Church Commissioner urges action to tackle social injustice, post-referendum

Last week, the Church of England met in York for a meeting of the General Synod. The General Synod comprises the Convocations of Canterbury and York, joined together in a House of Bishops and a House of Clergy, to which is added a House of Laity. It meets in February in London and in July in York, and occasionally in November in London.

Speaking in York, Second Church Estates Commissioner and Meriden MP, Caroline Spelman, shared some of her personal experience of campaigning in the UK’s Referendum on its membership of the European Union and raised her concerns about the feelings of disparity that have been exposed in some communities during this debate.

During her speech, Mrs Spelman urged delegates to consider how the Church can seek to support communities in tackling social injustice whilst building bridges to reconcile the differences that have been highlighted during this debate, saying;

‘The Church must be seen in its communities, visibly living out its mission to ‘break down barriers and build bridges’… We must seek to address the very real concerns and divisions which have come to light during the referendum campaign and take steps at every level to heal the divisions which have been laid bare.’

‘It must continue it's work as a uniting force in communities; supporting the vulnerable, the marginalised, and challenging xenophobia’.

Following the result of the referendum, the Archbishop of Canterbury said: ‘We must all reimagine both what it means to be the United Kingdom in an interdependent world and what values and virtues should shape and guide our relationships with others’.

‘Whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers. Many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbours, friends and work colleagues come from overseas and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity. We must respond by offering reassurance, by cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and by affirming the unique contribution of each and every one’.

 

Read The Second Church Estates Commissioner's Speech to Synod below:

  

Speech to General Synod 7th July 2016 EU Referendum Debate

Caroline Spelman, Second Church Estates Commissioner No. 458

 

‘I am grateful the Synod found time to address such a pressing issue in our national life. In the interest of transparency I did campaigned to remain but the Nation must now look forward not back and because aspects of the campaign have left us with a very divided nation and the Church needs to continue work as a uniting force in communities, supporting the vulnerable, the marginalised, and challenging xenophobia. Indeed no man is an island.

‘The referendum result has put our country back on the global front line, no longer under the umbrella of the EU, we will have to tackle the challenges and inequalities which are exacerbated by globalisation, climate change and migration in a way we have not done for years. The Bishops in Parliament will need to keep a close eye on the Government to ensure the country retains its diverse internationalist focus through the aid budget, G7, G20, NATO and UN. The church can monitor and feedback to Parliament the impact of the EU negotiations are having throughout the Anglican Communion worldwide. 

‘As we move forward, for the UK to succeed in the wider world we will all have to work much harder to genuinely bring the whole country with us on the journey ahead. We as the Church of England have to think afresh about how we approach the vulnerable and marginalised. In this respect I commend Mission and Public Affairs’ work on welfare reform and the 'Thinking Afresh About Welfare' report from Malcolm Brown.

‘The Church has a particular mission to the communities it serves in the UK and around the globe. We must seek to address the very real concerns and divisions which have come to light during the referendum campaign and take steps at every level to heal the divisions which have been laid bare. I have been deeply saddened as I am sure many of you here were to see stories of an increase in racial hatred against EU citizens, as well as other communities who may have been resident in the UK for generations.

‘I listened to the anger expressed on the doorstep and I know one of the greatest challenges both for the Church and for Parliament will be addressing its causes. We need to model the message of Leviticus where it says “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbour as yourself”. Given its timeless significance Jesus emphasised the last phrase to love your neighbour in his ministry.

‘The Church must be seen in its communities, visibly living out its mission to ‘break down barriers and build bridges’.  The Church has a particular and unique reach into communities alongside a toolkit of spiritual language which enables the Church to address these challenges far better than politicians, especially at this time of current turmoil. The Church and the State need to work together to effectively heal the country, socially, economically and politically we need a constructive engagement as critical friends. A good example of this partnership is the Near Neighbours project which has proven that for only a small investment thousands of community projects can be launched impacting the lives of over 1 million people so far. The funding by DCLG of the third phase of this project is especially timely and allows the Church to disseminate best practice across its networks. It has also proven that it can be practical and appropriate to use the Church of England parish structures and its public duty of care to all "souls" as an alternative means to deliver public policy aims where these are consistent with its gospel.

‘The nation as the Archbishop of Canterbury set out in the House of Lords this week, needs a vision and set of values to which it can reconnect, at the start of the process as we negotiate to leave the EU in the years ahead. This is a great opportunity for the Church to step beyond its walls and genuinely engage with our communities. This is the time for the Church to pull together, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians “Just as a body, through one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” The Church has the potential to offer great leadership in these areas and can bring healing and a listening ear to our various communities. Ecumenical networks such as ‘Churches Together’ can be strengthened, successful interfaith and community initiatives need dismantling alongside national initiatives.

‘To take an excerpt from one of the prayers we use in Parliament it is my prayer for this synod that we will, “lay aside all private interests, prejudices and partial affections, in the hope that all our counsels may be to thy glory.” These next few years are a great mission opportunity for the Church of England and the Anglican Communion and one I hope we can all grasp’.