Thousands of Small Lights

The Archbishop of Canterbury is drawing attention to statistics showing the numbers of churches involved in social action. He mentions the food banks and money management courses, drop ins for the lonely and the winter night shelters among other work. This is a brilliant thing and shows that the faith communities continue to notice and serve people who are disadvantaged. But is it the full picture?

There is no doubt that churches of all denominations and other faith groups are specially motivated by their faith to serve the poor.

The report seems to focus on the Church as local CofE organisations rather than a movement of faithful people in everyday society. It has tried to establish links between these episcopal bodies and local partner organisations. This is helpful but I think this approach to data gathering might limit the view of what’s actually going on in terms of faith responses. Church responses and faith responses are not the same thing.

Across West Yorkshire there are countless small organisations and thousands of volunteers who don’t claim to do the work motivated by faith. There are many small churches that don’t have any such formal activities or partnerships and yet their members faithfully serve their neighbours and participate in secular activities not recorded as faith based responses. They are thousands of small lights.

I welcome report and encouraged by it. However, I think the real story is much, much bigger. There is a legion of people in this country who are motivated by something that goes beyond just good work. Even those people who claim to have no faith are perhaps responding God’s presence which is there is all of us. Without doubt it can’t be owned exclusively by the Church of England or any other faith group.

So yes, a great insight into what the churches are doing but let’s not forget that faith based social action goes way beyond this encouraging little window.