Research | C-of-E churches responses to need

I’m studying Church of England (C-of-E) churches responses to need. The C-of-E is unusual, on the one-hand present across England in ‘every community’, active in neighbourhoods, managing volunteers, delivering projects and services. Its stated mission even includes to transform unjust structures of society. On the other-hand, it has a unique place at the heart of UK legislature, its bishops in the House of Lords. The C-of-E is distinctive!

After years of working with churches in disadvantaged communities (ongoing community work on housing estates, or with Church Urban Fund and more recently with Church Action on Poverty and St Martin in the Fields), I want to learn more about the response of C-of-E churches to need. I’m looking at a context of social change – we could talk about ‘deficit reduction‘ or more broadly, austerity – cuts to public services and increased need. What are C-of-E churches doing and how do they do it?

To help understand the responses of C-of-E churches to need, I’m using a theoretical framework developed by sociologist David Howe*. Howe building on original work by Burrell and Morgan (1979) wrote about four ‘types’ of intervention or responses to need used by social workers. I found his model a useful reference point. Here are Howe’s four types:

  • Fixers help individuals in need adapt to a changing context and envionment. Fixers use their experience and knowledge to help a person get back on track, dealing with complex issues. Examples include: Food bank, winter night shelter and money advice services.
  • Seekers after Meaning focus on understanding the perspective and experience of the person in need. This about using individual client centred approaches. Examples include: Counselling support, debt counselling and listening projects.
  • Raisers of Consciousness tackle wider inequality in society. Here individuals confront their own complex issues gaining control of their life. This approach recognises society must change. Examples include Asset Based Community Development, Community Organising and Poverty & Truth commissions.
  • Revolutionaries work to shift society, via a radical and political critique. Here, collective anger might lead to collegiate responses, campaigning and political engagement. Examples include direct action, protest, campaigns and lobbying.

Howe had his critics, however, I think his model is useful in framing responses to need.

Which ‘type’ best fits your churches response to need? More than one type maybe? Which is the dominant type? Where do you place your church activity on the doodle below? (Click on the doodle for a bigger view.)

Where would you place your churches general response to need?

My research is developing case studies focusing on four C-of-E churches, one for each of those four types. So, each church responds to need differently, and in varied contexts. It’s not a comparative study or looking to evaluate activity – I want to understand how churches do what they do. I will spend between 5 to 10 weeks with each, helping out with activity as a participant and interviewing some of those involved. Can you help?

If you are interested and want to learn more about this study and how to participate in the research, please be in touch (contact details on the illustration above). We can then go from there.

My study is independent, not commissioned by any organisation and has ethical approval by Goldsmiths University of London. All information provided by participants is confidential.

I’ll use this space to post updates and insights about the research.

Howe, D. (2008) “An Introduction to Social Work Theory”, Oxford: Routledge

Burrell, G; Morgan, G. (1979). “Sociological Paradigms and Organisational Analysis: Elements of the Sociology of Corporate Life”. London: Heinemann

 

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Remembering John Smith

Friend and regular to the festival in the 1980s and 90s, Ozzie theologian and activist John Smith has died. 

In the early 70s John ditched the Methodist minister suit and tie, grew his hair and a beard, switching to boots, leather and skins, embracing the outlaw bike scene. The rest is history. In 1972 ‘God’s Squad’ was established. As the beard grew, the leathers scuffed and outlaw bikers defected to Gods Squad, so the club established its reputation across Australia as a legitimate ‘outlaw’ gang. John embraced the rituals of the outlaw biker with a compassion and commitment, that helped grow the Squad’s credibility. Alongside friendships with outsiders John co-founded churches, organisations and social welfare programmes, penetrating Aussie media long after interest in the Squad had moved on. John brought a distinctive comment on social, cultural and ethical issues, challenging his audience to find meaning beyond consumption and materialism. 

If you made it to Greenbelt in the late 80s and early 90’s you’d have struggled to miss John. He first spoke at Greenbelt in 1986, the year of Hurricane Charlie, attending the festival with his beloved family and close friends, the Maddocks. It was John’s blend of intellect, passion and a fearless oratory that helped grow a loyal UK following – that, along with the cassette tape. I first heard about Smithy from a biker in a Stockport tower block in ‘87 who gave me a tape of his ’86 Greenbelt talks as we sipped sherry. It was a revelation. John returned to Greenbelt in ‘87 to launch his autobiography. The book and his Greenbelt talks became best-sellers. For a time U2’s Bono and Edge adopted Smithy as unofficial chaplain, and his followers grew. 

John was unusual – a genuine, old school polymath. A walk round the neighbourhood and he introduced varieties of grass, types of eucalyptus, the hidden or ignored revealed and celebrated. Ten minutes with Smith and you might cover protons and particle physics, Hamlet, Tolstoy, Lady Gaga, alongside youth homelessness, or marine conservation. Which is maybe why a generation of Greenbelt audiences loved him. His empathy with artists and passion for, and knowledge of art was infectious. John referred to art as ‘the nerve ends of the soul’ coupling his commitment to artists alongside a rage against injustice, racism, treatment of indigenous people, inequality. Though he inspired many in truth John was complex – an impossible, absurd mix of contradictions. Intense, chaotic, tactless, driven, at times heavy handed. Curious, compassionate, tender, broken. And brilliant. 

His final Greenbelt was in 2007. Track #RIP John Smith on your social media and you’ll see a legacy in tributes from performers, artists, musicians, medics, teachers, social-workers and activists. Many who trace their vocation back to Smithy and an encounter at Greenbelt. It says it all. People who joined John and ditched one life for something else all-together.

Written for the Greenbelt blog 11 March 2019.


Christmas Star

My blog for the Chatsworth Road Advent Stars thing.

An advent star for when the sky clears and it’s an inky blackness. Lost in space, without a prayer, courage fades; the campaign fails, the cause has gone.

When hope is lost and you’re uncertain where to go.

Christmas recalls an improbable story of astrologers guided to a Palestinian baby in a country under military occupation. For those of faith, the story finds God in solidarity with humanity, in a stable, sharing the view with farmyard animals, and a teenage mum.

It’s a great tale.

Amongst many things, the legacy is a movement of all kinds of people living for justice, mercy and peace.

Another story last week, this time of east Londoners travelling to Calais. Taking food and clothing to refugees and asylum seekers searching for sanctuary on European soil, many from countries battered and bombed.

And those bearing gifts return speaking of extraordinary welcome, and astonishing hospitality.

Sitting with lives that un-expectantly burn bright, under a makeshift tarpaulin in the rain.

So, here’s to moments shared, that challenge and illuminate in wilderness days.

To flickers of grace and mercy extended to each other when we least expect it.

To flames of solidarity with the refugee and those on the margins, a commitment to justice and right living that take us beyond charity.

Here’s to some modest visions and great adventures this week. You never know where it might lead.

Greenbelt 2014 – It Had it All!

Here’s a brief reflection as chair of Greenbelt, following a fabulous festival at Boughton House in Northamptonshire:

Greenbelt Festival is a late summer, long weekend of art, music, performance, food, drink and ideas, provoking, affirming, challenging and inspiring. And it’s about now, after the festival, over the next few weeks that stories pop up – of someone enrolling on an art course, another joining a creative writing class, or going along to a book club. You get the picture. Another may click on that campaign petition, sign up to a cause, volunteer at the night shelter, set up a project, or remarkably – find their vocation. I know a bloke who moved into a housing estate in Weston Super Mare to live and work, after being inspired at a session on “Living in a Crap Town”*. Another year someone went home and set up a project in their city to assist refugees. There are lots of stories like this, from a festival that’s more than a festival, seeding ideas that just might change your life.

Greenbelt is a festival hand-made by hundreds of volunteers, led by a small clutch of staff. So, this August’s festival was the outcome of gazillions of emails, phone calls, car and train journeys and meetings – lots of meetings! Oh, the time that goes into choosing venues, timetabling artists, planning for stewards, positioning a Glade Stage or a Big Top.

The other weekend staff and volunteers pulled off a spectacular festival, in a gorgeous new site. Did I mention the new site? Part ‘Secret Garden’ part ‘Enchanted Forest’, with trees magically up rooting and mooching about after midnight (no, they don’t uproot and mooch about after midnight… but this would be great for one year). The move was a bold and necessary decision led by Creative Director Paul Northup, CEO Beccie D’Cunha and Operations chief Derek Hill, and backed by the board, staff and volunteers. Of course, the words ‘new’ and ‘site’ are an exciting distraction from the tough realities and challenge of rethinking and reimagining a 41-year-old festival in a new and very different location. They hide the hard work, the planning and preparation to get it all just right. It’s a huge credit to staff, contractors, volunteers and everyone involved, that their plans pulled together so well, and so much of the festival (so much!) was pitch perfect. Alongside this, we didn’t get everything right. As chair of trustees and on behalf of the board I’m very sorry about this. I’m only thankful that as issues emerged, staff and volunteers responded rapidly, where possible addressing the immediate concerns over the weekend.

Moving house, moving site – any move – can be tricky. You make plans, map out the space and decide where the furniture goes. It’s only when you’ve moved in and you’ve lived with it for a while, do you get an idea of what really works. So, this was the year of the move**. Of stepping off, jumping in, setting things up and trying things out at Boughton.

For the organisers, this year had it all – the challenges of a new site and then, on the Monday, big, fat, blobby, bank holiday rain. For many festivalgoers packing up and returning home it was astonishing to see and hear how site crew and stewards dealt with it all. Our car spent the entire festival in the long stay car park merrily letting off its alarm every two minutes. By Monday night, it was all honked out. Within a few minutes of reporting the problem to stewards, the unlikely double-act of Monty and Minion, part of the fire crew, volunteering across the weekend, emerged across a soggy field in pouring rain – all beard and jumpers. In a moment they had the motor sparking into life and the engine ticking over. It was their breathtaking warmth, kindness and generosity that stay with me. Their passionate commitment and solidarity with festivalgoers, as the rain fell and the temperature dropped was repeated across the site with stewards, fire crew and others. These are Greenbelt moments, even as you head off, leaving the site.

We could talk about the programme – the art, music, performance, food, drink and ideas and all this provokes, affirms, challenges and inspires. I’m grateful to all those who made it possible – who make Greenbelt ‘festival’, who got it to Boughton, and in less than 365 days reimagined a spectacular new festival – art, faith and justice that germinates into all sorts. Not bad. Zero to spectacular, in under a year! Here’s to the next.

*Weston Super Mare is not a crap town.
**Greenbelt is fuelled by Angels, who enable us to contemplate things like a site move. Find out more about Greenbelt Angels here.