

If you are willing to engage in this correspondence, I’d love to move on to a more detailed examination of this elephant. There’s a lot more to be said.

In the meantime, this comes with my best wishes to you and your family for a happy Christmas,

Angus Ritchie

Archbishop Sentamu to lecture on Good Childhood

The Centre has begun a research partnership with The Children’s Society on child poverty, theology and inequality.  So we are especially pleased to publicise their 2012 Edward Rudolf Lecture by the Archbishop of York.  The event will launch the Good Childhood Report 2012 – with empirical research which complements and informs our ongoing programme of theological reflection on the issue

The Children’s Society invite you to join us and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, in a presentation of our groundbreaking Good Childhood Report 2012 on 12 January 2012 in Church House, Westminster SW1P 3NZ.

The Good Childhood Report, based on the views of 25,000 children and young people, contains compelling evidence on the factors that affect the well-being of children.

 The evening will be an engaging exploration of the ingredients of a happy childhood, consisting of a presentation of the report followed by a lecture by the Archbishop of York, who has been an outspoken advocate for young people in the UK for many years.

 The writers of the report as well as the Archbishop will interact with the audience in a Q&A session following the lecture. Registration opens at 5.30 pm and all are invited to the post-lecture reception lasting until 8.30 pm.

To attend, please email or telephone The Children’s Society’s Supporter Care Team on 0300-303-7000.

Diaspora, Democracy and Citizenship

Jellicoe intern and researcher Caitlin Burbridge is working with the Congolese community within London Citizens.  On 10th December, her first three months’ work culminated in London Citizens first Diaspora Peoples’ Assembly.  She reflects on the event, and its implications for the way we think about citizenship:

With the roll call of London Citizens members waving flags and representing their various diaspora communities, 700 people gathered together for the first time with a great sense that this was to be a historic moment. Saturday 10th December saw the UK’s first ever Diaspora Peoples’ Assembly in City Temple, Central London, bringing together migrant communities who have settled in the UK from across the globe. The assembly marked a significant step towards building the power of those communities who are, as yet, vastly under-represented.

The event served two prime purposes. Firstly, it enabled the people who were forming this new power collective to recognise their mutual challenges and subsequent potential as change makers. Secondly, the assembly held to account those in influential positions on issues of street safety, immigration legal advice, opportunities for young people, and deportation.

Aside from the momentous drama of the day which saw multiple cultural performances, the celebration of diversity through song and the expression of creativity through the use of national dress, a perhaps more poignant question in my mind was raised around the nature of citizenship. For Naila Kabeer, ‘citizenship is important because it can reflect more about the ‘collective associations’ people ascribe to than ‘apparent membership of a nation state (which) often means little to its members’. The word ‘can’ in Kabeer’s statement is crucial. How does this translate into a context where official ‘citizenship’ or ‘membership’ of a nation state is insecure?
Being an official ‘citizen’ and recognised by the state is crucial to your ability to participate in a functioning democracy. Legal status allows access to the job market, and it can be argued that engaging with the communities around which one lives can broaden an understanding about how UK society functions. Often, for the diaspora communities represented at the assembly, ‘citizenship’ is defined not by membership of the state, but by exclusion from that membership; not only through a lack of legal status, but also a lack of cultural proficiency to understand how to engage with society as a whole. Therefore Kabeer’s ‘can’ alludes to a vision of citizenship which is outside the realms of ‘official democracy’.
The model which London Citizens practices seems to be one of ‘redefining democracy’ and is not dissimilar to Andrea Cornwall’s understanding of citizenship. For Cornwall, ‘enhancing citizen participation requires more than inviting or inducing people to participate’. In the context of practising democracy, how do we create an environment in which people who have never experienced democracy can empower themselves to engage with a form of ‘citizenship’ of which they have no previous experience? One group I have been working with particularly closely has been London’s ‘Congolese community’ who, having grown up in the DRC, have almost no experience of what it is to engage in a democratic society. Perhaps this is a challenge for the future journey of this diaspora power collective? How do we redefine citizenship to open space for a new form of participation, as opposed to inviting people to participate in a form of citizenship which has already been defined?   
The challenges of this form of community organising are very different from models set up in the US and UK. The communities which gathered on 10th December have a rich and varied experience of citizenship in their own countries. In the UK, citizenship tends to be discussed in the rather conservative context of a working ‘democracy’. Yet not only do some diaspora communities lack the cultural proficiency to understand the UK’s working democracy, but challenges for these communities are often perpetuated by other factors: language barriers, qualifications which do not translate to the UK, lack of documentation fuelled by a highly inefficient and unjust ‘naturalisation’ process, unequal access to the UK labour market, and a lack of spaces within which to integrate into wider UK society.
Yet the presence of these communities in the UK provides an opportunity and opens up debate around the existing structures within which we reside. The form of organising required is different and demands those involved to consider what cultural proficiencies currently exclude migrant communities, as well considering what existing forms of cultural proficiency migrant communities bring with them to the UK. Maybe now we will begin to be a little more creative with what we expect from democracy, while we consider how we can redefine citizenship as a collective who may or may not have grown up here. Here’s to a new form of citizenship, a citizenship which is enhanced by diversity and ‘actively defined’ by its integrated citizens. 

From ideas to action

As part of our series of posts from the recent theological consultation with The Children’s Society, here is a reflection by CTC’s Adam Atkinson and Angus Ritchie (both priests at St Peter’s, Bethnal Green)

‘The world as it should be’ preoccupies many of us.  It can be a distraction as well as an inspiration.  Our contexts is Bethnal Green, aka ‘the world as it is’.  If you stand on the steps of our parish strip club on Hackney Road and pointed out a mile radius – the context of that area is not just cultural creatives, Tec city entrepreneurs, boutiques and nightlife.  It is also 40% unemployment and 54% child poverty.

As Anglican priests in Bethnal Green we are living, working and praying for transformation: for the spiritual, social and cultural transformation that the Gospel brings, as the Kingdom of God comes near in the person of Jesus.  We lead an institution that is trying to love God and love neighbour, faithfully and effectively.

Soon after arriving as yet another immigrant to East London (albeit a new-wave middle class one), Adam was introduced to a community organiser.  They spoke about addressing the social need of the city and the organiser asked Adam why he was here.  Adam replied: ‘To be a voice for the voiceless.’  The organiser shot back “Why do they need you to speak for them?  How about helping them to have a voice?’

The voice of the poor has to be at the heart of social transformation.  This Consultation has explored the gap between rhetoric and reality on issues of poverty and inequality.  We hear a great many words – from politicians of all stripes – about the excessive gap between rich and poor.  Indeed, we have an unprecedented political consensus on the urgency of tackling domestic as well as global poverty.  And yet the gap between rich and poor gets wider.  This isn’t a party political point: both the last government and this one fall short of the agreed targets for cutting child poverty.  Lots of edifying words: but few of them becoming flesh in Bethnal Green.

Time and again, we find the redistribution of power is the essential prelude to real change.  ‘Being a voice for the voiceless’ is not enough.  Is the voiceless who feel the urgency of poverty most keenly. It is when they find their voice and build their power that change becomes possible. That’s why The Children’s Society is so committed to including young people in this conversation.  It is also why community organising – the systematic building of power among the poor – has a crucial role to play in closing the gap between rhetoric and reality on the issue of child poverty.

What is power?  The best definition we know is this: ‘the ability to act’.  Power is not good or bad.  That depends on how you use it, and to what ends. We are familiar with different types of power: Positional power – where a leader operates through the mandate given to them by an office of some sort, a Mayor, a Bishop, a boss in an office hierarchy.  Often people with such positions of power confess that they don’t feel that they really do have much power.  Ironically people without positional power often assume that they need to achieve the position before they can really affect change for the better.

There’s financial power – we’d all quite like more of that.  Indeed the ebbing tide of financial power in families as well as in governments is causing much anguish.  A growing – and painful – inability to act.

As Christians, we share a real and dynamic notion of spiritual power.  We pray, things happen.  It is borne out by our experience and by that of the church.
 There is also such a thing as relational power.  Indeed, relational power when combined with any of the above renders them especially potent.  But it is potent on its own.  Relational power is what community organizing works with.  Relational power really is powerful, it is also something we all need but it happens to be freely available.

 At its heart community organising is about the building of these relationships.  Relationships within and between ‘institutions’: organizations of free association, places that have a life of their own where people gather such as churches, schools, mosques, TRAs, community groups.  These institutions then decide to work together for the common good.

Relational power – sometimes referred to as ‘relational capacity’ – is built through one-to-one conversations.  If I want to build relational power I need to create, develop and keep good relationships.  Again, this is an astonishingly simple idea but often more honoured in the breach that in the observance. 
 A simple personal calendar test will suffice to see if this is something we really do prioritise.  Ask how I spent my time in the last week or month and you will get a fairly clear idea of my priorities.  How many times did I meet with people simply to get to know them, to find out what makes them tick, to build a relationship?

A Catholic priest friend of ours has put three one to one conversations in his calendar every week for the last three years.  As a consequence he can say that he has built a relational culture, where people have followed his lead and carried out one-to-ones themselves, where he certainly knows and is known as a person not just as the parish priest, and where people’s gifts and passions are uncovered and therefore stand more of a chance of being fulfilled.

‘Community organising’ sounds like something new.  With the rise of Barack Obama, it has come (no doubt fleetingly) into fashion.  In fact, it calls us back to some traditions the church has forgotten, as it has followed the wider culture in becoming more project-driven and less relational.  The importance of relationships to young people’s wellbeing, and the pressures in modern life which lead less time to be invested in them, is well documented The Children’s Society’s own Good Childhood Inquiry.  As John Milbank has reminded us, the Church is called to embody – as well as to promote – true reciprocity and society.  And as he suggests, practicing what we preach is central to authentic and effective evangelism.

Community organising is not a distraction from the church’s central task.  Rather, it recalls to a more faithful embodiment and proclamation of the Gospel.  In so doing, it builds the power of our poorest neighbourhoods: enabling the vision of society we have shared at this Consultation to move from the ‘world as it should be’ into the ‘world as it is’.

Near Neighbours projects… the story so far.

So what does a Near Neighbours project actually look like? Well, no two projects are the same, but we can safely say that they’re all making fantastic progress in bringing together people of different backgrounds who may never otherwise have met. If you’d like to find out more, or make an application for funding, click the ‘about’ button above. Here’s a list of the projects being supported so far:

The Pembroke Settlement/St Christopher’s Church

Located at the end of East Street (Walworth Road) this church has a long, proud history of engagement with the local community and is supported by Pembroke College, Cambridge. The church has just been awarded a Near Neighbours grant to link its predominantly Nigerian congregation with the White and Latin local community and to engage with the local Mosque. This is a very exciting project taking place over six months or more. The grant will partly fund a worker who’ll also be accommodated in the ‘settlement house’ on site. Using our expanding networks we’ve found an excellent young man with NGO and community development experience who is exploring the possibility of being that worker.

South Bank University
Until the arrival of Revd Howard Woolsey a few months ago, chaplaincy provision at South Bank was limited, despite it being one of the most diverse universities in the country. Howard has just received a Near Neighbours grant to assist a group of students from varied backgrounds in the ‘Conversations of the Soul’ project (emerging from St Ethelburga’s interfaith centre). This will enable deep relationships to form between the students and Howard will build on this to form a University Faith Forum.

David Idowu Choir

When Grace Idowu’s son was murdered in 2008 she began a remarkable journey. She has since met David’s murderer and forgiven him. She’s now made it her life’s mission to bring young people in her community together to prevent future attacks. The choir is being partially funded by a grant from the Near Neighbours programme. It’s been set up to provide local communities with the resources they need to bring together teenagers of different faiths and none, as well as those of different ethnic backgrounds. The choir is now singing in a number of prestigious locations in South London.

The David Idowu Choir

St Paul’s Shadwell

This lively Anglican church has received assistance from Near Neighbours to build a community vegetable garden. With the help of volunteers from the church and people of other faiths from the community, this is an opportunity to build lasting relationships. The church is working closely with the Darul Ummah Jamme Mosque. The project has been awarded £4,000 to publicise the garden. The grant will also help to buy seeds, plants, tools, gloves and compost. The genius of this project is that the food grown is going to be donated to Tower Hamlets Foodbank (another project supported by the Contextual Theology Centre, where Near Neighbours is based).

Curbs – Energize4Girlz Project

Energize4Girlz will run holiday activities for local girls 8 – 15 yrs of different faiths.  The church wants to enable the girls to develop deep relationships with each other. Curbs is a Christian based charity located at St Mary’s Cable Street, a church in the heart of a very multi-cultural community. The holiday clubs will take place in school holidays. There is a theme for each club – in Summer 2012 the girls will look identity and will enjoy poetry and cultural trips, while in October 2012 they will be exploring ideas of citizenship, race and faith in their local community.

Clapton Park Community Gardening

On Clapton Marsh estate a gardening project brought people of different faiths together to change a neglected and derelict area blighted by antisocial behaviour into a community garden. The project is being supported by All Souls Church Clapton which has now been awarded £5,000 by Near Neighbours to develop in the coming year. Volunteers have already established flower beds but needed a place to store tools as well as funds to buy more equipment and plants. The church will also use the grant to draw in more local families – each will have a small plot and friendly rivalry will be encouraged over who can grow the best veg. The local youth club and older people’s club will also enjoy the new garden.

Waltham Forest Faith Forum

Waltham Forest Faith Forum was keen to gather people from different backgrounds to learn about Near Neighbours. A small grant of £260 enabled the crowd to gather in a great venue where the Eastern London Near Neighbours Coordinator explained the programme and answered questions.  This was vital for several groups considering making further grant applications to Near Neighbours. As a result of the meeting three were submitted and others are now thinking about an application.

Trinity Community Garden Project

This Leytonstone group will work with young people marginalised from society through offending, homelessness or unemployment. Young people of different faiths will work together to establish a garden around the Trinity Community Centre.  There will be a strong training element to this project with young people receiving tuition in landscaping and growing plants.

Women Beyond Borders
Based in Forest Gate, this organisation is a Refugee and Migrant Project supporting women of different faiths. A grant of £500 will provide a Christmas party for the children of these women who come from many different backgrounds. The group is so organic and ground-level that it didn’t have a bank account to receive the grant. This is a perfect example of the sort of project Near Neighbours wants to support – this group is free of the usual organisational structures associated with many bigger community groups, but is doing great work.

Young people in Stratford

A diverse group of young people put together a grant application to enable them to explore how the media portrays religion and faith. They also want to find out what triggers religious stereotypes through group discussions. They will create performance pieces which will consolidate their learning – these will be recorded and made available to other groups.  The young people will be encouraged by education and theatre specialists.

DIVA Women’s Group

This group of women in Bethnal Green began meeting together for Zumba dance classes. At the beginning they were all Muslim women, but the group was determined to reach out to others in their area. They advertised the classes and began to draw in others. They’ve since organised parties for the women’s children and Eid and Christmas events for the women themselves. The Near Neighbours grant they’ve been given has enabled them to deepen their relationships and community outreach. The money has helped to pay for workshops on issues of concern to the members of the group, while outings for the children are also planned to get a new generation growing up together.

People’s Palladium
This small voluntary theatre company will bring together a group of local young people of different faiths and ethnicities and work with them on a show to be performed at Limehouse Town Hall.  Beginning in January 2012 the young people will take part in drama workshops and stage a selection of ‘scenes from world theatre’. They’ll also work together building props and staging. It’s hoped this will lead to lasting friendships.

The People's Palladium

Belief In Bow

A series of three free world music concerts is to be held at St Barnabus church. Local people of diverse faiths are putting on the concerts which will include the opportunity to share food. A Musicologist from a top London University will introduce the concerts to increase the understanding of music within each of the three faiths involved. The aim is that the audience will be comprised of people drawn from the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities and beyond.

St Barnabus church, Bow

Theology, poverty and inequality

Two thought-provoking papers on theology, poverty and inequality are now online – from our Will the first be last? consultation with The Children’s Society.

Michael Ipgrave’s paper opened the discussion, setting out some conceptual and existential questions relating to poverty and inequality.  It is an excellent starting-point for theological reflection on these issues.

John Milbank’s paper argues for a distinctive Christian commitment to  ‘the social’ as distinct from the State and the market.  He explores the implications of this for effective ways to address child poverty.  The paper is a powerful example of the distinctive contribution theology can make to these debates; providing far more than a religious gloss on pre-existing political positions and commitments.

Contending Modernities in east London

Contextual Theology Centre Director Angus Ritchie has just written on the University of Notre Dame’s Contending Modernities blog about exciting research project the Centre is undertaking as part of that wider programme.

He outlines the project as follows:

How do migrant communities with diverse religious and cultural identities shape a common life? Professor Vincent D. Rougeau has argued for the possibility of a “new cosmopolitanism,” rooted in a faith and culture and also committed to the dignity of all human beings — and, in consequence, willing to work with neighbours of other faiths and cultures to negotiate and pursue a shared vision of the common good…

The east London project will consider the relevance of such a “cosmopolitan” vision to migrant communities in our local context. Catholic and Muslim migrants have historically both been treated with some suspicion in the UK — in part because their faith involves loyalties that reach beyond the nation-state, to an avowedly international Church or Ummah.

The experience of Catholic and Muslim engagement in broad-based community organizing runs counter to such suspicions. Community organizing harnesses precisely the “problematic” quality of these faiths — above all their loyalty to a truth that transcends the nation-state, and a “critical distance” from the status quo — as a means of working for justice in the local area.

You can read the full post here

Welfare Reform: a view from The Children’s Society

Back in July,  the Contextual Theology Centre’s launched  Will the first be last? – anew research partnership with the Children’s Society on poverty and inequality.  Some of the papers from our initial Theological Consultation are now on the Centre website.

In the next few weeks, we will  be adding new blog posts on the issues raised.  Today, Dr Sam Royston (The Children’s Society Policy Advisor on Poverty and Early Years) blogs on the Welfare Reform Bill.

Now is a time of enormous upheaval for families living in poverty.   A number of cuts to financial support, and services for the most disadvantaged families have already been made in the emergency Budget and the Comprehensive Spending Review last year.  These cuts are part of the Government’s wider deficit reduction plan and their impact is just starting to be felt.  Looking forwards, the Welfare Reform Bill currently going through the House of Lords has been referred to as “rewriting Beveridge” – a fundamental overhaul of the very foundations of the welfare system providing support to millions of children living in poverty.

Some of the reforms in the Bill are to be warmly welcomed.  The introduction of the Universal Credit is intended to simplify the complicated Benefits and Tax Credit systems, and to improve work incentives to help families to “make work pay”.  However, many of the provisions for families are much less progressive.  Cuts to support with housing costs, cuts in support for families with disabled children and young carers, and a punitive benefit cap for out of work households are all going to contribute to what the outgoing Chief Executive of The Children’s Society has warned will become a “decade of disadvantage”.

Because of our commitment to ensuring that children have a good childhood and fair life chances, The Children’s Society will continue to work hard to ensure that children do not lose out as a result of the changes coming down the line – our work in collaboration with other organisations has already helped to ensure £300 million of additional investment in help with childcare costs.  There is clearly still a huge amount to be done.

And the Church has been a crucial partner for these debates.  Christian and other religious groups, helped to bring attention to our petition against cuts to support for disabled children, which now has around six and a half thousand signatures.

Most recently, eighteen bishops signed an open letter to the Observer about the impact of the Benefit Cap on more than 200,000 disadvantaged children, potentially making as many as 80,000 homeless.  The letter, which was supported by both Archbishops, emphasised that “The Church of England has a commitment and moral obligation to speak up for those who have no voice. As such, we feel compelled to speak for children who might be faced with severe poverty and potentially homelessness, as a result of the choices or circumstances of their parents. Such an impact is profoundly unjust.”

We supported Bishop John Packer in presenting amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill which would mitigate the impact of the cap, for instance, removing Child Benefit from household income for the purposes of the cap, and introducing a twelve month “grace period” following the loss of employment, where the cap would not apply.  We will continue to work together closely to get these amendments accepted as the Bill moves through Parliament, in order to avoid the most regressive impacts of the policy.

However, it will take more than action on one reform, or one Bill, to ensure that the most disadvantaged children get a fair deal.  We must not forget that the government has pledged to end child poverty by 2020 – a commitment taken so seriously that it is enshrined in law through the Child Poverty Act.  But current policy is heading directly in the wrong direction – for example, the Institute for Fiscal Studies recently estimated that on the basis of current policy 800,000 more children would be living in poverty by 2020.  Turning this freight train around, particularly in the current economy, is a huge challenge but is one that neither the children’s sector or the Church can look away from.

The Children’s Society will continue to work closely with the Church to express our shared concern for the most disadvantaged children in our society.  We know that economic times are tough, we know that this is a period where the government is committed to making savings, not spending – but this simply must not be done at a cost to children and families living in poverty.   Getting this message across is the biggest challenge we all face in coming years and is one that can only be achieved through shared moral and practical commitment to the cause.

An Advent call to act on the debate about money

Contextual Theology Centre Director Angus Ritchie has written in the latest Church Times on the ‘striking echoes’ of the liturgies in St Paul’s Cathedral and the Occupy LSX encampment outside.  The article was timed to coincide with the Centre’s new resource pack – endorsed by both Cathedral and Camp.

The Occupy camp has appeared at a time of huge economic uncertainty and fear.  There is an increasing disquiet with the financial system – a sense that it shapes and controls us rather than being held accountable to any notion of the common good.

In the messages pinned to their fabric and in their sheer impermanence the tents speak of a people on the move.  The readings, prayers and feasts we celebrate in November remind us that Christians are also a pilgrim people; citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem… These themes of eternal hope and earthly transformation grow in intensity as we enter Advent.

Ritchie concludes by arguing that engagement with other worldviews – including other faiths – can enable a more, not less, faithful Christian witness.  (This is a key theme in the Contextual Theology Centre’s research – and in particularly its new Contending Modernities project with the University of Notre Dame.)

Engagement with those outside the church need not lead on to a watering down of the Christian message.  Such encounters can force us to attend to Biblical texts we have ignored or neutered.

This has certainly been the experience of Christians involved in Citizens UK.  This community organising alliance brings churches together with mosques and synagogues, schools and tenants’ associations to act on issues of common concern. Since 2009, Citizens UK has been developing a grassroots response to the financial crisis.  It has been salutary to work on this with Muslims and Jews; people of faith for whom scriptural admonitions against usury have very practical implications.  Far from diluting our faithfulness to Christian orthodoxy this engagement with other faiths has forced us to ask how to be faithful to the Bible today.  It has highlighted the disparity between the attention we pay to Biblical texts on sex and the rather larger number on money and possessions.

The full article is here

TELCO is 15: So much done, so much more to do!

Tom Daggett, Manager of CTC and Jellicoe intern at Stepney Salvation Army, blogs on last night’s TELCO assembly:

Last night, I had the pleasure of being part of TELCO’s 15 th Anniversary Assembly, held at the Troxy: a 2000-seater 1930s cinema just round the corner from the Contextual Theology Centre’s Limehouse home.  Delegations from many of TELCO’s member institutions (including our wide range of partner churches) proved enthusiastic participants in a celebration of 15 years of working together for social justice in East London.

Showcasing singers, poetry readers, and even a 30-piece orchestra from Trinity Catholic High School, the assembly was an all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza. Over the course of the evening, scores of people – young and old, of faith and of no faith – had the chance to tell the story of TELCO as well as of their own institutions. Framing both what the organisation has achieved, and what it is yet to achieve, the assembly presented a clear message – that by acting together, we are more powerful.

One of the central stories told in the assembly was of TELCO’s recent Olympic Jobs Fayres – in which I and my placement church have played an active role.  These were run by local people, for local people, and were intended to take the pain out of applying for a job on the Olympic Park. Importantly, the jobs on offer are Living Wage jobs, and it is a triumph that London CITIZENS, working with LOCOG, has managed to secure the first ever Living Wage Olympics – covering all 130,000 jobs building the site and running the games! This story of success became real when we heard powerful testimonies from two people – Jan Harris, who invested so much energy as a TELCO leader into the interview process, and Maria Cheeseman, who has been offered a job through TELCO after years of unemployment. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room.

The celebration continued when Lord (Sebastian) Coe, Chairman of the London 2012 committee, was welcomed to the stage to present certificates to successful candidates (including Maria) who came through our Jobs Fayres. After this act of recognition, the assembly turned its mind to the future, and Paul Deighton, CEO of LOCOG, was invited into a discussion with Fr Sean Connolly (Parish Priest in Manor Park and Assistant Director of the Contextual Theology Centre). On behalf of TELCO, Fr Sean managed to negotiate the possibility of 2000 Olympic-funded internship opportunities for talented young people in East London with leading UK businesses. There was a great buzz about the room.

Hearing also about TELCO’s Community Land Trust bid, CitySafe campaign, as well as more local actions, the room returned home at the end of the evening with a renewed appetite for action. We’re all looking forward to the 30th anniversary!