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The C of E can lead social action

12 October 2012

Business leaders should be invited to help ease economic needs, argues Douglas Hollis


Getting our hands dirty: Christians can be useful to the world

Getting our hands dirty: Christians can be useful to the world

IT IS time that the Church in the UK took steps to make its message better known. Its unremitting decline may have been relieved by the development of Fresh Expressions and similar initiatives, but the gospel of Christ is virtually unknown outside church circles. Valiant efforts are made by many parishes and dioceses to reach beyond their boundaries, but those attempts are too small and scattered to attract much notice. Little emerges from the Church at institutional level to arouse public interest.

The consequences across society of this failure to make the gospel heard are apparent in worsening standards of conduct in the public and private sectors; in the imbalance in the distribution of wealth; and in the frequency of investigations into ethical standards in the media, the banks, and even the conduct of MPs. Christian belief is that only the law of love will finally constrain people to behave decently, and yet this re- mains unsaid to the wider population.

Ways in which to present this gospel at national level are not easy to find. Words alone will not work. The efforts must be large enough to command media and public attention. They must show that the Church means what it says; that it loves the world more than it loves itself; and that it is not just trying to fill its own pews.

TO BE accepted as relevant and useful, what the Church says and does must run with the grain of social and economic need. Four such areas are:

1. The financial predicament of many voluntary societies and charities in the present economic climate.

2. Jobs and apprenticeships for the unemployed, and for young people who can no longer afford to go to university.

3. More club leaders and youth workers for young people.

4. Help for the elderly house- bound.

The steps must be attainable and provide the springboard for further action. They must be cheap to lay on, because the Church has no money to spare. The aim of the proposals that follow would be the satisfaction of those needs, but they would provide also a channel for expressing those social values that are redolent of the gospel of love.

SOME years ago, I ran a series of productions that could provide a model for the Church to adopt. The heads of large companies were invited to carefully designed presentations, at which they were told of the need for jobs, training, workshops, and factories in the inner-cities. An eight-to-one return on outlay resulted; i.e. for every pound spent on mounting the events, a pay-back of £8 was received in inner-city investment.

A similar presentation in Hove for the benefit of charities in Chichester diocese was equally successful in gaining new jobs, office space, and administrative help, as well as money for those groups. Realising the potential benefit to its residents, the then Hove Borough Council provided, without charge, its largest premises and refreshments for the delegates.

Similar presentations in every diocese would yield a similarly good outcome. Charities would display their work and needs to an invited audience of the heads of businesses in the area. After the main presentation, members of the public would be invited to view the display, and contribute to the work.

A platform party of the bishop, the lord lieutenant, the patron of a charity, the MP, and the president of the CBI for the area could remind delegates of the benefits to themselves, their staff, and families provided by the charities.

These groups need not just money, but support and encouragement, secondhand computer equipment, stationery, a personnel carrier for an old-people's or youth club, legal or accountancy services, office space, or training facilities, which many businesses could provide at little cost to themselves.

IN LONDON, the chief executives of banks and financial institutions could be invited to a conference at which the Archbishop of Canterbury would take the chair, perhaps assisted by the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Bishop of London.

A range of costed options for job-creation projects, new apprenticeships, and the appointment of youth workers would be described. Delegates would be invited to contribute to a seed-corn fund of up to £250 million for such work; the options would be chosen depending on the money received. For continuity, the fund would have to be annually renewable.

It would chime with the Government's Big Society initiative so support from the Government might be expected, perhaps including match-funding. A seed-corn fund of such size would require significant patronage, and the chairmanship of a high-profile figure.

Large though it might appear, such a fund would represent a small fraction of the profits and bonuses earned in the City. It is not unlikely, therefore, that the banks might welcome this opportunity to recover their lost public respect, provided that they were assured that the money would be well used and properly administered.

THE cost to the Church of such events would be small, since other local authorities might follow the example of Hove in offering premises free of charge. Given the publicity opportunities that the events would provide, the supermarkets might well sponsor the presentations and supply refreshments.

There are people in the churches with skills, who could run the events and administer the fund, perhaps assisted by staff seconded from the donor bodies. The voluntary bodies would undoubtedly welcome an opportunity to present their work.

The presentations must be professional. After preliminary discussions, planning would begin with the appointment of a strong working group to prepare a pattern for the local events. This plan, together with training, would be made available to participating dioceses. Representation on the working group could include Lambeth Palace, Church House, Westminster, two or three dioceses, and the Council for Voluntary Social Services. The Roman Catholic and Free Churches could be included.

Another group, working in parallel, would prepare the London event, first seeking advice from government ministers, the Treasury, the CBI, and the Bank of England on the approach to the banks. Those bodies might be represented on the group.

WOULD these proposals work? As regards the local appeals for support for charities, there is no reason to doubt the same success now as in the past. The presentation in London to leaders of the financial institutions would enter new territory, but the proposed preliminary discussions with central authorities would overcome much of the uncertainty.

Why do it? Because Jesus said: "Launch out into the deep." He said that those who claim to love God but do nothing for their brothers are liars. There are people out there, served by the voluntary bodies, whose help they cannot receive for lack of funds. Thousands want jobs or apprenticeships that a little imagination and money could provide. In all such fields, greater effort by the Church is needed. It still has a voice of moral authority, which it should use for the public good.

What is in it for the Church? A platform would be provided at the highest levels for every bishop to preach the gospel of love of neighbour, made real in positive action. An opportunity would be provided for leaders of commerce and industry to contribute directly towards social needs. The importance of the proposed projects would attract media publicity, and so elevate the Church in the public mind.

The whole Church would be drawn together in common endeavour, with lasting resources of money for continuing the work in employment and social fields. It would put the Church back on the map, and establish our new archbishop as its leader.

The Revd Douglas Hollis is a former civil servant and consultant to public bodies, who is now an NSM in Sussex. Versions of this and his earlier articles for parish-magazine inserts or leaflets are available from kingdom.builders@btinternet.com.


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