Meeting held on 4 October 2016
St. Mary’s, Bletchley

What an evening! Gone are the challenges of “can I stay focused”, this was about “what are you going to do to show your Christian Faith and make a difference?”

The meeting was given over to a series of presentations from Citizens MK. The objective was for members of Deanery Synod to understand the purpose and activities of MK Citizens as an organization and to look at how we can respond as a Deanery, as Churches and as individuals.

Rev Tim Norwood (Area Dean) explained that the reason we were looking at Citizens MK is because we helped launch the alliance through the work of Tim Clapton and have been a key partner since the beginning (bet not many of you knew that). We also do a lot of our work involving Social Justice through Citizens MK and have taken a significant lead on a number of campaigns including the Weaving Trust and Refugees Welcome (and even fewer knew that!).

1. Citizens MK

The speakers from Citizens MK were; Tom Bulman, Alan Bainbridge, Debbie Wilson and Carmel Schmidt.

Tom Bulman gave an excellent overview of how the organization works and stressed the key process is about having 1-2-1 conversations. This is not just about chatting to our friends (in our comfort zones) but actively seeking out key people (leaders) and those impacted by particular issues to identify specific changes needed and those who have the resources (money and/or people) to help deliver the solutions.

Debbie Wilson gave an enlightening (if a little depressing) presentation about the living wage and the issues affecting low paid workers. This campaign started as a result of a 1-2-1 conversation.
Just in case you don’t know; Low wages are earned mostly by women and immigrants. MK has a lot of jobs paying the minimum wage. There are too many parents working two jobs who cannot spend time with family or earn enough to make ends meet. FYI the minimum wage is £7.20 per hour if you are over 25 (set by government) – living wage is £8.25 per hour (outside London).
Not surprisingly, earning a minimum wage causes many problems. So it is right to campaign for, and to pay the living wage.
What can churches do? Those churches that are employers should become “accredited living wage employers” and publicize the achievement to set an example to the community. Churches should raise the issue with parishioners and encourage them to get involved in the campaign.

Alan Bainbridge told us about the weaving trust, a campaign to build better relationships between the diverse communities in MK.
The process is very simple. A meeting is held in a host’s premises. The host gives a short talk on “what it is like for them living here”. This is followed by lots of 1-2-1 conversations (is there a theme developing here?). Alan stressed the need to work actively to build up relationships in order to stop community breakdown that could lead to the tensions we have seen in a number of cities and communities around the world (e.g. Chicago, Northern Ireland and Aleppo).
What can we do? We can get involved by attending and hosting events. Specifically we should support the Weaving Trust event to celebrate the 50 years of MK.

Carmel Schmidt gave an update on Refugees Welcome, and this is where the “rubber hits the road”. Not just talking but actually doing! It is based on the belief that “it takes a community to integrate a refugee”.
The group has been together for a year and they are now forming a charity. They lobby the council and work with all agencies to make this integration happen.
About a year ago, as a call to action, they sent out publicity to churches, met council leaders and the Red Cross. They now have a directory of support of about 250 people.
To carry out the work they have an implementation team. Five houses have been furnished, mostly by churches in MK. They also collect the refugees from the airport and take them to their new home. It is great that the two dads who arrived in April are now on the team to pick up new families from the airport.
Carmel asked if we would go on to the website (www.citizensmk.org.uk) and join the group.

Our response (What will we do as churches?)
These are some of the themes discussed – so don’t be surprised if a challenge is laid down when you next meet your Deanery Synod Rep.

We need to work out how to connect with the diverse cultural communities in our parishes.
Let’s get accredited to the living wage as this is important to show the younger generation that we care. (So who is going to be first?).
Identify what we are already doing (there is a lot going on), focus in on the themes we have heard and drive them forward.
Homelessness is a big problem due to evictions by private landlords. Current government housing policy is making people homeless. Campaign to change the policy (Who is up for this one?).
We are all in comfortable places – how to we get to have the conversations in areas of difficulty? (Now there is a challenge!)
Weaving Trust events are great but there is no follow up. Churches can provide the space to enable the trust to grow. St. Freidswides is a member and has hosted Weaving Trust events. (Who wants to join?)

2. Deanery Share (Peter Green)

We then got down to the thorny subject of Parish share, how it is calculated, how much each parish is expected to pay and more importantly what is being done to make sure it is paid.
The presentation created some discussion, which unfortunately had to be curtailed do to time constraints. However this issue is needs to be resolved and all parishes are invited to propose an alternative (hopefully better) scheme to the finance community.

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