CHURCHPEOPLE have been urged by the General Synod to challenge
political parties to "promote the common good" in the next General
Election. The Church is also being encouraged to develop further
its own efforts in this area.
Introducing the motion, after the Revd Jim Wallis's address to
the Synod, Philip Fletcher (Archbishops' Council),
who chairs the Mission and Public Affairs Council, said that the
Church needed to bring forward what it could offer, as well as what
it expected from politicians. "It's no accident the most impressive
social action being done today is by growing churches," he said.
Evangelism and social action could not be separated.
Heather Black (York) spoke of her parish in
Middlesbrough, where life expectancy for girls was 22 years less
than in affluent areas. "We must remind ourselves of our shared
humanity and the unique dignity of everyone in our society."
The Bishop of Knaresborough, the Rt Revd James
Bell (Northern Suffragans), referred to churches' hospitality
during le Tour de France in Yorkshire & the Dales. This was one
example of how churches could offer themselves and their buildings
for the community. They considered "parishioners" to be those who
lived in the area rather than just those who attended church.
The vice-chair of the House of Laity, Tim Hind
(Bath & Wells), spoke of Muchelney, which had occupied
television screens during the Somerset floods earlier this year. It
was sad for those in the community, but "it did demonstrate that
when the time was necessary, the Church was at the heart of the
solution to many of their problems."
The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of how, in
society, more force was given to the general interest, which said
that "the only people worth paying attention to are those who are
economically active." But he offered three examples of
"extraordinary political change . . . in ways in which we never
imagined": the cross-party commitment to maintaining the level of
development aid at 0.7 per cent of GDP; the Modern Slavery Bill;
and efforts to end sexual violence in conflict.
He warned that approval of the motion would be to "commit
ourselves to a radical change", and said that there would be
"practical legislation coming forward".
Bishop Dr Joe Aldred (Black-led Churches) spoke
about the contribution to the common good of the "growing movement
of black churches". Examples of work that had been started in black
churches, and quickly moved beyond, included Street Pastors,
church-initiated housing associations, and the global day of
The challenge he presented was an ecumenical one: "We must be
that common good to each other."
Canon Steven Saxby
(Chelmsford) proposed a friendly amendment, after consultation with
the Director of Mission and Public Affairs. The motion, would,
amended, "call on churches to ensure that the political parties are
Mr Fletcher invited the Synod to back the amendment.
The Ven. Christine Wilson (Derby)questioned
whether the Church was "walking the talk", given the difficulty of
recruiting clergy to north-east Derby, where people were "hungry
for spiritual nurture".
Canon Martin Wood
(Chelms-ford) said that the Church had something to contribute that
others could not: "We need to show people what it is to work for
the common good."
The amendment was clearly carried.
The Archdeacon of Hackney, the Ven. Rachel
Treweek (London),suggested that many in churches felt "guilty"
about not being involved in church projects, but were often working
in "places of struggle" during the week. Was the Church doing
enough to support people in their work?
Anne Martin (Guildford)said that the Church was
in possession of "wonderful spaces that we can open up with music
and art and flowers, that we can open to everyone without
Sister Anne Williams CA (Durham)suggested that
many people "don't feel confident enough to go and do it"; and yet
they were capable, and in need of encourage-ment.
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd David
Walker, said that the Church needed to be careful not to dismiss
those who were "fulfilling their Christian vocation through
something that is not in a branded church activity".
Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities)
said that the Church should be ready to challenge the wealthy.
Describing himself as a "recovering Marxist", he said that many
economists believed that the capitalist system was geared towards
increasing inequality. "There will be challenges being made which
will involve getting our hands dirty politically."
The Revd Amanda Ford (Leicester) had a sense of
déjà vu: decades ago, a priest had described the
"regeneration industry" to her as "pimping on the poor". The best
social-action projects were those that collaborated with the needy
instead of just seeking to help them.
Canon Peter Spiers (Liverpool) said it was
important to galvanise the electorate, despite its disillusionment
with politics. He was a member of the Green Party, as it was the
only party that argued that economic growth was not the "be-all and
Responding to the debate, Mr Fletcher called on the Church to
work with all political parties, "including UKIP", to think about
the common good.
The motion as amended was carried by 299 votes, with 2 recorded
That this Synod
(a) affirm the theological imperative of serving the common
(b) commend the practical activities which serve the common
good, exemplified by our parishes, dioceses and the NCIs, and
encourage their further development; and
(c) call on churches at a local level, along with diocesan
and national church bodies, to ensure by word and action that the
political parties are challenged to promote the common good when
drawing up their manifestos for the 2015 General Election.