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‘Together for the Common Good’ conference and political action

13 September 2013


From the Dean of Chichester
Sir, - With more than 150 fellow-Christians of many traditions, I spent last weekend at Liverpool Hope University for a conference on the theme "Together for the Common Good". It was inspired by the well-remembered ecumenical partnership between Liverpool's bishops, David Sheppard and Derek Worlock, from the 1970s to 1990s - which, incidentally gave birth to the remarkable Anglican-Roman Catholic University in which the conference was held.

It provided a timely opportunity to reflect on the theme, and on the paramount need for a serious theological response to some of the issues of the day, especially as these are so often caricatured in the tabloid press - among them, Europe, immigration, the benefit cap and "bedroom tax", food banks, Islamophobia, and many more.

Faith communities are picking up the consequences of many of these issues at local level, but there is a pressing need to address causes from the biblical perspective of the relationship between love and justice. The conference was quite clear, after the example of Sheppard and Worlock, that this is best tackled "better together".

For sure, ecumenism has moved on from their era, often in the direction of project-based local initiatives rather than formal structures. A consequence has been a dawning awareness that it is not necessary to agree on everything in order to work together for love and justice: as Archbishop Welby has said, with refreshing realism, unlike-minded people can love each other and get on with service to the world.

I have been moved to write to the Church Times as one who was bowled over (as the cricketing Bishop Sheppard might have said) by the sheer enthusiasm and passionate commitment of all at Liverpool Hope, to co-operate for the common good, and to realise the gospel imperative to work together for justice and peace; to translate the vision of Sheppard and Worlock into a pro- gramme of ecumenical (and surely interfaith) partnership, for the sake of Christ's Kingdom and - by definition - for the good of all our people.

The Deanery
Chichester PO19 1PX

From the Revd Godfrey Butland
Sir, - Professor Hilary Russell's article (Comment, 30 August) rightly highlights the need for a new confidence for Churches, acting together in the face of an increasingly polarised and unequal society. The conference to which the end of her article referred has just taken place at Liverpool Hope University. It was a truly remarkable event.

I returned with two clear impressions. First, the state we're in is probably far worse than many people realise. The growing number of food banks and the displacement of people from their homes because of the bedroom tax are just two signs of chronic poverty, particularly in our urban areas. Furthermore, as many delegates pointed out, our political system is proving quite incapable of dealing with the problems that face us.

Meanwhile, it is evident that an oligarchy of wealthy individuals have increasing power, while proving themselves indifferent to the needs of the poor.

In terms of response to our nation's ills, however, the situation may be better than many people realise. The passion for justice and the common good at the conference was palpable - and those present were only a tiny proportion of like-minded people, including their own colleagues. Not all were prac- tising Christians; most were. And the clarion call of the conference was for them to have more confidence (like Sheppard and Worlock) that the Church does indeed have a prophetic voice to speak to a nation, city, or community in distress.

Furthermore, by partnering with each other, with those of other faiths, and those of none, we can speak with a voice that unites rather than divides. We can form, indeed, a coalition of the just. With the raising of hope, action will follow.

As the 2015 General Election comes into view, could the language of "the common good" be one we could speak together? Could this language help to form more alliances to address our local and national needs?

Allerton Vicarage, Harthill Road
Liverpool L18 3HU

From the Economic and Social Policy Adviser for the Church of England
Sir, - This weekend gone, around 150 Christians of all denominations and all kinds - bishops, clergy, activists, and academics - gathered in Liverpool Hope University for the "Together for the Common Good" conference. We were there to remember the legacy of Bishop David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Worlock, and to think about how we, too, can work together for the common good in a different economic, social, and political context.

Like many of my fellow delegates, I went with a sense of frustration, even despair, that the social injustice that Sheppard and Worlock did so much to highlight in the 1980s seems to be just as prevalent today. Food banks, zero-hour contracts, and payday loans are some of the symptoms. And yet, like many others, I came away with a renewed determination to do all I can to build a more just society, knowing that there is a group of committed and like-minded people who share that vision.

As one of the speakers said, "People need hope before they need a plan." So, although we weren't able to come up with a neat definition of the "common good", I think we all left with a strong commitment to embody it in our own ministries and lives. Please join us: www.togetherforthecommongood.co.uk.

Mission and Public Affairs Council
Church House, Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ

From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, - Many of us in the Church of England have been inspired by the liberation theology of the South American Roman Catholics since we embraced it while it percolated through the Vatican's opposition.

Now that Pope Francis has let our Roman Catholic friends off the Vatican leash, the Christian impact on reducing poverty within developed nations can, I hope, become better focused.

The necessary political engagement in lobbying about the preferential option for the poor is hampered in the UK by the laws prohibiting charities, such as Churches, from engaging in party politics.

It is sometimes necessary for Christians independently to oppose the election of a particular political party,without supporting any other political party. We could decide, in our democracy, that inany objective judgement, on moral, social, and economic grounds, a party's polices will substantially increase the existing incidence of destitution and home- lessness of individuals and families. That will need to be done by Christians uniting and working with other people of all faiths and none, by organising outside the charitable sector.

Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF

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