- The Social Justice Forum: history and purpose.
The first meeting of the Social Justice Forum was held in December 2015, following consultation and preparation. By social justice, we understand how all that we have been given is from God and is shared between us (the social element), and how fair or unfair these shares are (the justice element). At a preliminary meeting in November 2015, it was agreed that at the end of the three years, we would need to be able to demonstrate that something at St Anne’s has changed as a result of the initiative. Ideally, this would be a pervasive awareness in the congregation that social justice is fundamental to Christian faith, not an add-on, or something political that the church must avoid.
- The meetings
The Social Justice Forum met four times each year. Each meeting followed a very similar pattern, consisting very roughly of an opening liturgy, 30 minutes of study, 20 minutes of silent prayer and reflection, and an hour of deciding on possible actions that we might take. A ‘hand-out’ included factual material on the topic, a short liturgy, a biblical passage, prayers and reflections, suggestions for action, and references.
3. Action and output as a result of Forum meetings
a. Contact was established successfully with the following organisations:
i. Breaking Barriers, a charity whose aim is to establish refugees in employment for which they prior experience and skills. Two members of St Anne’s are involved as volunteers.
ii. CARAS (Community Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers), a Tooting based charity that provides help and support to refugees and asylum seekers in South London. We had talks from two of the trustees at our February 2016 meeting and at the 2016 Harvest Supper and a collection for them at the 2016 Harvest Services (over £1000 with gift aid). Proceeds from the 2016 Advent Fair were also given to CARAS. We held a Question/Answer session in Christian Aid week in May 2017 with, their Chief Executive. They are now, jointly with the charity Safe Passage, one of our chosen charities receiving a share of St Anne’s charitable giving
iii. The Chickpea Sisters is a social enterprise in catering, set up under the auspices of CARAS. After providing our Harvest supper in September 2016, they catered for a concert in October 2017 and gave a cookery demonstration in November 2017 for ten people locally.
iv. Refugees Welcome in Richmond is a group, working with Richmond Borough, that is dedicated to finding housing for fifty households under the government’s scheme to bring in 20,000 Syrian refugees from refugee camps. Contact is minimal but we are in touch with them through Churches Together in Kew.
v. Hope for the Future. This group links to our concern about Climate Justice. It is a small organisation linked to the Anglican mission charity, USPG. The Director, spoke at our meeting in October 2018 and advised on action for climate justice in the form of making contact with our MP.
b. Written materials
i. The handouts as well as a note on each meeting are on the St Anne’s web site.
ii. Refugees: signposting material was displayed for the first six months of 2016, giving a wide range of material about the different ways in which we can all help refugees. A shorter guide to helping was compiled from this, was distributed at the harvest services in 2016 and an updated version is on the St Anne’s web site and was on the church notice board.
iii. Refugees: a prayer card for refugees has been in all the pews since March 2017.
iv. Refugees: Declaration of fellowship. We worked on a statement of positive commitment toward refugees in February 2017 and decided to subscribe to the Declaration signed by the Bishop of Southwark and the Mayor of London in December 2016. This Declaration of Fellowship has been on the St Anne’s web site, since March 2017. At the time of writing, 26 people have signed.
v. Communication with M and M committee and PCC. We wrote reports on Years 1 and 2 of the Forum in November 2016 and October 2017 and a two page submission drawing on the experience of the Social Justice Forum for Vision 2020: Mission Worth Living.
vi. Climate Justice:Carbon Fast in Lent. Following a suggestion from the October 2017 meeting, St Anne’s adopted a Carbon Fast for Lent in 2018.
vii. Climate Justice: Declaration of Intent by St Anne’s Church. Following, and based on an activity (EcoChurch) at the February 2018 meeting, that addresses all aspects of the life of the church in the context of climate justice, we drew up a draft Declaration of Intent that sets out the principles and actions that we will take as a church in response to climate change and the issues of climate justice. This is currently under consideration by the PCC
i. Refugees: A trustee of CARAS (see above), spoke at our meeting in February 2016.]
ii. Asylum seekers: A senior judge in the Immigration and Asylum Chamber spoke on 22 March 2017 on Refugees and the Law. 25 people came.
iii. Climate justice. We organised a series of three talks on Climate Change and Climate Justice in 2018. We tried to do this in conjunction with Churches Together in Kew. The first two talks were held at the Barn Church and the third at St Anne’s.
First talk: March 2018 (Lent).
Climate and Gospel: the science of climate change and Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si: on care for our common home. Bishop David Atkinson and Father Nicholas King, SJ. A collection for Operation Noah (charity chosen by Bishop Atkinson) raised £250.
Second talk: May 2018 (Christian Aid Week).
Climate change and human development: sustainable life styles and global action. Ian Christie, University of Surrey, and David Nussbaum, CEO, The Elders. A collection for Christian Aid raised £275.
Third talk: October 2018.
Climate change: what can the church learn from the work of Kew Gardens? Richard Deverell, Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and Brother Sam, Society of Saint Francis. A collection for A Rocha (charity chosen by the speakers) raised £400
iv. Climate justice. Libby Insall, volunteer at Kew Gardens, spoke at St Anne’s in March 2018 on ‘Climate change in relation to the two reports from Kew Gardens on the State of the World’s Plants’.
v. Hope for the Future. Jo Musker-Sherwood, Director, spoke at our meeting in October 2018.
i. Refugees. Our Harvest services in 2016focused on refugees. Our guest preacher was the Reverend Canon Professor Nicholas Sagovsky who has worked over many years with refugees and asylum seekers.
ii. Refugees. a Prayer vigil under the auspices of Churches Together in Kew, was held at St Anne’s during Refugee Week, June 2016. It was poorly attended.
iii. Prayer and social justice. Sister Sue (the Reverend Sue Berry), Society of Saint Francis, led a two hour session (replacing our seventh meeting) of prayer and reflection on social justice in May 2017.
iv. Climate justice. Brother Sam, Society of Saint Francis, spoke on a Christian perspective on the environment on Advent Sunday 2017.
i. Junior Church links. One or two of our members are Junior Church parents, and we are conscious of the gap between them and some of the rest of us, as our paths do not really cross.When considering climate justice, we thought it important to try and increase these links. The Junior Church made a beautiful poster about caring for our world and at a summer picnic at the end of July 2018 had a stall at which children could decorate pots and plant marigolds
4. Impact assessment
The SJF provided a forum for those concerned about social justice and feedback from those who came to the meetings was generally positive. We do not know if the SJF precisely ‘added value’ to M&M and /or the PCC. Arguably, the SJF ‘added value’ to the life of St Anne’s as a whole because things did happen during the three years as a result of SJF that would not have happened otherwise. e.g. prayer card for refugees; declaration of fellowship about refugees; Carbon Fast; talks; Harvest Supper 2016, and possibly switch to celebrating creation rather than Harvest (a trend being encouraged by the Diocese); links with Breaking Barriers and CARAS; letter to our MP and the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary candidate about climate change (20 November 2018); statement of intent in relation to climate change.
Some of these changes will endure but others will require definite action.
To try and gain some idea of its significance, or lack of, for people who did not come, a random selection of 23 regular church attenders (including some PCC members) who did not attend any meetings of the Forum were contacted about their reactions. Fourteen responded, six were unobtainable, two were too busy and one did not want to respond. Of the 14 respondents, there were two men, eleven women (one no reply on gender); nine were in part time or full time employment, four were retired and one was unemployed. All, except one respondent, were involved in some voluntary work, either connected with St Anne’s or outside, or both.
Of those who responded, about half knew about the focus of the Forum (refugees and climate change), two did not know anything and the others were aware but a bit vague. Six out of the fourteen had looked at the handouts on-line, had thought of going to a meeting (three had done so) and thought the initiative should be taken forward in some way. Time constraints and other commitments were the main reasons for not going to the meetings.
Ten of the fourteen thought social justice was important or very important for us as Christians at St Anne’s although there were clearly differences about how people thought it should be taken forward.
5. Questions arising
i. Responsibility and resources
The organisation and running of the Forum was by Claudine McCreadie and Christopher Stephens. Some of the actions we agreed on in the meetings led to quite a lot of work by a few people. The Forum was not set up with any responsibility for carrying this out. Only a few involved further action by all those who came to the meetings. Some involved one individual. Some, notably the Harvest Supper in 2016, drew in a wider circle of people. Some, however, required Claudine and Christopher to do quite a lot more work: particularly the talks in 2018 about Climate Justice. We had hoped that, by holding these in conjunction with Churches Together in Kew, we would be able to share the workload, but, like the Prayer Vigil for Refugees in June 2016, that did not work out as we had hoped.
The original understanding of the Forum (see section 1 above) was that it must result in action. However, one conclusion that we draw from the last three years is that this action can only reasonably be modest unless there are other resources to draw on. The more people who are involved in attending any event, then the greater the organisation and communication required. Funding may also become an issue. We ran into considerable difficulty when we needed to cover the transport costs of our speakers (just under £150) at the first climate justice talk.
The communications side required a significant amount of time. There are three major tasks: informing the congregation; informing the ‘outside world’; designing appropriate materials e.g. posters. There is a need to inform both before and after a meeting or event. Informing the ‘outside world’ is a major issue. Our climate justice talks were ambitious and we succeeded in having distinguished speakers. We secured the large audience only at the third talk but suspect the turnout had a good deal to do with the Director of Kew Gardens being one of the key speakers.
Designing attractive posters and leaflets is quite a specialised task.
We did not set up the Forum in any formal way and as we were a time limited project we did not try and recruit anyone to be responsible for publicity. Our conclusion is that communications require a dedicated person to address them.
iii. Links with M and M and PCC
We gave written reports in the autumn of 2016 and 2017 to the M and M committee. We were disappointed that we did not have any communication or feedback from M&M or the PCC.
6. Overall conclusions and recommendations
We have found this three-year experiment stimulating, and have learnt much in being a part of it. We set this up as a time-limited project and do not think it feasible to try and carry on organising and leading the Forum. We would both actively support any continuation while relinquishing our leadership roles and we see this as a role for the M & M committee. We recommend that:
i. The M & M committee takes this on; decides on a programme for the year, which may mean a talk, a study session, bible study, prayer, a sermon or two, worship, a special collection …. One option would be to run a high profile event annually on the lines of the “ St Anne’s Annual Lecture”. The forthcoming lecture on July 12th2019, by Dr Rowan Williams to celebrate the 150thanniversary of the birth of the Reverend Conrad Noel in a house on Kew Green, with the title, The Challenge of Affluence, could count as the first of such;
ii. M & M co-opt people to help them deliver on the actions required; this would not require the same people each time but would depend on the particular action
iii. Someone is specifically responsible for communications – this does not have to be a member of M & M;
iv. There are some guidelines for spending.
Claudine is happy to contribute study material from time to time if required, and both of us would happily lead a regular worship slot focused on social justice. In advance of Dr Rowan Williams’ lecture, we intend to circulate a ‘fact sheet’ on inequality to the congregation and we would also be happy to contribute to a follow-up event to his lecture in the autumn. We both sincerely hope that a way forward will be found to keep a profile for social justice at St Anne’s as for us, as clearly for others at St Anne’s, it is fundamental to our Christian faith.
Claudine McCreadie and Christopher Stephens, 15 November 2018 (edited 2 February 2019)