Liverpool hears of new common good

13 September 2013

Learning from the past: Frank Field MP takes part in a panel discussion at the Together for the Common Good event

Learning from the past: Frank Field MP takes part in a panel discussion at the Together for the Common Good event

Churches should work together to make the common good a priority in policy and practice at all levels of society, delegates to a conference in Liverpool agreed this week.

The 170 people who attended committed themselves to delivering justice for "the least, the last, and the lost". They agreed to advance the common good by getting involved in projects such as campaigns against the so-called "bedroom tax", and in favour of debt centres, helping destitute asylum-seekers, and exploring how churches could collectively out-trade payday lenders such as Wonga.

They hoped that a new Common Good movement could be launched, in which churches deepened their links with other faiths - and those with no faith - to tackle hardship, exclusion, and injustice.

The three-day conference, "Together for the Common Good" (Comment, 30 August), was held at Liverpool Hope University last weekend. It took its theme from the efforts, during the 1970s and '80s, of the then Anglican Bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard, and the then RC Archbishop of Liverpool, Derek Worlock. The two prelates formed a successful partnership, and were joined by Free Church colleagues, to help people living in Merseyside whose lives were blighted by the recession.

The conference heard from people who were inspired first hand by the two men, as well as church leaders and academics who discussed how the idea of the common good might be applied to the challenges of today.

Dr Anna Rowlands, a lecturer in theology and ministry at King's College, London, in her keynote address argued that the common good needed to "make the things the market and state make invisible, visible". She said that, for Christians, common-good thinking "must not begin with the national interest".

Recalling the growth of Liverpool from the 1980s, the chief executive of Liverpool Vision, Max Steinberg, said that the bishops had brought forward voices that needed to be heard, and that boldness was needed. He said: "The antidote to fear is faith. We need a more mature discussion. . . If the politicians can't have it, our faith leaders must have it."

Drawing on lessons from the Sheppard-Worlock years for today, Dr Eliza Filby, a lecturer in modern British history at King's College, London, said that the part played by the Church as a "mediating agent with civil society" was essential, and that Churches needed to learn to communicate across a changed media landscape.

The conference heard that Professor Hilary Russell, of Liverpool Hope University, was to conduct an inquiry exploring how the experiences of Liverpool in the '70s and '80s could inform Christian collaboration in addressing issues of social justice today. Its results should be published early in 2014.

A steering group including the Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten; the Associate Professor of Catholic Studies at Liverpool Hope University, Dr Peter McGrail; Jenny Sinclair, the daughter of Bishop Sheppard; and the Revd Nicholas Sagovsky, Whitelands Professorial Fellow at Roehampton University, are to explore several initiatives, including creating a network for faiths to develop common-good collaborations.

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