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Archbishop calls for "a footwashing Church"

Wednesday 10th July 2013

In his address to the Methodist Conference, Archbishop Justin called on churches to "stand alongside" the poor

Archbishop Justin greets crowds in Chichester during his journey in prayer, 19 March 2013.  

Archbishop Justin called for "a footwashing Church" in his address to the Methodist Conference in London today. 

The Archbishop said churches should stand alongside the poor; not just talk to them, as he expressed concern about the rise of foodbanks in the UK and made the argument that inflation was a tax on the poor.

Speaking at Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, the Archbishop said there was a "gross imbalance in the allocation of resources" in society. He drew on the North/South economic divide, pointing out that the spending per head on infrastructure in the North East was £5 compared to more than £2,000 in the South.

"There is a danger of the radical individualisation of our society, meaning whole sectors dismiss others sectors," he said. "Economics has to be our servant; not our master."

Later he said: "The state can’t put its arm around you. The state can’t welcome you into a church and say, “You matter.” The state can’t hand you support in a way that is not condescending, or the creation of dependency. There need to be strong and varied intermediate structures of voluntary action."

He also said: "I hope and pray that, like me, you dread being useful. We do not want to be useful. We want to be the revolutionary, society-changing, transforming, extraordinary, Spirit-filled Church of God.

"We are about revolution; a revolution of peace and love that sees the common good in dream – and through the resources released by visible unity, brings it into reality."

The Archbishop added that churches should unlock the wealth that God offers through His Spirit.

"The common good is resourced in the generosity of God and nowhere else," he said.

 


 

  • Listen to the address:

 

  • Or read the full text below: 


Archbishop Justin's speech at the Methodist Conference, Westminster, 10 July 2013

As we sit, let’s pray. Holy Spirit of God, open our eyes and inspire our imaginations. Fill our hearts with passion for You, for Your Kingdom and for the poor. Amen.
Thank you very much, President, for your warm welcome. Actually, given the busyness of your diary, the fact that we managed to meet at all in the ten minutes that I was Bishop of Durham is something of a miracle. It’s a huge privilege, and a quite unexpected privilege, to be able to address you, particularly having just come from General Synod. There’s a faint sense of déjà vu, I have to say.
It is a huge privilege. There’s much to be learned – I was very struck, sitting at the back before lunch – there’s much to be learned by us from… I was watching how you were doing things with fascination and admiration. You have much to bring us. The visibility of women at the podium was something that struck me as slightly different from us, and of course you’re all much younger than we are. (Laughter).
I’ve heard the speech limit is four minutes, so I’m going to witter for four minutes and then shut up. I need to start with a confession. Given we’re with the Methodists, I presume there won’t be absolution. I have to say that I am a descendent of Bishop Butler. I thought that would get you. So there we are; we’ve got all our cards on the table.
I grew up in part of my childhood with my grandmother, on the north coast of Norfolk. I know all about you. We were comparing notes. I won’t name the family, but there was a family who, shall we say, did not always understand the difference between what they owned and what other people owned. One of the leading members of that family was caught gassing geese on the marsh near Morston, in time to sell them for Christmas. He’d go up behind them with a little gas thing and go “pfff”, and the goose would fall over, and he’d wring its neck and flog it at the local poulterers. He was caught, and he was charged, and he was convicted. 
Before he was sentenced, the judge said to his counsel, to his barrister, “Do they not know, Mr Smith – does your client not know, Mr Smith – the old legal maxim, that nemo dat qui non habet?” Which, for my Anglican colleagues who might not know Latin, means, “Nobody can give what they haven’t got.” To which counsel replied, “My lord, in the pubs of Blakeney, they speak of little else.” (Laughter).
Well, the rule that nemo dat qui non habet is a very important rule for resourcing the common good, and for what we do together and where we go together. Let me quote the last few verses of John:17, which you will know very well. Jesus prays, “The glory that you have given me, I have given them, my disciples, so that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they might become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” That’s verses 20-26. 
The “so that”s, the “in order that”s – the “that” in each of those places where it comes in those verses, is an extremely strong “in order that”. It means “for the very purpose that; exactly and precisely, so that”. As my wonderful, distinguished, learned and extraordinary predecessor, Archbishop Rowan, said to you in 2004, “Unity is a gift and a creation of God through the Holy Spirit.” I’m summarising; he took a little longer than that to say it, I think it’s fair to say. 
But if we look at the work of God, the nature of God, the nature of the Spirit of God, from Genesis:1 onwards, and especially in Psalms, like Psalm 18 and in the latter chapters of Job, the nature of the Spirit of God is integration and creation. Sin and the power of evil create a pattern of destruction and disintegration. Human pride makes room for destruction and division, and that is, above all, recognisable in the Church.
Dermot McCulloch, in his ‘History of the Reformation’, shows, in the 1540s and ‘50s and ‘60s, several opportunities for avoiding the permanent catastrophe of the reformation – opportunities spoiled by pride and the desire for power. The great division with Methodism, with great respect to my ancestor, was inspired more than anything by Anglican pride and episcopal status. (Applause.) Thank you. The correct answer was, “No, no, no, we were equally at fault.” (Laughter and applause). But actually, I meant it. I did mean it. It’s not the correct answer.
Looking back, the lessons are clear. Pride releases spiritual forces of destruction, as we remove from ourselves the uniting impact of the Holy Spirit of God. Visible unity releases treasure. Visible unity releases treasure. 
When I was a parish priest in Warwickshire, we had two large chests in the ancient parish church. One of them was particularly famous, because for several hundred years it had been where the people of the town put their valuables. It had three locks, and it could only be opened when three separate people put their keys in the locks and opened them. Very cunning thing. 
The full treasures of the unity of the Church – the great treasure that is envisaged by Jesus in his prayer in John, Chapter 17 – is only obtainable when we all unlock together, rather than separately. There is a fresh expression, when we are united, of the reality of God. Because the Spirit works in the structures of the Church – as in many other places – our experience of the work of the Spirit, and of our unity, is enabled by process and lived in the experience of process. Coming together in our process of unity is of immense importance in opening the way for the work of God among us.
We have, I’m very glad to say, and I rejoice, experienced that in the last few days at General Synod. Not that we’ve suddenly all agreed; but through different processes, and a willingness to engage and listen, we saw more of the fruit of unity released in the life of the Church. 
My chaplain had a text yesterday from a woman who is strongly against the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate, and was totally unconvinced by all the arguments I put forward. Normal; I’m very bad at convincing people. She texted to say that in the facilitated groups on Saturday, which went on all day – eight hours of it – during those eight hours, she had come to meet with, and listen to carefully, someone who was deeply committed to the ordination of women. She said in her text that they had not come to agreement, but they had reached mutual trust. That is a miracle, genuinely. That is the work of the Spirit of God. 
The need for process is both a justification of the covenant and a challenge to much deeper working together – and an invitation to ensure that covenant is not exclusive, but hospitable. It wasn’t two keys at Southam, but three. In our work for Christian unity and visible unity, there are many keys. Covenants cannot be inward-looking. 
As with the new covenant, in Christ, and as so beautifully expressed in the covenant service in the Methodist liturgy, our covenant between ourselves and yourselves is a call to die with Christ to our own interest; not to calculate relative advantage. Its insane hospitality opens arms to all those who will join the spiritual energy; the bigger vision, the more radical and even the more revolutionary steps that are called for. 
One area – I used the expression ‘fresh expressions’ deliberately a few minutes ago – one area I became aware of a few days ago was that we had cut our budget commitment to Fresh Expressions. This may be something that some of you are aware of. Thank you. Yes, I thought you might be. I can announce today that as we had cut it by £50,000, I have, in the last two days, found that £50,000 from other budgets, and that will go back into the Fresh Expressions budget (cheers and applause) – as a tangible expression of apology that we cut, and a tangible expression of our commitment, not merely to Fresh Expressions, wonderful as that is, but also towards our joint working and our walk towards unity.
Fresh Expressions is essentially a down-payment on what could happen between us. It is a call by the Spirit of God to renew every effort with all we have. I should say, again, because I know a little history, that I believe that the initial risks need to be taken this time by the Anglicans, because last time you took the bet, and it’s time we did. 
Resourcing the search for the common good has to start with spirituality, which is why I’ve talked about what I’ve talked about: the visible spiritual union of the people of God – not unanimity, but profound unity. That leads to reconciliation and modelling the reality of the gift of God in the Spirit, which we find in the letter to the Ephesians. In reconciliation, we find ourselves not held together, but driven out, in love; constrained by the love of God, overwhelmed into being those whose lives lead to human reconciliation. 
It is not coincidence or mere pragmatism that, for example, so many food banks are ecumenical. It is not merely out of a need to share the burden, but it is out of the work of the Spirit often unnoticed by us. So the resourcing of the common good is essentially from God, and starts with theology: the theology of a God of integration and creativity. It is released in ecclesiology: our cooperation with the Spirit in the processes through which he animates constantly the life of the Church to create the Church afresh in each generation – in fact, in each day.
Unity in the spirit; a renewal of spirituality; the common engagement with scripture, intelligently and across our traditions, releases the resource of truth, and it liberates truth. Truth liberates, above all, the theological task of describing how things should be. To reflect the image and the nature of God, and how we organise our society, as well as by what standards we live ourselves. It is at this point that theology and ecclesiology begin to infiltrate economics and sociology, and it is at this point that the dangers grow. 
Edward Gibbon, who wrote ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, which my wife gave me shortly after we got married – that wasn’t the punch-line, there isn’t one in this one. (Laughter). No, she gave it to me because I was travelling a huge amount. I was in business at the time. I was spending a lot of time in rather grim parts of the world, with nothing to do but read. She gave me Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’, which I read steadily the whole way through – and enjoyed it – while travelling. It’s only six volumes and it took me 17 years. But Gibbon, in Chapter 2, says this: “The religions of the Roman Empire were seen by all people as equally true, by all the philosophers as equally false, and by all the magistrates as equally useful.” 
Conference, I hope and pray that, like me, you dread being useful. We do not want to be useful. We want to be the revolutionary, society-changing, transforming, extraordinary, Spirit-filled Church of God. (Applause).
That is why we have to come with our theology and our ecclesiology into the dilemmas we face. I want to run very quickly through those, dealing with one or two issues of history and where we are, in the context not of being the common good alone, but delivering, providing the common good in our suffering society.
The dilemma we face is the reality that the state of our economy and the global economy has consequences for governments’ capacity. The reality is that those same economic difficulties increase the hardship faced above all by the worst off, and increase the number who fall into that category. Of this, we are all aware. 
By the way, there is an upcoming danger, which is that there are moves around, in the economics world – and you hear them in the political world – to say the way of dealing with too much government debt is exactly the same way that Henry VIII did it – they don’t actually say that, because it doesn’t sound good, but it’s the truth – which is you devalue, depreciate the currency. It’s called inflation. You inflate; you allow inflation to rise, and then fixed levels of debt obviously become worth less in relation to overall gross domestic product. 
But inflation is a tax on the poor. It is the worst tax on the poor. Because inflation at the moment is higher on food and fuel than on any other area. What are the things that nobody can do without? Food and fuel. It is fuel poverty that drives people to food banks, very often. It is failure to deliver benefits as well; I spoke of that the other day. But it is fuel poverty. The mistakes we make, so we have a dilemma we face. The economy has changed. We make mistakes. We either go in for pietism of a sort, which is “We’ll do it all”, or buck-shifting: “The government must do it.” 
Beveridge wrote a second, less well-known report called ‘Voluntary Action’, which reflected his concern that the state must not take on all responsibility for care of the weak, the vulnerable or the unfortunate. The state is good at being universal, but it can’t be personal. The state can’t put its arm around you. The state can’t welcome you into a church and say, “You matter.” The state can’t hand you support in a way that is not condescending, or the creation of dependency. There need to be strong and varied intermediate structures of voluntary action. 
We do not have a monopoly of concern. A genuine common good has to be resourced in common by the whole community. Again, that is the work of the radical inclusivity of the Spirit of God. As churches, we are not to be competitive NGOs, chasing the donors to get the most credit; but to work with all of goodwill, in passionate hospitality, wherever they come from, whatever faith tradition, or no faith tradition.
Then we need to recognise the humanity that we are. We need an anthropologically coherent assessment of where we find the common good. As we come together, we need to say “What does common good look like in our society?” In the late nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII, in 1891, in ‘Rerum Novarum’, which is often given the title in English, ‘On the Condition of the Working Class’, set out the urgency of responding to the difficulties faced by working people, calling for suitable working conditions and wages, arguing that the government has a particular responsibility to wage-earners, since, as he put it, ‘They mostly belong in the mass of the needy, and do not have their own resources to fall back on, in the way the richer do.’
Methodism was crucial in responding to the growing urbanisation of England and ministering to the increasing numbers living in towns and cities; streets ahead of the Church of England. Methodist commitment to temperates was a crucial response to a particularly significant aspect of the common ills of the time. Then, as we go through World War I and into World War II, we find the reforming optimism of Anglican Victorian theology thrown back on itself by the two great wars. But emerging through the Christian socialism, Tawney, Beveridge and Temple, in which common good is seen as the elimination of universal evils, Beveridge’s five great giants.
Temple’s view was of society as an ordered whole. The role of the Church was of laying down principles for social and political action. I would want to add to that our role is also a passionate commitment to example-setting work that identifies us with the poor and the vulnerable, and stands us alongside them, not just talking to them. We need to do that.
Today, what does the common good mean? Is it bread and circuses, or what? Is it a way of keeping people quiet, so they don’t have too many needs, and they can watch the telly, and that’s all fine? There is an element of that in our society. We see, frankly, the imbalances between cuts in spending in the North and the South. Between 2010 and 2012, per capita spending on infrastructural investment in the southeast was over £2000 per head. In the northeast, as Ruth knows well, it was £5. Just in case you thought I got the numbers wrong, over £2000 a head in the Southeast, £5 a head in the Northeast.
We all know that there is a gross imbalance in the allocation of resources. There is a danger of the radical autonomy, the radical individualism of our society, meaning that whole sectors dismiss other whole sectors. The thinktank Policy Exchange in 2008 published a report about a number of cities, particularly round the coast – including Hastings, as it happened, in the South – but particularly Liverpool and places like that, in which they said in August 2008 – just in case you’ve forgotten, the banks all went bust in September and October of that year – they said that there is no hope of regeneration of these cities. What the policy needs to be is that they are essentially closed down, left to the elderly and those who can’t move away, and that the main population moves to places like Oxford and Cambridge, and takes jobs in financial services, the industry of the future. The timing was impeccable.
I met the author of that report. He came and stayed with us to have a debate at Liverpool Cathedral, and stayed in our house. He genuinely believed it, and could not see that the common good overwhelms those sort of calculations. The work of the Spirit of God gives us an optimism about changes in our society that mean that we are not determined by economics, and economics has to be our servant, not our master.
This evening, I’ll be launching a report by the thinktank ResPublica about the Church of England’s civic action. I’m not prejudging that launch, but can say that it sets out challenges for both Church and government as to how we respond to the level of need that exists, and how we might enhance the partnerships that already exist. There are numerous examples in which we are all working. I’ve already mentioned food distribution, debt cancelling, credit action, investment clubs, Council for Social Responsibility; we can go on and on. 
But what we need to come back to is for the churches to have any credibility, for the churches to unlock the wealth that God offers us through his Spirit, that will enable us not merely to be useful, as a church warden of mine said – and I’ve quoted this often, but it’s a phrase that has stuck poignantly with me, and I do like the Rotary – but he said to me at one point, “Justin, we are not the Rotary with a pointy roof.” We’re not useful. We are about revolution; a revolution of peace and love that sees the common good in dream – and through the resources released by visible unity, brings it into reality. 
The common good is resourced in the generosity of God and nowhere else. It is lived in the outgoingness of a united and thus confident and humble poor Church; a foot-washing Church. I believe passionately that we can be that together; not to be useful, but in our radicality, to show that Jesus is sent by God, and He is at work in our world. Thank you.

As we sit, let’s pray. Holy Spirit of God, open our eyes and inspire our imaginations. Fill our hearts with passion for You, for Your Kingdom and for the poor. Amen.

Thank you very much, President, for your warm welcome. Actually, given the busyness of your diary, the fact that we managed to meet at all in the ten minutes that I was Bishop of Durham is something of a miracle. It’s a huge privilege, and a quite unexpected privilege, to be able to address you, particularly having just come from General Synod. There’s a faint sense of déjà vu, I have to say.

It is a huge privilege. There’s much to be learned – I was very struck, sitting at the back before lunch – there’s much to be learned by us from… I was watching how you were doing things with fascination and admiration. You have much to bring us. The visibility of women at the podium was something that struck me as slightly different from us, and of course you’re all much younger than we are. (Laughter).

I’ve heard the speech limit is four minutes, so I’m going to witter for four minutes and then shut up. I need to start with a confession. Given we’re with the Methodists, I presume there won’t be absolution. I have to say that I am a descendent of Bishop Butler. I thought that would get you. So there we are; we’ve got all our cards on the table. I grew up in part of my childhood with my grandmother, on the north coast of Norfolk. I know all about you. We were comparing notes. I won’t name the family, but there was a family who, shall we say, did not always understand the difference between what they owned and what other people owned. One of the leading members of that family was caught gassing geese on the marsh near Morston, in time to sell them for Christmas. He’d go up behind them with a little gas thing and go “pfff”, and the goose would fall over, and he’d wring its neck and flog it at the local poulterers. He was caught, and he was charged, and he was convicted. 

Before he was sentenced, the judge said to his counsel, to his barrister, “Do they not know, Mr Smith – does your client not know, Mr Smith – the old legal maxim, that nemo dat qui non habet?” Which, for my Anglican colleagues who might not know Latin, means, “Nobody can give what they haven’t got.” To which counsel replied, “My lord, in the pubs of Blakeney, they speak of little else.” (Laughter).

Well, the rule that nemo dat qui non habet is a very important rule for resourcing the common good, and for what we do together and where we go together. Let me quote the last few verses of John:17, which you will know very well. Jesus prays, “The glory that you have given me, I have given them, my disciples, so that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they might become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” That’s verses 20-26. 

The “so that”s, the “in order that”s – the “that” in each of those places where it comes in those verses, is an extremely strong “in order that”. It means “for the very purpose that; exactly and precisely, so that”. As my wonderful, distinguished, learned and extraordinary predecessor, Archbishop Rowan, said to you in 2004, “Unity is a gift and a creation of God through the Holy Spirit.” I’m summarising; he took a little longer than that to say it, I think it’s fair to say. 

But if we look at the work of God, the nature of God, the nature of the Spirit of God, from Genesis:1 onwards, and especially in Psalms, like Psalm 18 and in the latter chapters of Job, the nature of the Spirit of God is integration and creation. Sin and the power of evil create a pattern of destruction and disintegration. Human pride makes room for destruction and division, and that is, above all, recognisable in the Church.

 Dermot McCulloch, in his ‘History of the Reformation’, shows, in the 1540s and ‘50s and ‘60s, several opportunities for avoiding the permanent catastrophe of the reformation – opportunities spoiled by pride and the desire for power. The great division with Methodism, with great respect to my ancestor, was inspired more than anything by Anglican pride and episcopal status. (Applause.) Thank you. The correct answer was, “No, no, no, we were equally at fault.” (Laughter and applause). But actually, I meant it. I did mean it. It’s not the correct answer.

Looking back, the lessons are clear. Pride releases spiritual forces of destruction, as we remove from ourselves the uniting impact of the Holy Spirit of God. Visible unity releases treasure. Visible unity releases treasure. 

When I was a parish priest in Warwickshire, we had two large chests in the ancient parish church. One of them was particularly famous, because for several hundred years it had been where the people of the town put their valuables. It had three locks, and it could only be opened when three separate people put their keys in the locks and opened them. Very cunning thing. 

The full treasures of the unity of the Church – the great treasure that is envisaged by Jesus in his prayer in John, Chapter 17 – is only obtainable when we all unlock together, rather than separately. There is a fresh expression, when we are united, of the reality of God. Because the Spirit works in the structures of the Church – as in many other places – our experience of the work of the Spirit, and of our unity, is enabled by process and lived in the experience of process. Coming together in our process of unity is of immense importance in opening the way for the work of God among us.

We have, I’m very glad to say, and I rejoice, experienced that in the last few days at General Synod. Not that we’ve suddenly all agreed; but through different processes, and a willingness to engage and listen, we saw more of the fruit of unity released in the life of the Church. 

My chaplain had a text yesterday from a woman who is strongly against the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate, and was totally unconvinced by all the arguments I put forward. Normal; I’m very bad at convincing people. She texted to say that in the facilitated groups on Saturday, which went on all day – eight hours of it – during those eight hours, she had come to meet with, and listen to carefully, someone who was deeply committed to the ordination of women. She said in her text that they had not come to agreement, but they had reached mutual trust. That is a miracle, genuinely. That is the work of the Spirit of God. 

The need for process is both a justification of the covenant and a challenge to much deeper working together – and an invitation to ensure that covenant is not exclusive, but hospitable. It wasn’t two keys at Southam, but three. In our work for Christian unity and visible unity, there are many keys. Covenants cannot be inward-looking. 

As with the new covenant, in Christ, and as so beautifully expressed in the covenant service in the Methodist liturgy, our covenant between ourselves and yourselves is a call to die with Christ to our own interest; not to calculate relative advantage. Its insane hospitality opens arms to all those who will join the spiritual energy; the bigger vision, the more radical and even the more revolutionary steps that are called for. 

One area – I used the expression ‘fresh expressions’ deliberately a few minutes ago – one area I became aware of a few days ago was that we had cut our budget commitment to Fresh Expressions. This may be something that some of you are aware of. Thank you. Yes, I thought you might be. I can announce today that as we had cut it by £50,000, I have, in the last two days, found that £50,000 from other budgets, and that will go back into the Fresh Expressions budget (cheers and applause) – as a tangible expression of apology that we cut, and a tangible expression of our commitment, not merely to Fresh Expressions, wonderful as that is, but also towards our joint working and our walk towards unity.

Fresh Expressions is essentially a down-payment on what could happen between us. It is a call by the Spirit of God to renew every effort with all we have. I should say, again, because I know a little history, that I believe that the initial risks need to be taken this time by the Anglicans, because last time you took the bet, and it’s time we did. 

Resourcing the search for the common good has to start with spirituality, which is why I’ve talked about what I’ve talked about: the visible spiritual union of the people of God – not unanimity, but profound unity. That leads to reconciliation and modelling the reality of the gift of God in the Spirit, which we find in the letter to the Ephesians. In reconciliation, we find ourselves not held together, but driven out, in love; constrained by the love of God, overwhelmed into being those whose lives lead to human reconciliation. 

It is not coincidence or mere pragmatism that, for example, so many food banks are ecumenical. It is not merely out of a need to share the burden, but it is out of the work of the Spirit often unnoticed by us. So the resourcing of the common good is essentially from God, and starts with theology: the theology of a God of integration and creativity. It is released in ecclesiology: our cooperation with the Spirit in the processes through which he animates constantly the life of the Church to create the Church afresh in each generation – in fact, in each day.

Unity in the spirit; a renewal of spirituality; the common engagement with scripture, intelligently and across our traditions, releases the resource of truth, and it liberates truth. Truth liberates, above all, the theological task of describing how things should be. To reflect the image and the nature of God, and how we organise our society, as well as by what standards we live ourselves. It is at this point that theology and ecclesiology begin to infiltrate economics and sociology, and it is at this point that the dangers grow. 

Edward Gibbon, who wrote ‘The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’, which my wife gave me shortly after we got married – that wasn’t the punch-line, there isn’t one in this one. (Laughter). No, she gave it to me because I was travelling a huge amount. I was in business at the time. I was spending a lot of time in rather grim parts of the world, with nothing to do but read. She gave me Gibbon’s ‘Decline and Fall’, which I read steadily the whole way through – and enjoyed it – while travelling. It’s only six volumes and it took me 17 years. But Gibbon, in Chapter 2, says this: “The religions of the Roman Empire were seen by all people as equally true, by all the philosophers as equally false, and by all the magistrates as equally useful.” 

Conference, I hope and pray that, like me, you dread being useful. We do not want to be useful. We want to be the revolutionary, society-changing, transforming, extraordinary, Spirit-filled Church of God. (Applause).

That is why we have to come with our theology and our ecclesiology into the dilemmas we face. I want to run very quickly through those, dealing with one or two issues of history and where we are, in the context not of being the common good alone, but delivering, providing the common good in our suffering society.

The dilemma we face is the reality that the state of our economy and the global economy has consequences for governments’ capacity. The reality is that those same economic difficulties increase the hardship faced above all by the worst off, and increase the number who fall into that category. Of this, we are all aware. 

By the way, there is an upcoming danger, which is that there are moves around, in the economics world – and you hear them in the political world – to say the way of dealing with too much government debt is exactly the same way that Henry VIII did it – they don’t actually say that, because it doesn’t sound good, but it’s the truth – which is you devalue, depreciate the currency. It’s called inflation. You inflate; you allow inflation to rise, and then fixed levels of debt obviously become worth less in relation to overall gross domestic product. 

But inflation is a tax on the poor. It is the worst tax on the poor. Because inflation at the moment is higher on food and fuel than on any other area. What are the things that nobody can do without? Food and fuel. It is fuel poverty that drives people to food banks, very often. It is failure to deliver benefits as well; I spoke of that the other day. But it is fuel poverty. The mistakes we make, so we have a dilemma we face. The economy has changed. We make mistakes. We either go in for pietism of a sort, which is “We’ll do it all”, or buck-shifting: “The government must do it.” 

Beveridge wrote a second, less well-known report called ‘Voluntary Action’, which reflected his concern that the state must not take on all responsibility for care of the weak, the vulnerable or the unfortunate. The state is good at being universal, but it can’t be personal. The state can’t put its arm around you. The state can’t welcome you into a church and say, “You matter.” The state can’t hand you support in a way that is not condescending, or the creation of dependency. There need to be strong and varied intermediate structures of voluntary action. 

We do not have a monopoly of concern. A genuine common good has to be resourced in common by the whole community. Again, that is the work of the radical inclusivity of the Spirit of God. As churches, we are not to be competitive NGOs, chasing the donors to get the most credit; but to work with all of goodwill, in passionate hospitality, wherever they come from, whatever faith tradition, or no faith tradition.

Then we need to recognise the humanity that we are. We need an anthropologically coherent assessment of where we find the common good. As we come together, we need to say “What does common good look like in our society?” In the late nineteenth century, Pope Leo XIII, in 1891, in ‘Rerum Novarum’, which is often given the title in English, ‘On the Condition of the Working Class’, set out the urgency of responding to the difficulties faced by working people, calling for suitable working conditions and wages, arguing that the government has a particular responsibility to wage-earners, since, as he put it, ‘They mostly belong in the mass of the needy, and do not have their own resources to fall back on, in the way the richer do.’

Methodism was crucial in responding to the growing urbanisation of England and ministering to the increasing numbers living in towns and cities; streets ahead of the Church of England. Methodist commitment to temperates was a crucial response to a particularly significant aspect of the common ills of the time. Then, as we go through World War I and into World War II, we find the reforming optimism of Anglican Victorian theology thrown back on itself by the two great wars. But emerging through the Christian socialism, Tawney, Beveridge and Temple, in which common good is seen as the elimination of universal evils, Beveridge’s five great giants.

Temple’s view was of society as an ordered whole. The role of the Church was of laying down principles for social and political action. I would want to add to that our role is also a passionate commitment to example-setting work that identifies us with the poor and the vulnerable, and stands us alongside them, not just talking to them. We need to do that.

Today, what does the common good mean? Is it bread and circuses, or what? Is it a way of keeping people quiet, so they don’t have too many needs, and they can watch the telly, and that’s all fine? There is an element of that in our society. We see, frankly, the imbalances between cuts in spending in the North and the South. Between 2010 and 2012, per capita spending on infrastructural investment in the southeast was over £2000 per head. In the northeast, as Ruth knows well, it was £5. Just in case you thought I got the numbers wrong, over £2000 a head in the Southeast, £5 a head in the Northeast.

We all know that there is a gross imbalance in the allocation of resources. There is a danger of the radical autonomy, the radical individualism of our society, meaning that whole sectors dismiss other whole sectors. The thinktank Policy Exchange in 2008 published a report about a number of cities, particularly round the coast – including Hastings, as it happened, in the South – but particularly Liverpool and places like that, in which they said in August 2008 – just in case you’ve forgotten, the banks all went bust in September and October of that year – they said that there is no hope of regeneration of these cities. What the policy needs to be is that they are essentially closed down, left to the elderly and those who can’t move away, and that the main population moves to places like Oxford and Cambridge, and takes jobs in financial services, the industry of the future. The timing was impeccable.

I met the author of that report. He came and stayed with us to have a debate at Liverpool Cathedral, and stayed in our house. He genuinely believed it, and could not see that the common good overwhelms those sort of calculations. The work of the Spirit of God gives us an optimism about changes in our society that mean that we are not determined by economics, and economics has to be our servant, not our master.

This evening, I’ll be launching a report by the thinktank ResPublica about the Church of England’s civic action. I’m not prejudging that launch, but can say that it sets out challenges for both Church and government as to how we respond to the level of need that exists, and how we might enhance the partnerships that already exist. There are numerous examples in which we are all working. I’ve already mentioned food distribution, debt cancelling, credit action, investment clubs, Council for Social Responsibility; we can go on and on. 

But what we need to come back to is for the churches to have any credibility, for the churches to unlock the wealth that God offers us through his Spirit, that will enable us not merely to be useful, as a church warden of mine said – and I’ve quoted this often, but it’s a phrase that has stuck poignantly with me, and I do like the Rotary – but he said to me at one point, “Justin, we are not the Rotary with a pointy roof.” We’re not useful. We are about revolution; a revolution of peace and love that sees the common good in dream – and through the resources released by visible unity, brings it into reality. 

The common good is resourced in the generosity of God and nowhere else. It is lived in the outgoingness of a united and thus confident and humble poor Church; a foot-washing Church. I believe passionately that we can be that together; not to be useful, but in our radicality, to show that Jesus is sent by God, and He is at work in our world. Thank you.


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