THE former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams has told the Church in Wales’s Governing Body that it must re-adopt Christian Aid as its own development arm.
Lord Williams delivered his exhortation during a presentation on the work of the charity, which he has chaired since 2013.
It is worth remembering the circumstances in which Christian Aid began, he said. The charity came into a Europe that was experiencing an unprecedented wave of displaced people after the Second World War. “It seemed to be something of an irony and an opportunity that so many of those themes were still washing around.”
The charity has three priorities: gender injustice, climate change, and tax transparency. Giving women the power to improve their lives unlocks a range of other issues, he suggested; it was key to developing proper health-care and decent education systems. “It is a lever of major transformation.”
Climate change was a priority, because its effects were most felt by the world’s poorest communities. “I sometimes wish that those who pontificate on this subject would simply spend half-an-hour with someone from Tuvalu to find out what it feels like where you sense diminishing control of your environment,” Lord Williams said.
“The third area is tax transparency, which has come up quite dramatically in recent days.” Christian Aid sought to put pressure on multinational firms to be more open about how much tax they paid in the developing world. “The people who suffer are those who need basic public provision. That’s why tax is a moral and development issue.”
Fund-raising for Christian Aid continues to fall each year, Lord Williams reported, as its volunteer base shrinks and societal habits change. None the less, it remained vital for the charity to stay in tune with the aspirations and prayers of churches on the ground.
“That’s why Christian Aid is Christian Aid; why we are very happy to spell that out; and why occasional wobbles about whether we need the word ‘Christian’ in the title don’t last very long.”
The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, the Rt Revd John Davies, recalled a conversation with a cleric who was “bellyaching” over pastoral reorganisation. Rather than raise £250,000 to spend on a building project, Bishop Davies challenged the priest to raise just £50,000 instead to finance a social worker. “Oh, we couldn’t do that,” was the reply. Bishop Davies went on: “You have heard powerful words from Rowan expressing the call of Christian Aid. It’s your development arm. Please go back with Christian Aid week on the horizon, and engage with it.”
Judge Philip Price (Monmouth) said that there was substance to the criticisms of charities: how could Lord Williams set Christian Aid apart from other organisations at its level, he asked.
Lord Williams said that the agency spent between ten and 12 per cent of its income on administration and fund-raising. Once or twice, he said, Christian Aid had been caught out, but there were procedures that enabled them to scrutinise how money was spent.
Susan Last (St Asaph) was “very cross” to receive telephone calls asking her to give more to Christian Aid, when she had made significant donations to it at Christmas.
Christian Aid had recently held discussions about telephone campaigning, Lord Williams replied: any supporter could opt out of receiving calls. In future, the system might move towards an opt in, he said, although that would have consequences.
Jennie Willson (St Asaph) said that while social action demonstrated Christian compassion, it was also good to join with non-Christians.
The Assistant Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd David Wilbourne, suggested that the name could be changed to “Christian, aid”, so that it became an imperative rather than a description.
The Revd Sally Thomas (ecumenical representative) recalled how, at Christian Aid’s 50th anniversary, it was hoped that there would be no centenary because the world would be fair. “It’s clear that will not be the case.”
Lord Williams said that Christian Aid worked with a “huge range” of organisations that were not church-based, including Islamic Relief. The word “Christian” might put some people off, but he felt that they could not abandon their commitment to the Church, nor the support from the Church. Indeed, they were sometimes criticised for not prioritising supporting Christians overseas, as though Christian Aid meant aid for Christians. “I reply: ‘Of course we don’t. That’s not our mandate,’” Lord Williams said.
Listen to dreamers THE story of Daniel in exile in Babylon has much to say to the Church in Wales, Lord Williams of Oystermouth told members of the Governing Body at a service in Holy Trinity Church, Llandudno.
Reflecting on how Daniel was able to interpret King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Lord Williams said that it showed how those who have known defeat and loss are actually the ones able to speak into the world’s dreams.
“God wanted us to know that those who have known something of destruction, loss, brokenness, and homelessness in their own lives are the ones who have the dreams and their interpretation,” he said.
“Our Churches are going through times of loss and uncertainty at present. When we are constantly being pushed away from our comfort zones and challenged to suffer, perhaps Daniel has something to say to us.
“That God of this great Easter season is the God in whose steps we walk at this time of struggle, vision, doubt, and hope.”
Our world is “full of dreamers” who want them to be interpreted, he said. Some dreams are at the root of the violence and instability plaguing the earth.
But there are other dreams the Church needs to respond to, like Daniel, by listening and helping the dreamers know who they are.
“Our mission as the Church is to uncover the need and the glory of humanity. To understand where the nightmares come from, and to say that those nightmares don’t have the last word.
“To stay around and listen deeply to the fears and hopes of our neighbours is part of what Christ asks us of others.”
Daniel was able to do this despite being an exile far from home because he was deeply dependent on God — likewise, the Church needed to root itself in God if it wanted to respond to the hopes and fears of those it sought to serve, Lord Williams said.