Milton Keynes has become a significant centre for work on Community Organising. Since we set up Citizens MK in 2010 we have learned a lot about how community organising can help us make a difference in our city. We’ve brought diverse communities together, welcomed refugees, got businesses to sign up to the Real Living Wage and spoken out about Hate Crime. It’s been exciting to make a difference rather than just talk about making a difference…
Community Organising is good for serving our communities, but there is also a lot of evidence that it can help grow churches – in depth, impact and numbers. In London, there has been a lot of work on “congregational development” and a number of churches have been recognised as “Resource Churches” because of the way they have used organising to grow their congregations.
The Centre for Theology and Community in East London is based at St George-in-the-East where Fr Angus Ritchie both teaches and practices community organising from a Christian perspective. There’s a great YouTube video that tells their story:
One of the important strands that have shaped Community Organising in the UK and US has been the principles of Catholic Social Teaching. These remind us that it is the values that we hold that shape our action. Churches therefore have something to offer beyond an extra pair of hands. The ten principles of Catholic Social Teaching are:
- Dignity of the Human Person
- Common Good and Community
- Option for the Poor
- Rights and Responsibilities
- Role of Government and Subsidiarity
- Economic Justice
- Stewardship of God’s Creation
- Promotion of Peace and Disarmament
- Global Solidarity and Development
Bishop Adrian Newman spoke about Catholic Social Teaching at the National Deaneries Network Conference this year. Bp Adrian was Bishop of Stepney and a trustee of Citizens UK. His parents also lived in Milton Keynes in their later days. His talk is one of the most downloaded videos on the NDN web site:
During the past year, Fr Angus and Bp Adrian have been working with Matthew Bolton (now Executive Director of Citizens UK) to run a series of three symposiums on the three quinquennial goals of the Church of England:
- Serving the Common Good
- Growing the Church
- Re-imagining Ministry
I was lucky enough to be at two of these – alongside people from MK and Oxford Diocese. It was encouraging to hear how churches have been addressing these challenges using the techniques and principles which are at the heart of organising. From my perspective, I am encouraged by the fact we have a model which is rooted in theology, while presenting a radical alternative to the managerial-leadership model often assumed as the only option for growing churches…
In Milton Keynes, we have only begun to scratch the surface when it comes to the potential of organising as a tool for Church growth. I’ve been using some form of organising for over twenty years and really love the insights that I’m learning from the Citizens family. I use the skills I’ve learned every day, and am a big fan. I am struck by the model of “pastor as organiser” and it’s the way I try to operate. Most of the time it wouldn’t be obvious to others but I know how significant it has been for me.
John Robertson has been running a course called “Leading for a Change” which follows the pattern of a two-day course in Community Organising. This course has been specifically designed to equip lay leaders, and the feed-back has been pretty good. A key element to this course is the concept of Salvation History and the way God invites us to join him in a mission of transformation – both within the Church and the World.
I’m really keen that we take these ideas to the next level. Milton Keynes is already a leader when it comes to organising in the UK, but I’d like us to be a front-runner when it comes to organising for church growth. I think this is something that we could excel in – and offer to the wider church.
I suspect some people think this is just another “initiative” or short-lived “fad” but I genuinely believe that there are important lessons from organising which would help us build a more Christ-like Church.