Bishop Robert’s recent article in Church of England Newspaper
‘But what’s it got to do with you?’ A blunt question from a perplexed Senior Planning Officer in one of our Local Authorities who wasn’t sure why he was meeting a Bishop!
A polite question but sobering. It had not been difficult to arrange to meet, the persistent efforts of Chris Beales, a member of the ‘Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on Housing, Church and Community’ and advisor to the Diocese of Gloucester on out new housing strategy ensure that, but it was clear there was a struggle to understand how the church might contribute to plans being developed in our area for over 80,000 new houses in the next 20 years.
With Chris’ help we began to explore just what the church has to offer. We have been in the business of building community for well over 1500 years, we remain in each and every community, we are well connected, deeply rooted and in it for the long term. We are still arguably the largest voluntary organisation in the land, with deep networks of relationships, resourcing community activities from playgroups to concerts, preserving our heritage, educating our children, caring for the land. Why wouldn’t we be interested? We have the passion to help turn houses to homes and build homes into community and a desire that each and every person may have the opportunity to live life in all its fullness, the life that Jesus Christ invites us all to share. All this what it has to do with us.
It was a good conversation, exploring how we might work together one rooted in our Diocesan LIFE vision which includes a commitment to connect with new housing in innovative ways.
Part of that response has been practical, a generic ‘New Housing Pack’, that can be adapted for local use to share with those moving to the parish and training on how to use it for our smaller communities, resourcing a ministry of welcome and crucially reconciliation where new housing has often been strongly resisted.
Another strand has been missional with Bishops working with curates to model evangelism especially on our mid-sized developments. building relationships and sharing the Gospel inviting those making a new life in a new home to find new life in Christ.
Lastly we have sought to respond to the small but significant number of large housing developments with bespoke solutions to create new communities through a mix of new appointments and plans for church planting reshaping our life and ministry for changed context.
But most importantly we have recognised that we remain as a church trusted to bring people together, to break down barriers and to build relationships and we have used that trust to good effect. A gathering of planners, developers, business and the voluntary sector with church leaders last month that we hosted was for many of the 90 that attended first time they were able to think together more deeply of what motivated them as we explored what builds community, its shape and hopes and dreams. At one level the conversations was deeply practical, what’s needed to sustain life, at a deeper level it was profoundly theological what bring life in all its fullness for all as we reflected on the space in which we ‘live and move and have our being,. One correspondent from the business sector wrote afterwards that he was ‘heartened to listen to the industry professionals who acknowledged (a) the importance, perhaps even the necessity, of community to achieving their objectives and (b) the relevance…. of the contribution of the Church.’. Another commented that ‘the Church should be ‘more confident’ in its approach to these issues’ adding ‘after all you have a few years’ experience in developing and supporting communities!
Building community. It IS what we do. With Christ at the centre and a place for all. The development of new housing is undoubtedly complex, often fraught with conflict, but it is where we are called to be, uniquely placed, an agent of communication, reconciliation with a care for the common good. It’s where we need to be confident in what we have to offer, knowing if we don’t it will be just houses not homes that are built.