1. The Social Justice Forum: history and purpose.
The Social Justice Forum has been jointly convened by Claudine McCreadie and Christopher Stephens. The idea of the Social Justice Forum is that a small group of committed people meet together four times a year to pray, study and initiate action on different issues of social justice. Prayer is seen as fundamental, since we are trying to discern what God is asking of us, the people of St Anne’s Kew, now, in relation to the great suffering and injustice of our world. 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).
The first meeting was held in December 2015. This followed quite a long period of consultation and preparation, including three café evenings in November 2014 on social justice and the Old Testament (led by Chris Stephens), social justice and the New Testament (led by Canon Julian Reindorp) and social justice, worship and liturgy (led by the Reverend Rachel Carnegie). After consultation with Nigel (who was on a sabbatical in July 2015), the idea of such a group was agreed at a meeting in July 2015 with the churchwardens (then Telfer and Tina) and the chair of the Ministry and Mission (M and M) committee (then Margaret Handley). The group would not be part of the formal governance of the church but would have clear links with M and M. It would be based on Franciscan principles of study, prayer and active service and would be open to any one interested. An open meeting was held on 2 November 2015 attended by 17 people including Nigel and the churchwardens. All those present shared concerns about human suffering as a result of injustice, a sense of helplessness in the face of it, but also a sense that together we could do something, however small, together. In discussion, we clarified that the Forum must not be a ‘talking shop’ or an exercise in self-indulgent spirituality but must result in actions. 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.
2. The meetings
The Social Justice Forum met four times each year. Our initial topic of refugees was chosen at the open meeting in November 2015, in the light of the huge flows of people from Syria as a result of the war there. The first five meetings focused on refugees, the sixth on asylum seekers, and the seventh on social justice and prayer (with specific reference to refugees). In October 2017, the convenors decided to focus on climate justice. Climate change has links to movements of people and again is hugely topical.
Meetings last two hours. Each has followed a very similar pattern, apart from the meeting on social justice and prayer. This was led by Sister Sue of the Society of Saint Francis and held in the church. Other meetings (with one exception) have been held in the Hall and have consisted of, very roughly, 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. To enable this to happen, Claudine has prepared a ‘hand-out’ that is ‘professionalised’ in the Parish Office. It includes factual material on the topic (with all sources quoted), a short liturgy, a biblical passage, prayers and reflections, suggestions for action, a note of web sites with more details and dates of future events of interest. Claudine and Chris have led the meetings.
At the end of the first four meetings, we asked those who had been involved which aspects of the meeting they had found helpful. Thirteen people replied, half of whom (six people) had attended three meetings and one person all four meetings. All had found the handouts very helpful, ten had found the reflection on the bible passage (by Christopher or Nigel) very helpful and seven had found the silent prayer and the websites very helpful.
The number participating at each meeting has been around 12. Apart from the convenors, roughly between six and ten other people were regular attenders: these included Nigel and the two churchwardens (Tina and Bill). About six people attended only one meeting. Thirty six people are on an email list for communication. A fair number send apologies each time – there are many good reasons for not being able to come!
Meetings of Social Justice Forum with topic and number of participants
Dates / Topic / Participants / Apologies
1 December 2015 / Refugees / 21 / 3
2 February 2016 / Refugees / 16 / 6
3 May 2016 / Refugees / 13 / 9
4 October 2016 / Refugees / 13 / 9
5 November 2016 / Refugees / 12 / 12
6 February 2017 / Asylum seekers / 13 / 7
7 May 2017 / Social justice and prayer / 11 / n/av
8 October 2017 / Climate justice / 12 / 9
9 December 2017 / Climate justice / 13 / 7
10 February 2018 / Climate justice / 20 / 3
11 May 2018 / Climate justice / 14 / 3
12 October 2018 / Climate justice / 12 / 7
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. Link person: Sally Cannon (8am attender)
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. Margaret Handley chaired a Question/Answer session in Christian Aid week in May 2017 with Eleanor Brown, their Chief Executive. They are now, jointly with the charity Safe Passage (link person; Bridget Towers, 10 am), one of our chosen charities receiving a share of St Anne’s charitable giving. Link person: Judith Evans, a patron of CARAS (8am attender) and Claudine McCreadie (8am attender).
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 (given by Sue Shorter) in aid of INS in October 2017 (organised by Sue Lloyd) and gave a cookery demonstration in November 2017 for ten people in Sally Cannon’s house.
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. Two families have been housed in Whitton but finding accommodation has proved extremely difficult. 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. Jo Musker-Sherwood, the Director, spoke at our meeting on October 13, 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 were forwarded to Adam Watson who put them on the St Anne’s web site. A paper copy was placed on the notice board and spare copies on the table at the back of the church;
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 is still available on the St Anne’s web site and on the church notice board.
iii. Refugees: a prayer card for refugees was drawn up by Susan Hayman, professionalised by Father Nigel and 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. Marion Mollett chaired this part of our meeting and we 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, under Social Justice. Through The Messenger and the St Anne’s email news, we have invited members of the congregation to sign it . At the time of writing, 26 people have signed.
v. Communication with M and M committee and PCC. Christopher and Claudine 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. Claudine McCreadie drew this up using models from the Anglican South West Diocese, TearFund and a church in Michigan, USA.
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, Claudine and Nigel 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. As many of the issues relate to our church buildings, this was then revised by Simon Child, Church architect. It is now ready to go to the PCC .
i. Refugees: Dr Jessica Thomas, a trustee of CARAS (see above), spoke at our meeting in February 2016
ii. Asylum seekers: Judge John Manuell who is 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. Following an extensive discussion at our October 2018 about how to respond to the huge issue of 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 assistance of Mike Oxborough, Richard Wright and Tim Woolmer, all of the Barn Church, was invaluable. The third talk has been held at St Anne’s. Given the calibre of the speakers and the Kew wide reach, the audience numbers for the first two talks were disappointing. The third talk elicited an excellent turnout.
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 2016 focused 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, SSF, led a two hour session (replacing our seventh meeting) of prayer and reflection on social justice in May 2017.
iii. 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 (organised by Eley Hutchinson) and at a summer picnic at the end of July 2018 had a stall at which children could decorate pots and plant marigolds (organised by Sian Merrylees). (Link person: Sian Merrylees, Junior Church parent)
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, we invited Chris and Margaret Handley and Telfer Saywell to contact a random selection of 23 regular church attenders (including some PCC members) who did not attend any meetings of the Forum to see 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); 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.
The Social Justice Forum handouts have been placed on the web site of the Association for Promoting retreats http://www.promotingretreats.org/signposts-for-spiritual-growth/other-courses/
5. Questions arising
i. Responsibility and resources
The organisation and running of the Forum was by Claudine and Christopher. Claudine was responsible for the content of the handouts but dependent on the Parish Office for their final format. Claudine was also responsible for most communications. Christopher and Claudine met to plan each meeting and ran it jointly, with Christopher particularly running the second half of each meeting when we aimed to have maximum participation. After each meeting, Claudine prepared a note of the meeting and circulated it to her list of interested people and made sure the handout and the note of the meeting were on the St Anne’s web site. After the first four meetings (year 1) and the second four meetings (year 2), we prepared a report for the Ministry and Mission committee and the PCC.
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, notably finding out about and maintaining contact with Breaking Barriers (Sally Cannon), initiating contact with CARAS (Judith Evans), preparing the Prayer Card for Refugees (Susan Hayman) and working on the Plan of Action in relation to climate change (Simon Child). Some, notably the Harvest Supper in 2016, drew in a wider circle of people. Our last action, drawing up a letter to send to Zac Goldsmith and Sarah Olney, involved a small group (Sally Cannon, Bill Cottle, Elly Kinnear and Tina Ruygrok). Some, however, required Claudine and Christopher to do quite a lot more work: the Carbon Fast for Lent 2018 (Claudine), the cookery demonstration by the Chickpea Sisters (Claudine) and, most of all, the talks in 2018 about Climate Justice (Christopher and Claudine). 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. St Anne’s, through photocopying and other small items, met some expenses and Christopher and Claudine met others – such as gifts to the speakers at our talks. But 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.
We tried to inform the congregation before by making sure that notices about all our meetings appeared in The Messenger, in the weekly Email news, on the Church web site and by a poster on the notice board at the back of the church. We did not use Facebook or other social media. We tried to inform them after by putting copies of the handout on the notice board and on the table at the back of the church and by putting both the handout and notes of our meetings on the web site.
Informing the ‘outside world’ is another whole issue. Our climate justice talks were ambitious and we succeeded in having distinguished speakers. They deserved a large audience and we tried hard to secure this through advertising the talks through Churches Together in Kew (posters provided), the Deanery mailing list (through Marion Mollett, Chair of the Deanery Synod), the Southwark Diocesan newspaper, The Bridge and the TW9 web site. We did not put up posters as this was too time-consuming. We secured the large audience 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. Nigel is talented in this way and designed the Prayer Card, the front page of the Handouts, the Carbon Fast and the Harvest Service sheets and the most recent poster for the Climate Justice talks. Claudine did any other work required.
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. Marie in the Parish Office, Molly Hawn who organises the email news and Adam Watson, who manages the web site were all incredibly helpful but 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. Christopher, for example, is now involved with an investment management initiative to influence major corporations in the area of climate change. Claudine is communicating with CARAS. There may be other examples. We have been greatly encouraged by the interest and enthusiasm of those who have come to the meetings and particularly by those people, Sally Cannon and Judith Evans (and more recently Bridget Towers), who successfully linked their active concern with a charity to our concern as a church with social justice.
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 …. Christopher particularly favours having a high profile event annually on the lines of the “ St Anne’s Annual Lecture”. The forthcoming lecture on July 12th 2019, by Dr Rowan Williams to celebrate the 150th anniversary 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 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
Comments from survey of people who were not directly involved in the Social Justice Forum. (see section 4 above on impact assessment for details)
Why and how should this initiative be taken forward?
1. Possibly. Try to appeal to new people. Pick new topics (but still within the umbrella term of ‘social justice’)
2. Yes, do not be discouraged if attendance has sometimes been disappointing. Having a fixed term was a good idea. Perhaps there should now be a break, before resuming. Then another fixed term, on new (related) issues. Maybe pass responsibility to someone else. The issue is important and has potential for further discussion and action
3. Yes. In future, reports of meetings should be made available to those who could not attend
4. Yes, but: The initiative was set up because of social injustice. Nothing I can do would make a difference; it would be just scratching the surface. It makes people think and St Anne’s is already more outward looking than it used to be. SJF partly there to improve our ability to be outward looking.
5. Interesting but needs to be explained to people like me. Probably many others in my position. From my little knowledge of the people involved think the forum would have many good ideas and is important to get someone capable of moving it forward.
6. Yes the work should be taken forward Not sure how. May be a way to attract the under 40s, Maybe hold Focus Group. Maybe an opportunity to share experience and find out what other people are doing. Maybe get a lay person to preach a sermon as an example of what the church can do
7. Is the forum the right way to address these issues? C of E is a positive force in the wider world. Needs think about being good Christian in the 21C
8. Would like to know more about it.
9. Question not wholly clear; what initiative i.e. the whole Social Justice Forum if so, not well enough informed to answer
10. Yes. The needs of society continue and it is important to support local and global initiatives to make a difference, showing care and compassion.
Why is social justice important for us as Christians at St Anne’s ?
1. This is relevant to us as individuals. Not sure of relevance to a group of fellow Christians. Not sure what a group can actively do
2. Very important. At St Anne’s we are not very good at interaction with people less fortunate than ourselves. We should focus more on practical measures to improve this. Two examples: when a drunken person interrupts the service, we do not know how to act constructively to help the situation. The Vineyard Lunch idea is good, but it was a mistake to cancel coffee/tea after the 10 o’clock service, as this was an opportunity for the congregation to interact with the recipients of the lunch, and maybe share a coffee with them
3. Very important. St Anne’s parishioners are comparatively privileged and comfortably off, so we should make an effort to understand the problems of those who are less so.
4. Social Justice of utmost importance. But don’t want the ways we address it to be artificial. It must be useful. Could the initiative of individual churches be coordinated in some way? St Anne’s is very critical of how other people worship
5. Would quite like a definition. Can’t disagree with the broad concept as we are privileged. Good that we are addressing it but would like it to be explained to us
6. Is important: St Anne’s is a vibrant church not resting on its laurels. Needs someone to drive it
7. Yes – like Fr Nigel’s sermon on contemporary issues, like a sermon by a Franciscan I heard recently. Think homelessness should be on the list of topics
8. Is important as part of our Christian calling. . Need to treat people fairly. Fundamental premise for Christians in society
9. In principle, very important. I know that the Forum has provided a definition of what is meant by the phrase but some assumptions seem to lie behind it.
10. “Love thy neighbour as thyself” sense of responsibility Christians should share and act upon ideally
11. Important. We all need to do our bit.