2023 marks 40 years since Archbishop Robert Runcie set up the Archbishop’s Commision on Urban Priority Areas. This approach of bringing together a Commission of “the great and the good” to report on a pressing social issue was possibly the last hurrah of the William Temple tradition. It assumed that the established Church had considerable soft power, and could influence national policy. The report made 61 recommendations: 38 of them to the Church of England, and 23 to the government and nation. Almost all the policy recommendations on unemployment, housing, benefits, education, local government, and policing involved increased public spending, and an attempt to empower local urban communities. The underlying assumptions of the report were that a wide consensus around the post-war welfare state, that Temple and his colleagues had promoted, would ensure that progress towards justice, equality and human flourishing would continue.
Faith in the City represented a moment of prophetic truth-telling by the Church of England but Government Ministers labelled it “pure Marxist theology”. The storm surrounding the report exemplified a broader secularist narrative that sought to restrict religion to the private sphere.
Since 1985, Church of England attempts to influence national policy seem much more modest and have had little impact. The Faithful Cities report 20 years later is now largely forgotten. A new report from the Archbishops’ Families and Households Commission ‘Love Matters’ makes a series of recommendations about how families and households can best flourish, but was not even mentioned by the BBC, and a google search reveals only two articles in the secular national press. Where the bishops in the House of Lords have made what might be called “prophetic” comments on issues such as refugees, food poverty or personal integrity of politicians they appear marginal to the prevailing political narrative, or are eclipsed by the interventions of footballers, such as Gary Lineker and Marcus Rashford. The established church can, of course, still do spectacular public rituals like the Queen’s funeral or the Coronation, and in that context deliver a good sermon that points people to Jesus. However, it is more likely than ever to be referenced for scandal or hypocrisy, especially in regard to safeguarding failures. The media wants to concentrate on internal disagreements on sexuality, where large and vocal sections of the church are out of touch with the prevailing culture. The statistics from the Census, and Church attendance data increasingly show an erosion of public support, especially among the young. While some right wing populist politicians advocate a return to “Christian values”, they are weaker than in the USA or parts of Europe, and are fundamentally a statement of white “English” identity, rather than serious Christian commitment. The Church’s soft power is not what it was in 1985, let alone 1945. What would William Temple do today?
Faith in the City on the other hand did have a significant impact on the churches, especially in a wave of urban mission activity over the following two decades. (See our Urban Tract No 1, and recent autobiographies from Laurie Green, and Neville Black). A major achievement was establishment of the Church Urban Fund and its support of local community projects, which continues to this day. The critique of this approach as “salvation by projects” flags up some of the weakness of the report in terms of theology and missiology; all the energy expended in its wake failed in making disciples of inner city people and integrating them into flourishing, self-sustaining urban parishes. The recommendations to the institutional church seemed worthy at the time, but many have come back to haunt us forty years later. The training of leaders, both clergy and lay, to equip them for ministry in urban parishes remains woefully inadequate, despite a few useful initiatives in the immediate aftermath of Faith in the City. The sharing of resources, especially finance, of affluent dioceses and parishes to poorer areas remains a pipe dream. The issue of institutional racism in the church was highlighted, but never adequately addressed. Although recently a new wave of awareness, and activism followed the rise of Black Lives Matter in 2020, the struggles of BAME Anglicans remain a battleground. Additionally, the reality of White Privilege and “whiteness” have been rejected by many who hold power and influence in the Church.
There have been major changes in the urban scene since 1985. Massive regeneration programmes have taken place in major cities such as London, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and Leeds, particularly around derelict dockland and post industrial areas. Land use has changed, land values have soared, but often original urban communities have been displaced, died out or moved out. Inequality has grown and concentrations of poverty and deprivation are now more likely to be found in peripheral estates, smaller post industrial towns, ex coalfield communities and coastal resorts. Globalisation and large scale immigration has produced a superdiversity of populations in metropolitan areas, and increasingly in smaller cities. The results and reaction to these trends seem somewhat contradictory; on the one hand xenophobia and the Brexit vote, on the other economic and cultural vibrancy in local communities. In the churches, the dominant forces now seem to be new congregations that serve particular ethnic heritage communities, or charismatic groups that attract individual consumers of religion. Yet alongside this, we also witness growing numbers of lively multicultural local congregations and parishes as discussed in John Root’s blog. Research undertaken by Goldsmiths during the pandemic lockdowns suggest that locally there are more opportunities for faith communities to partner in welfare work, as long as no one actually talks explicitly about faith or questions assumptions about equalities as defined in law, or unjust economic inequalities.
To be fair the Church of England, encouraged by Bishop Philip North, has invested new time and finance in estates ministry and the National Estates Churches Network. An attempt has been made to develop an estates theology in a recent book, Finding the Treasure edited by Al Barrett. Personally, I found this rather disappointing in its methodology of experts listening to local voices, rather than the local people leading theological reflection as advocated in Laurie Green’s Let’s do theology. It also fails to connect, and will most likely not be read by Christians who are concerned with making disciples, urban church planting and renewal, and who want to ground their theology in scripture, read, interpreted and applied in local urban contexts.
Such readers will find more resonance in the work of “settler” mission teams associated with organisations such as the Eden Network. I attended a day at their recent Proximity Conference and listened to numerous hopeful stories, sometimes related with what seemed youthful enthusiasm, but which in the light of experience has moved beyond naivety. Anna Ruddick, or Chris Lane have written important books drawn from reflections on involvement in this movement, tracing how long term commitment introduced more realistic expectations and measures of success, and transformed theologies from triumphalism towards a discovery of the Missio Dei in marginal places. It is in such movements that I see signs of God at work, and some of his people getting on board.
It is this sense, rather than in the soft power approach of Temple and the established church, with its condescending “effortless superiority”, that I believe we can still find Faith in the City.
This short book comprises a collection of reflections from the Church of England Estates Theology Project with five case studies from parishes on social housing estates in various urban and suburban settings across England. It is intended to be an encouragement to church leaders working in such settings and to break the stereotype that all is grim and the church is dead or dying in the less affluent areas. It arises from the Anglican commitment promoted by Bishop Philip North to strengthen and renew parish life and spread the gospel among people living in such neighbourhoods. In my opinion (and personal lifelong calling) this is exactly where Christians should be directing their prayers, resources, time and effort, not so much because there is spiritual, social and economic need, but it is in such places that we will find remarkable signs of God at work and encounter Jesus in surprising ways, not just on Sundays. Although this is the message the book attempts to convey, I am not fully convinced it achieves its aim.
First of all, the case studies in the book are exclusively Anglican. This fact will inevitably narrow the potential readership to clergy working in parish settings, and those tasked with training them. The Wythenshawe case study concentrates on a community weaving project based at the William Temple Church. It comes over as a good story of an interesting example of a community art project. At certain points, it touches Christian values and faith. But over the years I have heard or read numerous other accounts of church life in Wythenshawe, from different denominations and mission perspectives, which are not represented in the chapter. As a result I am reminded of a comment originally made by Anne Morissey (who wrote a foreword to the book) about the way the Church of England exudes “a sense of effortless superiority” in its approach to community ministry.
The rest of the book continues in the same vein. The majority of the parishes involved are from a liberal catholic or radical tradition. Only the chapter from Eltham, with input from the Church Army, uses any evangelical language in its theological framing of the local story. Yet in doing so it largely rejects the evangelical priorities of sharing the Gospel, and calling people to repent, believe, follow Jesus and be baptised into the community of his church. Long experience of urban mission has shown there are big problems with such a formulaic approach, and that preaching at people is mostly ineffective. However, if the local church on estates is to survive, become self supporting and self propagating, we should work hard on talking about Jesus, making disciples, strengthening socially diverse worshipping communities, who engage with and serve their neighbourhood, and developing local Christian leaders. There doesn’t seem to be much of this sort of good news reflected in the book, though there are many other places where it is happening.
I find the theological method of the book curious. It is based on pairing an academic theologian with a church leader and trying to listen to the voices of local residents. They reflected on what they heard and produced chapters which still feel rather abstract and academic in style. While listening is always to be recommended, and contextual reflection on local stories is foundational for urban theology, it might have been helpful to use a more participatory approach where local people (Christians and others) worked together to generate conclusions and linking with Bible stories and themes. It is only in the final section of the book that the editor makes reference to Laurie Green’s “Let’s do Theology”, which would have been my personal starting point for the whole project.
Reviewed by Greg Smith, Associate Research Fellow William Temple Foundation and Trustee of Urban Theology Union.
In my last blog I reflected on whether the findings in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report would send sufficiently strong signals to induce meaningful, global responses to the climate crisis. This week, the Earth Commission has published a report in Nature journal, which presents more evidence of signals from Earth systems to which we should devote considerable attention. These signals indicate that humans are taking colossal risks with the future of civilization, along with everything that lives on Earth. The FT headline about the report states simply that Earth is past its safe limits for humans. It haunts me that Steve Cutts’ chilling predictions about Man might come true.
Seven of Eight System Boundaries Have Been Breached
The Earth Commission’s report, “Safe and just Earth system boundaries,” assesses several biophysical processes and systems that regulate the state of the Earth system, including climate, biosphere, land use, water, nutrient cycles and aerosol pollutants. The researchers involved have identified the limits within which those systems operate effectively, and the harm that could ensue should those limits be breached. Of the eight boundaries reviewed by researchers, seven have been pushed beyond their safe and just limit into risk zones that increasingly threaten planetary and human health. As the report says, all the systems are interconnected, such that overshooting the safe limit for one could have consequential effects for others.
Natural and Social Limits
Although focussed on science and physical processes, the IPCC’s 6th Assessment Report and the Earth Commission’s report both emphasise the effect that changes in earth systems will have on society. Environmental degradation and social justice are two sides of the same coin. The Earth Commission’s report exhibits a sincere concern for justice, focusing especially on intergenerational justice for people into the scientific analysis used to assess safe limits for the planet.
Global, Systemic Transformations Are Needed
The Earth Commission’s work is the first of its kind, building on the notion of Planetary Boundaries that were proposed over a decade ago. The result of work by more than 50 scientists from around the world has been to provide compelling evidence designed to advise key actors to achieve a safe and just future. The report calls for “nothing less than a just global transformation across all earth system boundaries to ensure human well-being.” Such transformations “must be systemic across energy, food, urban and other sectors, addressing the economic, technological, political and other drivers of Earth system change, and ensure access for the poor through reductions and reallocations of resource use.”
Leaping into the Path of Transformation
The report ends by saying that the path to transformation “will not be a linear journey; it requires a leap in our understanding of how justice, economics, technology and global cooperation can be furthered in the service of a safe and just future.” Two other recent news stories might give some insight into what that leap is like.
Leaping beyond growth?
First, the EU’s Beyond Growth conference at the European Parliament was attended by 2,500 people. It was described from day one as the Woodstock of Beyond Growth for two reasons: firstly, because it felt more like a festival than a conference; and secondly, because it attracted the rock stars of the beyond growth movement, and the halls of the European Parliament rang with rowdy ovations. The conference briefing paper provides many insights into possible futures beyond growth, and the fictional newspaper from May 2033 anticipates the news in a world of transformed policy making focussed entirely on the well-being of people and planet. Of course, as some commentators suggest, the conference outcomes do not yet offer a complete vision of an alternative future. Nevertheless, they give insight into what type of leap we need to take.
Artificially Intelligent Leaps
Secondly, debates about the role of Artificial Intelligence in managing our future continue to pepper the news. Will it save us or destroy us? If we humans cannot change course, will AI step in to curb our unsustainable behaviours and what are the associated ethics. These are the key questions that are considered by the William Temple Foundation’s Ethical Futures Network.
The signals that we must stop unsustainable behaviours and practices are overwhelmingly clear, whether from natural systems, or society or from specialists in technology. The William Temple Foundation is planning to convene interested parties from diverse disciplines to consider the contribution that faith-based organisations can play in crafting viable alternatives to current unsustainable practices and details will be forthcoming. Maybe we will get 10,000 participants, in a way that is reminiscent of how Archbishop William Temple attracted a large assembly of people in 1942 when he tackled the social issues of the day. It won’t be easy, but the signals clearly mean that our only choice now is to dig in and feel the fear of the leap into the unknown… It is best that we do it together.
Lois Tarbet is is also a Trustee of the William Temple Foundation.
‘Doing God is often messy and controversial, but the social benefits far outweigh the negatives’ would seem to be the gist of this much-anticipated review by Colin Bloom into how Government engages with faith which was published this week. The delay (three years in the writing) is partly explained by COVID but also in fairness, to the sheer amount of data the report received. Over 22,000 submissions and a million pieces of data later suggests that the issues surrounding religion and belief and its practice is still incredibly live and important. As the review correctly observes:
Faith in England and Wales is alive and well, and the abundance of detailed and passionate responses to this review across many faith and belief communities highlights the importance of the topic to many in contemporary British society. Faith is a diverse and evolving force which government cannot afford to ignore. (p. 30)
It is also the first review of its kind ever undertaken and is linked to the government’s Levelling Up agenda. The connection between religion and levelling up is not developed in report (perhaps because there is little consensus on what is meant by Levelling Up in the first place). But it perhaps betrays a sublimated wish on the part of Government for religion to act as both a moral legitimator for a rudderless policy term, and the hope that the activities and motivation of faith groups in upholding and developing their local communities (often the poorest and the most deprived) will give much needed meaningful content to the idea.
The report frames its understanding with a typology of true-believers, no-believers and make-believers. Increasing numbers of people in this society may baulk at such a simplistic binary narrative as true believer or no believer on the grounds that their religious and spiritual beliefs are deeply felt but complex and nuanced in their public expression. Make-believers refers to those who distort religious ideas into fundamentalist national and identity politics. The report is at pains to stress that these are a minority but that their activity needs to be more tightly regulated by government for the sake of safeguarding and freedom of speech.
This typology is necessary for understanding the rest of the report; i.e. that government needs to support and understand religion and belief in the round, and strategically support good religion and belief as a vital resource for promoting social wellbeing, equality and participation. To this end the report advocates firm policies on religious literacy for all public sector bodies, increased resourcing for RE in education and for those key areas where religion intersects with public provision in prison and health care, and the appointment of a national independent Faiths Champion.
But the report is equally clear that it is the role of the state to crack down on bad (or make-believe) religions linked to forms of nationalist and religious extremism. All the main religious faith traditions in the UK (including Christianity and its co-option by some far-right groups) have clear links with banned international and domestic terrorist organisations. Bad religion also rightly includes the practices of forced marriage and spiritual abuse in its list of things that Government needs to actively prescribe. However, the uneven and disproportionate way these sections are treated – issues outlining Sikh extremism occupies twice the length of discussion than all the other faith groups out together – is likely to raise accusations of potential tarring whole communities in ways that the Prevent programme has done for the Muslim community. The repeated observation that freedom to practice Christianity in the UK is now perceived to be under threat (perhaps the point could have been made just once or twice) is likely to fuel the toxic culture wars rhetoric of right-wing media and far-right groups.
Ultimately, the Bloom Review, is something of a missed opportunity to move the debate on religion and belief in England in a ground-breaking way. The research I undertook for the APPG on Faith and Society analysed the pandemic as a ‘permission space’ that allowed us to talk about religion and belief in a new way that also led to innovative and effective partnerships with secular agencies. The anxieties that secular groups usually feel about working with faith groups (for example, proselytization safeguarding, a lack of accountability etc) were suspended for the sake of effective working together. Stereotypes were largely disproved in the relationships forged in the crucible of the pandemic. Instead of difference this crucible highlighted shared values and therefore the possibility of achieving shared outcomes through co-creation of policies rather than co-production.
I hope the Bloom Review will be a landmark document that brings about lasting and positive change to faith and secular relations. What is missing is a step-change in re-imagining the role of religion and belief in British society that is commensurate with the unprecedented nature of the challenges facing this country. Most of the report’s recommendations see religion more as a problem to be managed, rather than highlighting, for example, the potential of religious ideas to profoundly shape the overall policy framework that delivers the sort of society we want to create. There is a reference to round tables. Where, however, are the structural opportunities to devise and shape policy, as well as deliver policy? William Temple did that 80 years ago from a Judeo-Christian perspective in his book report – Christianity and Social Order, which was published in1942 and paved the way for the post-war Welfare State. Levelling Up is a policy in desperate need of that sort of envisioning now, and it would be a multifaith and postsecular endeavour, not purely a Christian one.
As we negotiate the legacy of the pandemic, the ongoing cost of living crisis and the horror of climate disaster, religion and belief could – indeed should – be a real force for social renewal through this re-envisioning of levelling up, rather than applying sticking plasters and bandages to systems and policy plans that are already deeply broken.
In early 2022, I was the inaugural recipient of the William Temple Foundation Postdoctoral Award. Twelve months on, I am writing to share some of what has happened following the award. There are a number of strands to what is now an established postdoctoral agenda. Here I will share one strand, which covers work that is emerging with the Dialogue Society in Liverpool, beginning with a community Iftar in April.
The Fellows’ Award has been developed using a legacy from Len Collinson, former Deputy Lieutenant of Merseyside, Honorary Professor of the University of Central Lancashire, and business leader in northwest England. Collinson recognised that enterprise and interdisciplinary partnerships were central tenets of a flourishing society. Prof. Simon Lee, Chair of the William Temple Foundation, said of the award:
“A core part of the Foundation’s work has been supporting William Temple Scholars as they pursue their doctoral studies at Goldsmiths, University of London. Trustees have now committed to encouraging Scholars, once they have been awarded their PhD, to apply their research in society.”
In this spirit, I have begun to utilise the award to explore how dialogue can inform leadership and shared values in Liverpool, in uncertain times. The full project is set out in three blogs, the first of which can be found here. Following a call for participation, a connection with the Dialogue Society was established, which then connected me with volunteers who had recently moved to Liverpool.
For those who have not heard of it, the Dialogue Society is an international network that supports local Branches to establish associations in cities and to gather interested parties together to share. This is often done over food using an Iftar as a basis for a gathering. The Dialogue Society has drawn on the inspiration of the Hizmet Movement, a Turkish Muslim inspired approach to dialogue. Where a Branch is present it will convene meetings outside of the Iftar. In Liverpool there is not a Branch at present, but there is interest in establishing one.
In May 2022, I convened a dialogue in Liverpool. We met using Zoom, attracting attendance from Turkish muslim asylum seekers who had moved to Liverpool during the pandemic. The dialogue lasted for two hours and we explored questions of hope, barriers to hope and what might be done to overcome these barriers in the city. In response, themes included the safety and education of their children, loss of loved ones, the limitations created by a language barrier, and the stress and insecurity of being in an unknown city in an unknown country.
One respondent noted that this was the first time they had been offered space to reflect on their journeys and the difficulties they faced. One attendee noted that they would want to say a great deal more than their English could allow them too. They asked for the opportunity to write down their feelings and their experiences and to share these with those gathered with the hope that it could develop an opportunity for further reflection. Those gathered expressed a deep resilience to overcome barriers and to connect with people in the new communities they were part of. The small actions of others, a phone call from a friend in turkey, a cup of tea from a fellow community member in the city they have moved to were significant.
What had become clear is that through the transition into the UK the group gathered had found a new appreciation for the role social connection plays in their lives. They noted that they had lost work (in business and science and education) but gained a sense of togetherness and common humanity. This offered the basis for gatherings to continue, exploring a common humanity with others in the city to which they have just moved, not limited by their own preconceptions and worldviews per se, but finding common and shared ground with those communities that had welcomed them in to contribute to the place in which they now live.
This dialogue has become the basis for further gatherings that are taking place in 2023. The first of these is on the 12th April, when Dialogue Society and Spaces of Hope will convene a community Iftar at the Pal Multicultural Centre in Liverpool. We will continue to develop the dialogue we began in 2022, exploring the theme of hope and whether it would be a fruitful thing to do to establish a Branch of the Dialogue Society in Liverpool. Our focus on hope is a response to the many uncertainties we live with today. These include the cost of living crisis, the energy crisis, the pandemic, climate change, and many more. The goal is to facilitate resilience in the city, with people from across different communities, with different beliefs, values, and worldviews in curating a more hopeful place to live.
If you are in Liverpool and wish to attend the gathering, you are welcome to RSVP to Matthew at firstname.lastname@example.org by 31st March 2023.
[A]s a committed Christian and a socialist I am well aware that in one’s personal life at least, the political cannot be separated from the spiritual. Our conception of what it means to be a disciple and to follow Christ often act as an anchor for our political convictions to serve the least of these and be part of building a society which promotes the radical love and inclusion that we see in the life of Jesus.
My friend William Gibson (LLB in Scots law), studying for an MA in theology at Glasgow University and an Associate member of the Iona Community previously reflected on the SNP contest for a blog for the Student Christian Movement. I found this above quote especially moving and relatable for so many Christians who are inspired by their faith to work and campaign in politics.
Seeing our faith being ripped apart in the public square, being called irrelevant, prehistoric, damaging etc, takes its toll, especially for Christians who ascribe to a progressive, liberal agenda. The faith held by Kate Forbes does not reflect my own faith. It is not how I, or many other Christians would embody our faith if/when involved in politics. Fighting for the place of Christianity in politics, understanding that for many Christians it is their discipleship, their call to follow Christ, that leads them into politics to fight for a more just society and better global relationships, is complicated when our interpretations of Jesus’ call to bring His more just world differs, and where the diversity of Christian belonging and theology clash in the public square.
I want to uphold the work of Doug Gay, lecturer at Glasgow University who has consistently tried to explain the complication of holding a conservative Christianity in Scottish politics, ‘a good faith actor, like Kate Forbes, can have deep convictions which they believe they are bound to by divine authority and can hold these in a spirit of humility and love, accepting they are in a minority.’ It would be too easy for progressive Christians to dismiss Kate Forbes because of her faith held in the Free Church of Scotland. Yet Forbes’ faith is not one that willingly celebrates the diversity of God’s children, and her responses to challenges on this question have tended to emphasize her own minoritized position that stems from holding these beliefs.
This is perhaps where I have to take a step back and admit that I am not Scottish. I have lived in Scotland for almost 5 years, and support the Labour Party. I, however, fully support the call for an independent Scotland. Being Welsh and growing up in Wales, I feel equally estranged from Westminster and the current ruling shambles of the Tory Party. But, for the younger generation, for an independent Scotland to not just be a reactive to the disastrous policies of the Tory government, an Independent Scotland needs to be an inclusive Scotland.
My University of Edinburgh seminar this week discussed same-sex marriages in the Church of England. Essays were due imminently so I decided to have a creative class where the students would role-play different characters involved in the debate. The student who played a young person called for anarchy, joking that all issues in our society stemmed not from the Church but from the State. After laughter, I agreed with this student’s keen perception of how the younger generation understands our society. Politics in the UK have become a joke, where the rich becoming richer, with more tax breaks, more food banks, further hatred towards the ‘other’, and colder houses are taken for granted as the status quo.
My generation is absolutely disillusioned from what this country calls politics. A game of putting profit before people has alienated a majority of young people whose values are calling for a fairer, more just world, where women can feel safe walking alone and not be blamed for being raped because of the style of their underwear, where their friend can wear their hijab and feel beautiful, where their trans friend can confidently be their true self on a train, or at a football game, or in class and not be maliciously misgendered, or where students from working class backgrounds can be treated with integrity and be taken seriously.
Forbes wishes for ‘better days’ in Scotland, where it can be ‘a country where tolerance is the ruling ethic, differences are welcomed, fairness is the norm.’ Simon Lee explained in 2003, ‘[t]oleration only comes into play when one finds X repugnant but decides nonetheless not to use any means at one’s disposal […] to curtail X.’ Sturgeon is held by many to not only endorse tolerance, but actively promote instead inclusion and belonging. As she shared numerous times, her Scotland was not one where bigotry or hatred would be permissible. Forbes is concerned for those whose opinions and views are becoming marginalized as Scottish society contemplates the move to include embodied peoples who have not been allowed to be their full selves in society. Tolerance on its own however does not automatically advance the status quo; it prefers rather to look behind to appease those who are blind to their own privilege and feel entitled to voice their dislike of having to listen to new voices. Forbes declared that she would not have voted for same-sex marriage at the time it came to the vote in the Scottish parliament in 2014; this would not have promoted fairness as to people’s rights to marry whom they love, nor welcome differences in love.
When watching the latest hustings between the three SNP Leader candidates I was surprised at how Kate Forbes and Ash Regan criticized the previous SNP government and leader Nicola Sturgeon. They both advocated a ‘break’ from the previous policies that ‘were not working.’ Humza Yousaf however upheld the work of the SNP and Sturgeon. Yousaf also was the only visibly outraged member on this TV panel reacting to the UK government’s brutal proposed immigration bill. He asked the two other candidates to agree with him that the bill would not belong in Scotland, and Ash Regan collectedly responded that these government policies were a concern for her “among others”. Sturgeon has consistently praised Glasgow for fighting against forced removals of their neighbours by Home Office enforces, and has publicly refuted racist rhetorics that vilified racially minoritized persons in Britain. Her open-armed acceptance of LGBTQI+ people, especially through the recently passed Gender Recognition Reform Bill showed her commitment to be a true ally of trans people facing profound victimization. Sturgeon pioneered a narrative of a nation that she claimed was distinct from Westminster through its commitment to create a Scotland that was legislatively dedicated to a vision of unity and solidarity. Stephen Noon, previously the chief strategist for Yes Scotland, but who is now studying for a Ph.D in Divinity at the University of Edinburgh reflected,
Our nation’s passing of equal marriage legislation not only changed Scotland, but the acceptance it offered to me, and other gay men and women, was transformational. We were not second best, but equal in the eyes of our peers.
All three candidates have been painted as hazy when it comes to supporting LGBTQI+ policies. Yousaf missed the vote, and Regan resigned as minister for Community Safety over the Gender Reform Bill. It seems from her discussions on the topic Forbes would tolerate the law of same-sex marriage in Scotland, and Regan has voiced that she would scrap the GRB if she gets into power. I sense neither figure would want to elevate the inclusive and progressive agenda of Sturgeon. Yousaf however had supported the same-sex campaign and explained he was away on government business during the vote. The media has grilled Yousaf, a practicing Muslim, about his own personal religious views and he has repeatedly assured the public that he supports LGBTQI+ people, wants equality to thrive in Scotland, would uphold the laws and wants what is best for Scottish people. Stephen Noon explains that his own faith, ‘is not primarily a set of rules or propositions; it is, for me, a relationship with the source of love. That means the starting point is not “the law” but always the person in front of me and the reality they are facing.’ I am sad that Forbes has tended not to represent how her faith leads her towards building a more generous and accepting Scotland. Yet I see this, and my faith, represented in the love, passion and care I perceive to be shown by Yousaf’s campaign for the SNP leadership. If the political game of vilifying the ‘other’, be that migrants, gay people, trans people, or working-class people enters Scotland I fear the support for Independence from the younger generations will be lost. I hope a humble, love-filled faith can continue to be represented in Scottish politics, and help younger generations restore their hope in democratic governments.
Nonviolence, Just War, or Peacebuilding? Catholic Ethics and the Russia-Ukraine War
2023 is a year of notable anniversaries in the Roman Catholic Church. April sees the 60th Anniversary of the promulgation of John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris written as the Cuban Missile Crisis terrified the world, whilst May brings the 40th Anniversary of The Challenge of Peace published by the United States Bishops’ Conference in response to the continuing threat of nuclear war that overshadowed the years before 1989.
One would hope that in commemorating the anniversaries of these publications, we would be living in a very different context – a context in which nuclear arms were no longer a threat but rather a topic that allowed people the chance to reminisce about nuclear warning drills at school and the relief they felt at the resolution of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sadly, we do not. In the past year, whenever people have heard that I am a Christian ethicist who works on matters relating to war and peace, they inevitably ask me in worried tones: ‘do you think that Putin will launch a nuclear missile attack on the West?’ To which my usual reply is ‘probably not, but there’s no point in worrying about it because if it happens, we’ll all be dead anyway.’
My dark sense of humour aside, the events in Ukraine over the last year have been a sobering reminder that we are, as Pope Francis frequently reminds us, ‘fighting a third world war piecemeal’ and there is something about the invasion of Ukraine that has really brought this home to us, in a way that the fighting in Yemen and Syria for instance hasn’t. Whether this is a result of the renewal of Cold War hostilities or collective guilt regarding the West’s role in destabilising the Middle East and colonisation, remains to be seen and I’m sure will be endlessly debated in the years to come.
Responses within the Roman Catholic Church, the tradition from which I write, have been similarly intense. This is particularly because, as paragraph 2309 of the Catechism teaches, self-defence is one of the few categories of Just War teaching remaining and it rapidly became apparent that both Ukrainian forces and society would be able to withstand this invasion. A Temple Tract written with Professor Tobias Winright of St Patrick’s Pontifical University, Maynooth, explores these debates in the light of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. In it, we show how the concepts of just war, just peace, and peacebuilding have been brought to bear in moral analyses of this war, as well as how the war has impacted these ethical perspectives.
Debates on matters relating to war and peace have been a key feature of the so-called ‘culture wars’ that dominate Roman Catholicism in the US, and which sadly seem to be making their way over to the UK. In broad brush strokes this means that conservatives advocate for ‘just war theory’ and liberals are ‘absolute pacifists’. Pope Francis’s advocacy of nonviolence (which is not the definitive declaration campaigned for by the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative) is seen as either dangerous or something to be celebrated rather than for what it is: a continuation of the past 60 years of papal teaching. Neither side are as bad or as naïve as the other side likes to think, but, in public at least, they aren’t conversing with one another.
This form of either/or thinking is damaging. It allows for the maintenance of a state of negative peace in which the threat of violence is always present and sees positive peace as utopian rather than the hope offered to us by Christ’s kenosis. The nature and form of the debate allows Roman Catholics to abdicate responsibility for peace, because, so the logic goes, war and peace are matters of international relations and are something that we can’t do anything about. Most worryingly though, it leaves no space in between for the kind of thinking that comes from ethicists, such as Tobias Winright, Lisa Sowle Cahill, and myself, and activists, such as women religious working in conflict zones, who seek to reconcile the two into a position which accepts that violence can and will happen, but that it should be mitigated, and that we all ought to be working towards creating a state of positive peace both globally and locally.
We have a saying in Irish ‘leagfaidh tua bheag crann mór’ literally ‘a small axe can fell a big tree’ which is helpful when one is overwhelmed by the scale of the task facing us. We can build peace in a myriad of ways, we can as Cardinal Matteo Zuppi suggests create a zone of ceasefires around our hearts which will ripple outwards like a pebble thrown into water; we can pray for peace; we can educate ourselves on the ways in which nonviolent activism works and implement its teachings into our everyday lives; we can campaign for as much money to be spent on humanitarian assistance as on arms. What we can’t do is remain silent in the face of the suffering caused by war.
Exactly 250 years ago today, on 1st January 1773, the words of Amazing Grace were first heard here in Olney, Buckinghamshire. They were composed by the Reverend John Newton to accompany his sermon. In the following century, they were set to the tune we associate with Newton’s words.
The same judge who heard the Tobias Rustat case about, and in, Jesus College, Cambridge in 2022 had granted a faculty in 2021 to the Church of St Peter & St Paul, Olney, to present a more balanced account of Reverend John Newton ahead of today’s anniversary. Chancellor Hodge QC’s conclusion was that,
‘The planned changes to the eastern end of the south aisle of the church are designed to bring into regular and beneficial use what is presently a little-used area of the church and to ensure that it is available to educate visitors, in a balanced way, about John Newton, his life and his work, and to celebrate his later, and worthy, achievements whilst not overlooking or in any way seeking to diminish his earlier sins. The proposals will enhance the significance of the church through its strong connections with John Newton; and they will have no adverse or negative impact upon the significance of the church building. The four pews that will be removed are of no intrinsic, practical, or historical significance; and they will not be lost to the church. Rather, the proposals are entirely positive in terms of their impact. As the ‘Home of Amazing Grace’, with significant connections with John Newton and William Cowper, the church already attracts thousands of visitors every year; and the changes that are being proposed will only serve to enhance the visitors’ experience, thereby enhancing the church’s mission. The new displays will serve to remind the worshipping congregation and visitors alike that Jesus came “to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5, 32). They will also bring to mind the true saying of Saint Paul, worthy of all to be received: “That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1, 15) as we are instructed during the Service of Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer. From the material that has been presented to me, it would appear that the church are alive to the need both to ensure that there is appropriate diversity amongst the presenters of materials which are to be displayed within the church, and to recognise the vital contributions made to the abolition of the vile trade in human flesh by African and other global majority heritage writers and abolitionists, women and working class reformers rather than simply focusing upon the work of prominent, white, upper and middle class male abolitionists like John Newton and William Wilberforce.’
In an era of cancellation, how has this legacy of a former slave-trader survived? It was an act of redemption but its lasting impact has been helped considerably by other creative acts of genius through the ages. John Newton’s eighteenth century words were blessed fifty years later by the American William Walker who set Amazing Grace in the 1830s to variations on a folk tune known as New Britain, and who popularised this version through his entrepreneurial and religious vocation of selling hymnals. Amazing Grace was revived in popular culture in the second half of the twentieth century. In 2015, it was used to great effect by President Barack Obama in his eulogy for Reverend Clem Pinckney, one of the Black Christians murdered in their own church in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white gunman they had welcomed into their worshipping community. Just looking at the point where the President began to sing, on YouTube, is graceful enough but it is worth watching or listening to the whole eulogy to appreciate the beautiful way in which President Obama introduced grace earlier in his oration and, especially, around the assumption that the murderer would have had about how his victims’ relatives, friends and church community would react, where President Obama made this unattributed allusion to another insight from Olney, this time by Newton’s friend, the poet William Cowper,
‘Oh, but God works in mysterious ways’ lightly paraphrasing the opening line of Cowper’s 1773 hymn, ‘God moves in a mysterious way’.
Instead of nursing a grievance, the community’s reaction was a measured, forgiving kind of grieving, an amazing grace, to which the President added beyond measure. The congregation is electrified by this phrase 16 minutes into the eulogy. Then President Obama begins to talk about grace. He gives a moving reason why sometimes a symbol should be removed, talking about how amazing it would be for the state of South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag in recognition that slavery was wrong. He links this back to God’s grace and faces squarely political controversies around race discrimination in employment and around gun laws. This eulogy is one of the greatest of contributions to the public square. It was only after 35 minutes that President Obama began to sing Amazing Grace.
On this 250th anniversary, then, it is timely to reflect on how we add to legacies and how they are linked. For example, I think it mattered that Newton lived here in Olney, with Cowper and all those oppressed in the lace industry and other disadvantaged circumstances, just as it mattered that Temple, Beveridge and Tawney lived in Toynbee Hall, in the midst of poverty, after their privileged time together as students. Newton and Cowper tried to help the poorest of their neighbours but also learned from them. They exchanged stories of Cowper’s life-threatening mental health issues and of Newton’s life-threatening journeys, including his shipwreck off the northern coast of Ireland.
Listening to Amazing Grace, which might have been directed to him, was thought to be William Cowper’s last experience in church and this hymn might have been his last. I gave the year, 1773, but it was actually in January, indeed in the next day or so after Amazing Grace, before another suicidal episode.
How amazing that, here in this little town of Olney, within hours of each other, Newton wrote the world’s favourite hymn and Cowper wrote the wondrous phrase that is so often echoed, as by President Obama, and which is often assumed to be a Biblical verse, but which was his original expression, about God moving in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.
I think Cowper might have drawn on the Giant’s Causeway and the storm in which his friend Newton almost died in the imagery of his opening stanza. Unlike Newton’s Amazing Grace, this example of Cowper’s genius has not yet benefited from such a fitting tune. So I wonder if, in death as in life, Newton (whose fame for this itself depends so much on the American Walker’s yoking of his words to the amazing New Britain tune) could come to the aid of his friend, Cowper. Since both hymns are in that 8, 6, 8, 6 syllable-rhythm, and bearing in mind President Obama’s intertwining of the two friends’ words, could ‘God moves in a mysterious way’ be sung to Amazing Grace’s New Britain tune? Might that be one small legacy from the celebrations here today, and around the world, of the 250th anniversary of Amazing Grace?
‘God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform He plants his footsteps in the sea And rides upon the storm.’
Simon Lee lives in Olney and is the Chair of the Trustees of the William Temple Foundation, Professor of Law, Aston University, and Emeritus Professor of Jurisprudence, Queen’s University Belfast
In 2022, the William Temple Foundation has marked the 80th anniversaries of William Temple’s Christianity & Social Order and of the famous Report by his friend, William Beveridge, which is often credited with responsibility for the foundation of the Welfare State. We held conferences in partnerships at Canterbury Cathedral, Balliol College, Oxford, and Blackburn Cathedral, all places which had a link to William Temple’s life.
We heard from some of the most distinguished theologians and historians, convening gatherings of diverse voices, including those critical of Temple or Beveridge or of the Welfare State. We have more to do in 2023 and beyond to ensure that our panels are more evenly balanced, for instance by gender, but we have made progress for instance in listening to a range of perspectives from younger participants in contemporary debates.
For the most part, there was a recognition that the ideas of Temple and Beveridge, together with those of another college friend of theirs, R H Tawney, were influential and progressive. They were prophetic in and during two world wars, which makes their examples relevant to society amidst various crises today.
More detailed lessons from different speakers either have been published already or will be in 2023 but I would like to round off the year with a few points from my remarks at the end of the Blackburn Cathedral symposium on 15th December.
First, that setting was chosen partly because William Temple as Bishop of Manchester had the wisdom and humility almost one hundred years ago to give up part of that big diocese to create a new diocese. Its surrounding communities have become increasingly Muslim which also made it an appropriate setting to consider how we might adapt Temple’s pioneering work in Jewish-Christian partnerships to encompass the widest possible range of faiths and beliefs. Personally, I love the nominative determinism of Temple’s surname and believe that our Foundation can reach out to, and learn from, all those who have their own temples, or places of worship, whatever their particular faiths or beliefs.
Second, there was a disagreement about whether the welfare state is working as Temple and Beveridge envisaged. It is worth pointing out that Beveridge disliked the term and called his proposals instead a ‘security plan’ but the expression used by Temple proved more popular, often without an appreciation of the context in which he coined ‘welfare-state’ in the 1920s, which was as a contrast to ‘power-state’. It is timely at the end of 2022, the year in which President Putin launched his war against Ukraine, to bear in mind that security is important both for nations and for all their citizens, and that our preference is for a state which focuses on the well-being or welfare of its citizens, the ‘common good’. Within such a state, there will be plenty of scope for intermediate groups, called voluntary associations in another report by Beveridge, to play their part in the flourishing of all individuals and communities, but there is a role for the state itself in safeguarding everyone.
Third, our Foundation is a small example of these intermediate institutions, such as cathedrals, other places of worship, colleges and other places of study, academic research centres, grassroots community organisations, and diverse charities. We value working in partnerships with other such institutions, which has been a feature of our year. All these ‘little platoons’, as Edmund Burke dubbed them, have a role to play in creating and curating what one of our research fellows, Dr Matthew Barber-Rowell, calls Spaces of Hope. This is why I am so interested in what the ethos was of Balliol College, Oxford, as the nineteenth century ended and the twentieth began, when Temple, Beveridge and their friend R H Tawney were all students there. Of course, different institutions will have different values, the same institution might change values over time, and individuals might take different lessons, if any, from the same community at the same time. But there is something remarkable about the exchanges of ideas between those characters and the way they drew on the spirit of earlier generations of Balliol students and their tutors. Again, it was not about all thinking alike. Rather, as a Balliol student of the 1880s Anthony Hope Hawkins said of his tutor, R L Nettleship, it was that he ‘taught me to seek truth – and never to be sure I had found it’.
Fourth, as this 80th anniversary year proceeded, I was struck by how many reports I read or re-read not only by Beveridge but also by committees which included Temple or Tawney. This was brought out beautifully through one of the many insights of our final panel of the year when Lord (Rowan) Williams pointed out the methodology of the Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales, of which he is co-chair, which was established by the Welsh Government. The Commission has made a point of going out and about to listen to people in their own communities. This reminded me of co-founding thirty years ago in Northern Ireland, with a journalist friend Robin Wilson, Initiative 92, a citizens’ movement which created the independent Opsahl Commission. This invited representations from all-comers, whether or not they were subject to broadcasting restrictions, to offer views on ways forward for people and communities in Northern Ireland. Charitable funding, principally from Quaker foundations, allowed outreach workers to help new and old community groups develop their submissions and prepare for their appearances at the 17 public hearings and two inter-school assemblies held across Northern Ireland. The Commission received over 500 submissions from more than 3.000 people. The report was published in June 1993 and is perhaps best remembered for its practical proposals to promote parity of esteem between different communities. In my opinion, however, the beauty of it was in the process. As Index on Censorship observed, ‘The Opsahl Report gave a platform to voices excluded elsewhere – from the Catholic and Protestant working women of Belfast to academics and lawyers – all tired of the old polemic. It gave hope that in Northern Ireland, too, an end is stirring.’ The first IRA ceasefire came just over a year later at the end of August 1994 and the Good Friday Agreement was reached in 1998. This emphasis on encouraging inclusive processes, from Northern Ireland to Wales and beyond, connects to points our Foundation has made throughout 2022, especially in Professor Chris Baker’s public lecture in Leeds and in his wider writing on what he calls kenotic leadership.
Fifth, what Temple and Beveridge in their different ways brought to war-torn people in 1942 was ultimately a prophetic voice of hope. Today, still, what the socially excluded are ultimately excluded from is a sense of hope. Cardinal Suenens explained that, ‘To hope is not to dream but to turn dreams into reality’. When we celebrate an anniversary, we are not simply looking backwards. We are seeking inspiration to pass forwards. In war-time, people yearn for peace. The priority for those being ‘left behind’ is naturally food and shelter. Both Temple and Beveridge wanted better education as well as good health and living conditions for all. All this comes together in the gift of hope. On publication of their 1942 works, Temple and Beveridge immediately set about taking their messages around the country and beyond. The talks by Temple are collected in a volume entitled The Church Looks Forward. They include his BBC broadcast for Christmas 1942. Temple returned to the theme of states using power and force being resisted by nations that wished to promote the welfare of all through love and hope. He ended with wise words which apply just as much in 2022 as in 1942: ‘the hope of the world will not be fulfilled when’ we have overcome aggressor states, ‘that hope will be fulfilled when the lesson of Christmas is fully learnt’, by which he meant absorbing the mystery of the ‘Child of Bethlehem’, who ‘lies helpless in the stable’. Then he spoke again on the last Sunday of 1942, in a BBC broadcast entitled ‘From The Old Year To The New’, in which he asked for an examination of our individual and collective consciences:
‘So at this moment of passage from a year of so great vicissitudes, which yet closes with great hope and promise, to a year which must call for all we have of constancy in endurance, and perhaps also for the vision and wisdom to make a right use of success, let us take stock of ourselves and ask how far we, to whom a noble cause has been entrusted, are worthy to be its champions.’
Simon Lee is the Chair of the Trustees of the William Temple Foundation, Professor of Law, Aston University, and Emeritus Professor of Jurisprudence, Queen’s University Belfast
At this time of year, as we enter into the season of Advent, a season of expectation and preparation as we ponder on the coming of Christ, both in tiny fragile human form, and as the one who will return as judge, we also find ourselves swept up in the rush of festivities and more mundane preparations. The familiar images of Christmas are presented to us as a backdrop to our December lives; of jolly Santas, glittering decorations, and of course, traditional nativity scenes; in cards, as wooden cut-outs in our public spaces, in school plays, and sung in carols in churches, street corners, and shopping centres.
Interpretations of the precise set-up of Mary’s birth narrative are many, but I imagine it to be less perfect, less sterile, than how it has often been portrayed and presented to us. We know the scene – a peaceful Jesus (no crying he makes) a doting mother (meek and mild), gentle animals, and a comfortable manger. It can feel a long way from the mess and magic of childbirth. A long way from the fear and anxieties of a young couple giving birth away from home, knowing perhaps, that their next journey was not towards home, but flight into a strange land.
Although traditionally, childbirth has not inspired much theological reflection, we can perhaps use this time of year to dwell with Mary in her final days of pregnancy and her childbirth, and to enter into solidarity with those today, facing birth in uncertain or dangerous situations. For birth remains a risky business.
Despite maternal mortality rates falling worldwide, the number remains too high, with 152 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021. The vast majority of these are in the global south. In addition, a UN report published in 2021 states that in the previous three years, a million children were born as refugees, their early lives echoing the infant Christ, born in a temporary home, and dependent upon powers and forces beyond their control, yet each birth bearing the potential to bring hope, with life continuing despite its most gruelling circumstances.
And yet, here in the UK, we fool ourselves if we can compartmentalise this as a ‘far away’ problem, and return to our cosy Christmases, unmoved or unaffected. Birth shows us that the ‘dangerous’ margins are not only geographical – a cause for which we might donate a charity Christmas card. The margins where Mary can be found standing in solidarity are those of race, ability, and class here in the UK. Examining them, should draw us into a desire to seek to improve birthing conditions worldwide, as we reflect upon our common humanity.
A recent report published by the University of Oxford as part of the MBRACE Project (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK) revealed that, excluding deaths from COVID, maternal mortality had increased by almost 20% in the UK in the period 2028-2020. The leading direct cause of death amongst pregnant people, or those within 6 weeks of birth, was suicide. Those facing ‘multiple adversities’ including a history of trauma or abuse were more likely to die, and that ‘women living in the most deprived areas were more than twice as likely to die as those in the most affluent part of the UK’.
As we are seeing across all sectors, the cracks are widening between those who can live lives of relative safety, and those who cannot. Black women are already 3.7 times more likely to die in childbirth than white women, and are more likely to feel unheard and less able to advocate for themselves and for their child. In a 2021 article in The Independent, Chine McDonald writes of having to leverage her ‘husband’s whiteness to ensure the protection of my baby and myself’.
These disparities we see in birth draw attention to the same disparities which exist across society, that the world we live in is a world tilted to the voices, lives, and experiences of the able, the white, the wealthy, and the male. The agony faced by women seeking treatment for common gynaecological conditions such as endometriosis shows just how unimportant female health so often is viewed as. As the lead researcher of the MBRACE study, Professor Marian Knight describes, these appalling conditions are simply ‘bleak’.
Reflecting on the state of maternity care this advent, it feels as though the humble and meek, the forgotten and excluded, are only being further cast down, stepped over or ignored by those with power. This picture feels at odds to the sentiment of Mary’s own song, the Magnificat. During her own pregnancy her voice is raised to sing of the world which God will bring about – where the proud are scattered, the hungry fed, the rich sent away empty, and the lowly lifted up. We fail to see the image of God in these women, and fail to see the presence of Mary, in birthing solidary besides them.
Images and icons of Mary have long been used as devotional aids by women, as ways to petition for Mary’s prayers, to share in her life, and the life of her son. In recent times, new icons, such as Mark Dukes’ icon ’Our Lady Mother of Ferguson and all those killed by gun violence’ have highlighted God’s presence with those who suffer violence and oppression, and call for our Christian solidary. This solidarity must firstly be expressed in the transformation of our own hearts, to stand alongside those who face unsafe births, to amplify their voices, and to raise our own voices to attempt to transform their experiences.
At Christmas the reality of our Christian faith comes into focus with the incarnation, that God is a God who chooses to become human. A God for whom flesh and blood matters, and who knows what it is to be born, a God who is present amongst the suffering of the world. When we gaze upon images of the nativity this Advent and Christmas we should be reminded of the risk of birth, of the God who is familiar with the mess of the manger, and of Mary, Mother of God, who, in giving birth to Jesus, is ever giving birth on the margins of society.
May we use this as a chance to reflect on those giving birth this Christmas, in fearful situations, in refugee camps, and in inadequately staffed hospitals, including those facing trauma, and those whose voices will not be heard, and commit ourselves to doing what we can to ensure that childbirth is safe and supported.
When Christ returns, how will he judge us for what we have done for the least amongst us?
Over the last few months, I have become aware, while working as a community development practitioner in the Durham Diocese, that the wonderful staff and volunteers are increasingly expressing that they are exhausted and angry.
Loughborough University has found that North East now has the highest child poverty rates in the country, with over 50% children growing up in poverty in some communities. Child Poverty rates in the region have risen by almost half, from 26% to 38%, in the space of six years compared to a drop by two percentage points across the country 
I was reflecting on this when I came across an old report from the Church Urban Fund that looked the problems facing community organisation in the most deprived areas. It described:
‘Significant issues confronting people living in deprived communities – The most common problems cited by respondents included high levels of unemployment, especially amongst young people; reductions in benefits coupled with rising rent, food costs and bills; increasing levels of homelessness, and rising levels of debt’.
What, however, most shocked me about the report was not the content – but the fact that it was written ten years ago! The austerity years, the COVID-19 years, and now the current economic crisis. Each wave of crisis has seen congregations and faith-based organisations pick themselves up and do what they can. Food provisions, debt advice, drop-in support, and warm spaces.
The congregations and projects I support are increasingly growing exhausted, not knowing what to do next or where to turn. This exhaustion has been highlighted by a recent article in The Guardian:
“Many of our teams are struggling to cope as demand for our support outstrips our food and financial donations and we are forced to make difficult decisions about how we operate. We are overstretched and exhausted. Many of our organisations are at breaking point.” 
However, there is another emotion that I am witnessing: the anger resulting from the recognition that years of responding to human need through loving service has not changed things. Rather, it seems things are now worse than ever before, as highlighted in the child poverty statistics.
Last month an email from an area dene explained that at the deanery synod found ‘there is a desire to do more than give, [as] this cannot be accepted as the norm and collectively we would like to campaign but are unsure how to take this forward’. Our charitable practice doesn’t help us to seek to transform unjust structures of society. As Thia Cooper reminds us:
Charity is only needed when a situation of injustice exists. On its own, charity is not enough; it leaves the person ‘giving’ with the power. It does not ask how to achieve a just system, where no one holds greater economic, political, radical, or other types of power over another human being. (Cooper, 2007: 175) 
Last week was Living Wage Week. As the chair of Tyne and Wear Citizens Living Wage Action team, we will be celebrating the first Living Wage City in the region, Sunderland, and our second council, Newcastle.
This year, I have noticed a shift in the narrative around the Living Wage campaign from one of advocacy to deep solidarity. There is a deeper connection for many of us which has moved us beyond standing alongside as we are all, to varying degrees, look with concern to work out how to make ends meet. I am not playing the ‘we’re all in this together’ card, because that just isn’t true but there is a deeper solidarity.
Joerg Rieger (2017) develop the notion of solidarity into ‘deep solidarity’ when describing a situation where 99% of us who must work for a living, including people who are excluded from the job market, realise that they have this in common. Deep solidarity recognises that the system works for the few rather than for the many, and that nothing will change unless more of the many come together. It also recognises that our different religious traditions can help us imagine and reimagine deep solidarity.
At the heart of worship in Israel is the Exodus from the conditions of slavery in Egypt; this tradition ties together the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Interreligious dialogue is a live option not only because of shared traditions but also because deep solidarity helps us deal with our differences. In fact, differences become an asset when the resources of our different traditions are allowed to make their specific contributions to the struggle. (Rieger, 2017: 361) 
So tonight, I am off to run listening training for the deanery synod who wanted to move beyond simply giving but weren’t sure how to go about it. We will be practicing how to have conversations with people who are different from ourselves with such an understanding of deep solidarity.