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Synod: Collaboration urged for common good

18 July 2014

Common good

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 prayer.

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 challenged".

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 cost".

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 end-all".

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 abstentions.

That this Synod

(a) affirm the theological imperative of serving the common good;

(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.

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