WE BELIEVE that it is time for the Church to rethink its
assumptions about the place of the state in civil society. As
priests ordained in 1970 and 1973, we have watched the Church
become increasingly absorbed in its internal agendas, while many
outside watch with disbelief as it presses various self-destruct
We understand how difficult leading change can be. We welcome
the Archbishop of Canterbury's intervention over credit unions, and
believe that there are many further opportunities for Christian
engagement in the next few years. As the state shrinks, the Church
needs to be more active in community work. Any change of direction
is costly, but new resources will follow new approaches that
command wide support.
In 2013, the Church of England has continued its preoccupation
with gay marriage, women bishops, and its proposed Beveridge-based
changes to the welfare state. It would do well to scan the wider
horizon, in a prophetic and strategic way; to envision alternative
futures, and place itself closer to likely social change. By 2020,
the state will be much smaller, but still strug- gling with
indebtedness, the positive and negative effects of a technological
revolution, and social need.
By 2020, most schools will be self-governing, providing more
choice, quality, and community involvement. The NHS in England will
have a diversity of providers. A radical response to demographic
change will have begun in pensions and care for the elderly. There
will be an increased place for the private and community sectors.
Many new entrepreneurs and micro-businesses will be energising the
THE Church of England, facing these or similar futures, has two
alternatives. First, it can look back to a golden age of social
security, which never fully existed. Beveridge spoke of
subsistence-level existence as his famous "safety-net". The Church
can continue to argue for a bigger state (when even France is
beginning to cut services to remain competitive), and so forge its
gospel response to the needs of the poor by largely ignoring
Beveridge's warnings about the danger of idleness (welfare
dependency) as one of his five "giant" social evils.
Alternatively, the Church could embrace the opportunities
provided by a smaller state to rediscover the best of itself. It
could take even more advantage of its national coverage and local
networks, and could provide, as well as support, better community
and education services. It could train its clergy to work in
partnerships with other providers, turning its buildings and
congregations into seven-day-a-week centres of care.
This would transform the effectiveness of the Church, as well as
contribute more effectively to need. Such an approach to the
opportunities of a smaller state would position the Church's gifts
alongside the best new thinking in the shared central ground of
traditional Liberal Party activism, the Conservative Big Society,
and Blue Labour.
Examples of what could be offered would include:
deanery-organised support of the elderly and housebound, both
preventative and post-hospital care; pre- and after-school
activities for children, young people, and their parents; training
for involvement in public-service boards - running schools, public
protection, and the NHS; support for emerging entrepreneurs and
their businesses - based on hubs such as the model at Portsmouth
News, 15 June 2012); incubator provision for social
enterprises, including the arts; conversion of church buildings
into public-space facilities.
We celebrate what is already being achieved in community use, by
churches, including post offices, food banks, credit unions,
internet cafés, housing projects, social services, and initiatives
involving art, heritage, and pastoral care.
THE Church could encourage the development of a smaller state by
challenging excess bureaucracy; forcing decisions to be made at a
local level; releasing the leadership energy of active "localism";
demonstrating the value of pluralist providers; enriching the
discourse of inclusive spirituality; and rediscovering a more
engaged, traditional place for the purpose of clergy and the
Church, outside their internal preoccupations.
We need to start taking risks in our Monday-to-Friday
activities. This is not the time to batten down the hatches,
further isolating ourselves from organisations and communities.
This is the best of times for innovative practical experiments,
beyond negative stereotypes of disconnection.
The Church could lead a process that might transform local
disillusionment by releasing a flood of action in the smaller state
of the future. To move in this direction, it must refresh its
vision, provide clearer leadership about strategic direction, and
train its clergy to engage with other agencies as social and
Taking services and pastorally supporting congregations will no
longer be enough in an age of reduced state provision, increasing
social fracture, uncomfortable choices, and huge opportunity.
The Revd Robin Morrison has recently retired as Bishops'
Adviser for Church and Society in the Church in Wales, after
previous posts as a parish priest and a university and industrial
chaplain. The Revd Brian Strevens has led a non-profit enterprise
in Southampton for 20 years, providing care for the elderly and
disabled in partnership with other sectors.
They would welcome interest in these issues: contact