Geoff Newton writes… My year as Secretary of Christians Together coincided with my reading of theology on the Church’s Mission by Hans Kung and others. Kung asserts the need for the church to adopt a strong humanitarian stance by insisting that “every person be treated humanely” and having a “commitment to a just economic order”. He provides three guiding principles upon which the church must base its mission; outreach, strong humanitarian focus, locally based church groups united in ecumenical action and dialogic engagement with the wider community concerning common problems.
Planning for Action
At a service to mark the beginning of the week of Prayer for Christian Unity, it was proposed to engage with the crises facing the world; poverty, suffering and climate change. Two leaders from different churches disagreed; disparaging this, so called, “social gospel” approach. However, at the ensuing council meeting, the majority agreed with the initiative.
A working committee was set up to explore the idea of an exhibition in which churches each display their distinctive forms of worship and witness in a spirit of ecumenical unity. Ideas took shape with the aim of involving all sections of the community. As the months passed it became clear that there was wide interest and the Methodist Central Church was chosen as venue.
Saving the Planet Exhibition
The exhibition proved to be an unqualified success with 37 exhibitors; including 8 out of the 10 church groups, Christian organisations (including The Christian Ecology Link, Christian Aid and Tear Fund), conservation, community support and local authority groups. It is estimated that attendance was about a 1,000 with some, clearly non-Christian, expressing pleasant surprise at the churches’ initiative.
From this exercise it would seem that when issues are clearly stated and firm leadership is offered churches in the main-stream will respond positively to nuanced cultural engagement with their neighbourhoods. Through a united effort; focussing upon urgent community concerns, a significant number of churches were able to move away from controversial, narrow and introverted ethical issues to those which are more clear-cut, less controversial and urgently-insistent.