Big Society: The Big Response
On October 20th about 200 leaders from the Bristol Region Celebration Churches Network gathered at Woodlands church at a daytime presentation entitled: “Big Society: The Big Response”.
The speakers were Steve Chalke founder of the Oasis Trust and subsequently Faithworks and Barbara Janke the current Liberal Democrat leader of Bristol City Council.
The talks should be available soon on the iTunes account at www.bristolregionleaders.net but for now these notes taken by one of the we:network team, are offered as a quick-turn-round record for those that didn't manage to make it.
Steve started with a plug for churches to consider signing up for the Faithworks Charter, which can be found at www.faithworks.info
Steve said that the only thing that can help you in a moment of crisis is the hundreds of previous moments of preparation. If you prepare you are ready for a window of opportunity.
Barbara went on to say Bristol council is very keen to partner with the Christian community. She wants people who do 'stuff'. The churches in Bristol must play an increasingly important part engaging in the life of the city. This is a moment of opportunity: how will the Christian community respond?
Steve continued.. This is “The Big Response to the Big Society”, which David Cameron calls the biggest redistribution of power from local government to voluntary groups. The Big Society is a label for a move to participatory communities, making little communities work, which is why the church is right at the heart of this, working together. This is about the local church in its local community. We need to rise to this challenge now.
This issue will not go away: the Welfare State, such as the National Health service, (with its Methodist roots) was set up, but from the beginning it was slightly off-track. Previously, churches were involved in medical health centres, clinics and schooling. But after the Welfare State, the government took it all over, rather than working together in partnership. The voluntary sector has been slowly squeezed out. The church has spent the last sixty years 'singing to ourselves', getting bored. Entertainment and consumerism is not enough*. We have to go back to the community and engage.
Big Society is about participative democracy, not just representative, the opportunity to get involved. We need to pray for the city where we live: "Your will be done on earth". Is a prayer something you say only, or something you live, or ache? - that the kingdom or occupation of God, will come to these streets, or to this young person, that they will believe that they matter. We believe in a God who is a community, and God created them, male and female together. We can only approach being fully human in community, so we need to be together in a church, mutually accountable. He is diverse, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are being Trinitarian when we mix with people totally different from us.
In Big Society, there are plenty of opportunities, but we need to get involved with others different from us, coming to serve and show respect. Jesus works with people, and journeys with them. There are many perceived threats, but these are opportunities to work with others.
Barbara then shared that there were opportunities in the cuts, for example, working with Neighbourhoods and using budgets for improving communities. She said she had an enthusiastic meeting with faith leaders. Participative democracy is something people like doing, they want to make a difference, but it has been made difficult in the past, with committees and structures. Her eyes have been opened to the involvement of churches at the community level. We need to identify vulnerable groups, children, older people and there is huge scope for what can be done. The council wants to work together, making things simpler.
There is a huge amount we have in common. We could be more focussed. We could start with children and young people, and in other areas. As churches, you have projects and successes to share, rather than succeeding despite the council. We need to release the drive in our communities. We want a conference about bringing expertise together, bringing energy and good will together. We can arrive at specifics very quickly. This is a beginning, a start of a more creative way of releasing the huge potential we have in our communities and city.
Steve Chalke then explained that the Faithworks charter would be part of any partnership, so there can be clear ground rules. For example, we will serve everyone, we will not impose our views on others but respect their views. Steve said that our goal is to bring transformation to communities, to do things with people in partnership. Oasis develops a hub in a community. This can be a school, but lots of other things then happen, run by others. There is integrated human development (rather than mission): a commitment to the development of people and communities. What is your church about? Are you engaging and participating in society? Are you willing to work together in partnership? We come to serve, to wash people's feet, to work with others for the community: this is the opportunity of the Big Society.
* Editor's note: The way this reads, some Christians may want to take issue with this however, please do not quote these notes as an accurate rendition of what was said/meant! We suggest the reader at least listens to the talk when it is available before forming a final opinion.