Contributing as the National #Church to the #Common Good – a @CitizensUK symposium

Welcome and Aims

On Monday 5th March I attended a symposium by
Citizens UK and the CofE on “Contributing as the National Church to the Common Good”.  The event was held in St. Nic’s Church in
central Nottingham (UK), starting at 10.30am and ending at 3.30pm.
Citizens UK is the home of community organising in the UK.  Community Organising is about returning power to people – organising communities to act together
for power, social justice and the common good. 
Citizens UK has
diverse civil society alliances in London, Milton Keynes, Nottingham,
Birmingham, Wales, Manchester, Tyne & Wear and
Leeds.   
My two big take-a-ways from the day were:
1) the power of their 1 on 1 listening approach to really understand the issues people face.
2) the impact peoples stories delivered in person make on officials  who can allocate £’s.


What follows is a more detailed account of the day and the things that struck me from it.

Adrian Newman – Bishop of Stepney – welcomed us.  He pointed
out the link between the CofE’s quinquennial goals and the three symposium (one already held, this one on Common Good, and the next one planned on Reimagining
Ministry)
.
In welcoming us to his patch Paul Williams
Bishop of Southwell &

Nottingham – commented that spiritually healthy
churches grow – and a sign of such spiritual health is engagement with their
communities.  

Completing the welcome
Matthew Bolton of Citizens UK reminded us of their tag line “Building powerful
communities that work together for the common good”.

Biblical Reflection
Vanessa Conant – a Rev from Walthamstow Parish – then shared some reflections on Jeremiah 29.  In doing so she   
described how a series of artists had projected images onto their church exterior.  One artist also hid speakers in the churchyard which played the sounds of monkeys. 
Vanessa reflected on how these playful sounds were at the same time challenging, unsettling and disruptive in a positive wayto create change – as should our
prophetic voice be in our communities as we seek their prosperity.




Organising as a model
for acting together for the common good

Tom Chigbo from Leeds Citizens started by describing how
community organising was all about
“seeking the peace and prosperity of the city” as the Jeremiah passage
directed.  He had 4 main points about
doing this.
1) Listen and understand stories via 1 to 1 face to
face sessions – listen to their grief and their hope.
2) Strive for a broad based alliance with others –
seeking out diversity – this strengthens the ability to change things.
3) Be pro-active and relentless on who has the
power – who can say Yes or No.  
4) Have a bias towards action – so research, take
action to encourage changes, learn from those actions.

In point 3) Tom also quoted Dietrich
Bonhoeffer



“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the
wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself”



Congregations taking
action at parish level

We heard stories from three different parishes. 



Sheila from Maun Valley told us about their campaign to
improve crossing safety on a part of the A38 road near a school (a young mum from
their church was killed on the road). 
Using
a listening assembly they heard stories from pupils speaking of their fear of
the crossing – and of numerous near misses. 
These stories – with one pupil delivering hers – were particularly powerful in convincing
the authorities to take action before, (not after), more people were critically injured or killed.

Tricia from Leeds Citizens talked about debt and a
deteriorating 
street scene with banks and other amenities moving out and bookies, cash convertors and gambling machine shops moving in.
Using a community walk they listened to
other shopkeepers. 



Because of that later on they convinced the shopkeepers to display posters showing how to get to a nearby Credit Union.




Tim from Milton Keynes talked about the Redways (they are the paths that pedestrians and cyclists use to get round the town without going on the roads).
The Redways are used by young people to get to school but with bushes obscuring visibility and subways and rubbish they are an unpleasant environment, in which young people don’t always feel safe.
So “Redways relaunched”was born.  They collected
rubbish from the Redways to share with councillors and got a local politician
to meet a load of pupils and commit to some action.  


Discussions on tables using 3 questions

1)    
How are you using community organising locally
and what are you learning?

2)    
What are the barriers and how do you overcome
them?

3)    
What else could you imagine doing?

After the table
discussions some of the conversations were shared.  The ideas I picked up were:
Bishops Breakfast – partnership via relationships – using a Bishops
Breakfast to bring together influencers and CEOs in a city.  The conversations on issues faced were confidential – with organisation
representatives identifying whether they might help one another and take the conversation on how to outside the breakfast.
The power of 1 to 1’s – Jackie from West London citizens shared her insight
on the power of 1 to 1 conversations  – and her resolution to purposefully
organise 2 or 3 one on one conversations a week.
Start with the leaders – not the idea – find the
leaders (obvious and not so in the community) and find out what they want to do – what they hope
for.


Churches building
alliances & taking action at city level

Andy – from the Waltham Forest/Chingford area talked about
vicars from different traditions working together to launch an assembly and the
power of stories to bring to life “dry” subjects. 
He also reflected on how 1 to 1 conversations could
deepen relationships between different congregations in the same church.
Pete – from Nottingham citizens talked of holding power to
account and their work on the Living Wage and BAME representation within the
police. 
He also quoted Andrew
White  – the Vicar of Baghdad
“Don’t
take care – take more risks”

Graham from Hoxton talked about a father and son becoming more involved with church and then getting
baptised together – but then vanishing off the scene.
When he eventually re-established contact with them he discovered they had moved away and had previously being
sofa surfing. 
From that local story of
inadequate housing came a Housing manifesto. 
Something the London Mayor candidates were asked to respond to in a 6000
people indoor event.  The 6000 attending linked to some 250,000 in their
organisations and networks.  Eventually
this led to the idea of a Living Rent making it into London planning
guidance. 
This action on
housing gave them mission capital with their community. 
“our Bonding Capital is our Bridging
Capital”


Q&A with a panel
comprised of those mentioned previously

Q: Can this happen without clergy?

A: Yes – at least one of the examples given happened during
an interregnum.

Q:  Has the central
committee considered Brexit as an issue?

A: Yes but decided against making it a focus.

Q: What training is available?

A: A 2 dayer and a 6 dayer.



Q:  How do you choose
the critical conversations to have?

A: Partly by who you know, partly by mapping the influencers
in a community.

Q: Do you think Citizens UK is seen as left wing?

A: We try to be politically neutral and look for
leaders/politicians who have a concern.  People’s perceptions of us are harder to
alter.  From memory Andy shared some advice on dealing with those with views counter to your own – remember Translation &
Respect – nobody has a
monopoly on insight.

Citizens UK and the
Anglican church taking action at a national level – stories of the Living Wage
campaign
Matthew told the story of how the Living Wage campaign
started. 


Not as a campaign with wage as its focus.  It started with a listening
campaign in East London on family life and parents who felt they weren’t good
parents/didn’t spend enough time with their kids.



In listening they came across
people who were working 2 to 3 jobs to support their families – and the real
shame the parents felt because they spent so little time with their
children. 
From this local feedback the idea
of a Living Wage emerged – with engagement with local hospitals and banks and
university to pay their cleaners and other lowest paid workers a living wage.

Many of the people they listened to were male cleaners
working at Heathrow.  One was courageous enough to agree to come to a meeting with the Heathrow CEO.

Reflecting on the journey from a local listening campaign to HMG adoption of a National Living Wage, (not the same as the Living Wage), Matthew had a number of reflections …
– at the time they didn’t realise the scale of what they had achieved,
– timing is often critical,
– as is tension,
– and appealing to politicians self interest and declared values helps.
Update from Citizens UK Council
They have listened to the chapters and ID’d 5
possible themes for national action …

1) Fair Deal (Wages)
2) Welcome not Hate
3) Mental Health
4) Refugees & Migrants
5) Housing & Homelessness

I think the next action was for the chapters to discuss these proposals.





Closing discussion
and planning



Karen Rooms – Canon at Leicester Cathedral – shared some of
the actions she had ID’d from the day for herself …
–  intentional plans for 1 on 1s
– remembering the Jeremiah wisdom
– developing others by learning together


Attendees were then asked to try and answer these 2 questions



1) What does this mean for your ministry and
leadership in your parish and area?

2) What can we imagine that the Anglican church, as
the national church, could be doing for justice and the common good?  What can we do about it?


Feedback from the tables and individuals on answers to and discussions around these 2 questions included …
– Learn more about the tools and techniques
discussed today
and similarities in listening to the community in ID’g
opportunities for Fresh Expressions

Value of 1 on 1s and telling the stories we hear

– Use some of the techniques in a prayer lunch

– Might there be a Synod debate on what sort of society we hope
for?



– Should CofE be episcopally led and synodically  relationally governed?




My thanks to all who organised the event. I found it useful, interesting and inspiring.



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