Archive for the ‘United Kingdom’ category

Vista 15: On reflection

October 30, 2013

on reflectonThe last edition of Vista highlighted that one person’s viewpoint alone however well informed, can never give a true picture of what is happening; particularly in a continent as diverse as Europe. What is needed are thoughtful and perceptive insights into the realities of mission practice across Europe – from those engaged in mission. In other words, Europe needs “reflective practitioners”.

This term was coined by Donald Schön as recently as 1983. He defined reflective practice as “the capacity to reflect on action so as to engage in a process of continuous learning” (Schön). Other educationalists have observed that, consciously or not, learning often takes place through a series of stages. The Kolb Learning Cycle, for example, isolates these as concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualisation and active experimentation.

kolb_cycleThe key insight was that we don’t automatically learn from our experiences. Reflection on experience is fundamental in order to obtain generalisations which might then be applied to new situations. And this is no less true for Christian mission.

Mission in Europe doesn’t need gurus; it needs reflective practitioners who have been equipped with the tools to think deeply about their own immediate context and mission practice. That has certainly been the ethos of the MA in European Mission at Redcliffe College. And Vista is one forum for highlighting examples of good reflective practice.

The articles in this issue of Vista are all written by practitioners who are combining their work with a period of academic study. James Cochrane, who has lived and worked in Portugal for a number of years, researches the relevance of the missiological conversation for Portuguese church.  Redcliffe MA student, Rosemary Caudwell brings an understanding of the workings of the European Parliament to her refection on the churches’ engagement with the EU.

David Roche, also a Redcliffe student, as well as a policeman in London, writes about how London City Mission is approaching the issue of homelessness amongst migrants, balancing practical care with sharing the Gospel with this growing population.  And Australian pastor James Sutherland compares three very different ministries he encountered on a study tour of Europe this summer with Darrell Jackson & Mike Frost.

The concept of missio Dei reminds us that “the missionary initiative comes from God alone” (Bosch). It is God’s mission, not ours. And yet, not only in active participation in the experience of mission but also in the acts of reflection, conceptualization and experimentation, “the marvel is that God invites us to join in” (Wright)

Vista 15 October 2013

Missional responses to the financial crisis

May 22, 2012

Homelessness, debt and human trafficking that have become even bigger issues since the onset of the economic crisis. How are churches and mission agencies responding? 

The figures make depressing reading. In 2010, around 23% of the EU-27 population – nearly 116 million people – were at risk of poverty or social exclusion. This means they met at least one of the following criteria: they were below the poverty threshold, experiencing severe material deprivation or living in a household with very low work intensity. But while less than 15% of those living in the Czech Republic, Sweden and the Netherlands were at risk, over 40% of Bulgarians and Romanians and more than 30% of Latvians, Lithuanians and Hungarians struggled with these issues.

Responding to need – working with volunteers
Serve the City was founded in Brussels in 2005, and “inspired by the life and message of Jesus Christ”, the movement now spreads across Europe and beyond, with the most recent launch being Athens, Greece. As an organisation, they connect volunteers with the local charities or associations working with people in need. Carlton Deal is Serve the City’s founder.

“Today we see more homelessness, more refugees, more people with no certain future,” says Carlton. “They have lost their families or their jobs or they are still pouring in from even more difficult circumstances elsewhere.”
“Single men in particular receive very little support. Last year Afghan refugees told us stories of approaching the police and identifying themselves as illegal aliens, asking to be arrested just to have a meal and a place to sleep indoors. The police ignored them.”

Anyone can volunteer with Serve the City – and Carlton considers helping volunteers who are not yet Christians to recognise Christ’s love in action to be part of the organisation’s missional response.

“We see a decreasing satisfaction in delegated compassion and an increasing desire for personal involvement,” says Carlton. “We believe these are Kingdom values, giving volunteers a new access point to the message of Jesus. People are increasingly motivated to acquire and spend the currency of the kingdom, whether or not they yet recognize Jesus as its King – in fact, I’m not sure we see as much growth in generosity from Christians as we do from those who are not yet followers of Jesus.”

Responding to debt – local churches get involved
One of the indicators of severe material deprivation mentioned above is “the inability to face unexpected financial expenses”, with 36% of the EU-27 population in this category. More than 85% of the Swedish population are able to cope with sudden strain on their finances. Over 75% of people in Austria, Luxembourg, Denmark and the Netherlands are similarly prepared. At the other end of the scale, only 20-40% of people in Lithuania, Bulgaria, Hungary and Latvia could withstand this kind of financial pressure.

There is a clear East-West divide to these statistics. Interestingly, figures for the ratio between household debt and income also display a divide across East/Western lines, but in the opposite direction. While in 2009, it would have taken two years of disposable income for the average household in Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark to pay off their debts, in Central and Eastern European countries levels of household debt are such that it would take less than a year. Given that these countries also have a smaller average disposable income, personal debt appears to be a much bigger problem in the more affluent West.

Christians Against Poverty (CAP) is a UK-based organisation offering local churches a practical way to help people around them in debt. In contrast to Serve the City, each CAP centre is set-up and resourced in direct partnership with a specific church in an area, so it becomes a ministry of that church. CAP centres offer a free debt counselling service helping clients to work out a realistic budget and negotiating affordable payments to creditors, as well as support if people go bankrupt. Clients have a professional case worker in the main CAP office but they are also befriended by trained volunteers from the local church.

Since beginning in 1996, the charity has grown rapidly and its vision is to see a local church-based centre in every UK town and city. Their free CAP Money money management course teaches people “the skills to get more in control of their finances, so they can save, give and prevent debt” and is on offer in Norway as well as the UK.

Responding to trafficking – joined up thinking
“The global financial crisis is having a marked impact on human trafficking… its effects are felt within the EU” (OSCE, 2009). Potential employment in another country is a major pull factor for migrants from areas of high unemployment. In desperation, they are tricked by traffickers who promise them a job – only to end up in prostitution or slavery of some sort when they eventually arrive.

There are many grass roots projects organised by churches and mission agencies across Europe reaching out the victims of trafficking, as well as advocacy movements such as Stop the Traffik.

At a pan-European level, the EEA’s European Freedom Network (EFN) connects ‘active and emerging ministries and other stakeholders across Europe…providing the encouragement, advice, resources and prayer that they need for effective action and cooperation’. A host of resources for prayer and information are available on the EFN website, and they produce a partners’ newsletter with more resources and contacts.

Responding as ourselves
This article highlights just three of the hundreds of ways Christians across Europe are responding to the financial crisis. But the Christian community is also feeling its impact. A 2009 survey amongst over 2800 UK Christians found that almost a quarter struggled with debt or financial issues, and more than half of those in employment “faced high levels of time pressures and fatigue”.

57% of people answering the questionnaire saw themselves as ‘an apprentice of Christ’ and a similar number were ‘’praying about how God could use them to make a difference’ – but 63% felt the church equipped them at best ‘only a little’ to face the pressures in the workplace.
In response to these needs, the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity’s Engaging with Work project seeks to resource Christians to ‘honour God in their work and bring Him into their workplace’. Their Imagine project goes further, aiming to help churches change their focus from ‘what happens on a Sunday’ to equipping people to live as disciples the other six days of the week.

And so, when considering mission in a time of crisis and our role as individuals and churches, our challenge is to respond in distinctive, counter-cultural ways, drawing our strength from God and his amazing love for the world.

Joanne Appleton

Sources:
Eurostat epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu
OSCE (Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe) http://www.osce.org/what/trafficking
Serve the City Intl. http://www.servethecity.net
Christians Against Poverty UK http://www.capuk.org and Norway http://www.capmoney.org/nb_NO/home
Stop the Traffik http://www.stopthetraffik.org
European Freedom Network http://www.europeanfreedomnetwork.org
London Institute of Contemporary Christianity http://www.licc.org.uk – download the survey of UK Christians from http://www.licc.org.uk/about-licc/resources/licc-resources/?parent_categoryID=39

Non-religious young people in Britain

April 15, 2011

Dr. Rebecca Catto (Lancaster University) has published her initial reflections on a small-sale survey of non-religious young people on the guardian online. ‘Beyond Grayling, Dawkins and Hitchens, a new kind of British atheism‘  reports on a one year project that explores the worldviews of young people who self-identify as atheists, free thinkers, humanists, secularists, and/or sceptics.

Catto reports that these ‘new atheists’ may be ‘more flexible and open to different perspectives than older non-religionists (some report attending events with actively Christian friends), and prefer to engage with online communitiesthan belong to official organisations. They are strongly influenced by family and education. Some have reacted against Christian upbringings; have been influenced by writers like Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris; one man is looking to challenge the influence of the Christian Union on his university campus; and another would like to break the association between Britishness and Christianity. For one woman, the important thing is being pro-human rather than anti-religious.’

This greater flexibility on the part of the new atheists compared to older non-religionists is supported by our own analysis of data from the European Values Survey in which we examined generational differences and secularisation.

The challenge to Christian witness is not necessarily that the new atheist perspective is a ‘faith-free’ zone. For some it would appear to be a search for truth and morality and for whom ‘the secular can be just as moral, emotional and sacred as the religious.’  Lesslie Newbigin serves as an important reminder that our task in Christian mission is to demonstrate the truth that Christian versions of morality, the sacred, and human nature are more adequate, beautiful, and compelling than its rivals.

Corruption in Europe

October 28, 2010

Transparency International (TI) published its annual report on corruption and Greece now ranks as the most corrupt member state of the EU, taking the spotlight off Romania and Bulgaria which have moved slightly up the TI ‘corruption index’ to just ahead of Greece. Also struggling with corruption, according to the scales used by TI, are the Czech Republic, Italy and Hungary. Their TI score has fallen since last year’s report. Russia’s score has also fallen although Ukraine’s has risen and its corruption index is now slightly ahead that of Russia. The UK ranks 20th out of 178 countires surveyed, its lowest for several years.

Outstanding among the European countries is Denmark, which ranks at number one in the list, sharing that position with Singapore and New Zealand.

The impact on the Greek economy has been noted by leading Greek experts who have estimated that corruption probably costs  the country several billion dollars per year. This is doubtless true for other European countries that also struggle to eliminate or reduce corruption. The report’s authors do not attempt a correlation between the corruption index and majority Christian traditions in each of the European countries. This would in theory be possible though in all probability would be seen as controversial.

More information is available from http://transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi/2010/results

 

The old rugged cross: ban or cherish?

September 13, 2010

We’re just working on the October edition of Vista, our quarterly research bulletin. The theme is secularisation and we’ve been researching how the personal or institutional display of a crucifix is increasingly a focus for social policy legislators. It may be too early to predict patterns, but the forthcoming ruling from the European Court of Human Rights may prove important to this whole debate (read more about that below). Our attention to the public displaying of crucifixes follows last quarter’s look at the wearing of Burqas in public. A quick round-up of recent decisions regarding the wearing or displaying of crosses in public  includes:

  • In October 2006 a British Airways check-in worker was banned by her employers from wearing a small crucifix around her neck. Of Egyptian ethnicity, Nadia Eweida, was told by BA that the wearing of all publically visible jewellery was forbidden by the company.
  • In January 2007 Robert Napier School in Gillingham, Kent, ordered a 13 year-old Roman Catholic schoolgirl, Samantha Devine to remove her crucifix at school because it posed a health and safety risk. The school indicated it would be happy with a cross worn in Samantha’s blazer lapel.
  • In December 2008 a Spanish court ruled that it was inappropriate for a state school to display crucifixes in its classrooms. Earlier that year, the Spanish Evangelical Alliance had supported the omission of crucifixes from public ceremonies and a law guaranteeing the religious neutrality of public officials.
  • In November 2009 the European Court of Human Rights, sitting in Strasbourg, ruled that an Italian school’s refusal to remove the crucifix following the request of Finnish-born Italian Soile Lautsi that it be removed from her children’’ classrooms was a ‘violation of parents’ rights’ to educate children in accord with their convictions. The ruling was expected to have repercussions across all 47 Council of Europe member states. Italy appealed the judgement in June 2010 and awaits a final ruling.
  • In April 2010 a British nurse, Shirley Chaplin, lost her appeal to wear a crucifix at work. The Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Trust argued that the cross and necklace she had worn for over 40 years was a health and safety risk. The Trust suggested she wear a lapel pin or cross earrings.
  • In April 2010, a German First Minister, Aygül Őzkan who is of Turkish heritage, , called for a ban on crucifixes in state schools in Lower-Saxony and Germany. She withdrew her suggestions following criticism from members of the ruling CDU to which she belongs.
  • In June 2010 the Spanish Government introduced a draft Law of Freedom of Religion and Conscience which regulates the use of the crucifix, including its removal from public places such as schools, hospitals and council buildings. The Spanish EA interpreted the use of crucifixes in such places as evidence of a ‘confessional state’, something to which they remain opposed.
  • In June 2010 an Amsterdam appeal court ruled that the city’s public transport authority was within its rights to ban an Egyptian-born tram conductor from wearing a crucifix. The judge ruled that the transport authority was correct in imposing a ban on the basis that the crucifix was attached to a necklace, not the fact that it was worn visibly.
  • During August, 2010, in Roman Catholic majority Poland, 80% of respondents in an online poll of 11,000 urged the removal of a cross from the square in front of the Presidential palace commemorating the death of the former President in an air crash.
  • The BBC reported in August 2010 that in Greece, the human-rights NGO, Helsinki Monitor, has urged Greek Courts to remove icons from its chambers and drop the practice of requiring witnesses to swear oaths on the Bible.

We’ll also summarise the reasons for and against displaying crosses in public. If you’d like to receive a copy of Vista by email please contact us at rb@novaresearch.eu or jmemory@redcliffe.org