Bishop of Gloucester on building strong local communities of shared values

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On the 2nd December 2016 the Bishop of Gloucester, the Rt Revd Rachel Treweek, spoke in the debate led by the Archbishop of Canterbury on shared  values and their role in shaping public policies. She highlighted the compassionate hospitality which this country has shown generations of refugees alongside the work she is undertaking in Gloucestershire to build community, standing ‘with’ rather than ‘othering’ people to promote human flourishing. 

gloucesterThe Lord Bishop of Gloucester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury on his foresight in tabling this debate on shared values. I also add my own congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord McInnes of Kilwinning, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, on their poignant and insightful maiden speeches.

In the diocese of Gloucester, I have recently been talking to young people about body image and reflecting with them on how their true worth begins deep within, the place from which true values emerge and are lived. Last Saturday, I hosted a huge community party in Cheltenham to publicly launch our new vision for the diocese of Gloucester. The vision has emerged from conversations in local communities, urban and rural, involving about 6,000 people, churchgoers and otherwise, discussing what sort of church they want to see in their communities.The vision is one of human flourishing and transformation, emanating from those words of Jesus from the gospel of John:

“I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full”.

That is a good starting place when it comes to talking about values.

Our party was a place of welcome and hospitality—key values for our country, and at the heart of this is relationship. Yesterday, in the diocese of Gloucester, people were meeting to talk about supporting and sponsoring refugee families in our communities. That is beyond the financial means of most parish churches on their own, but becomes possible when we pull together, living the shared values of hospitality, welcome and compassion. As a nation, we have prided ourselves on our compassionate hospitality, such as welcoming the 17th-century Huguenot refugees, in the Kindertransport scheme during the Second World War, and the various refugee movements over the years, including the present day.

These are big headlines and the challenge is to enable the values of hospitality, welcome and compassion to be lived at local level, not least with people who are different from ourselves. Just one example of this in Gloucester is our plan to use a diocesan property to accommodate women on release from Eastwood Park Prison. This is being made possible by partnering with the Nelson Trust, which is inspirational in its work with vulnerable women. This is about bringing together local resources with a charitable organisation occupying the middle space, so that shared values can be modelled and lived. Of course, such welcome can be sustainable only when we live the value of generosity—not just generosity with time and finance but generosity of spirit, wanting others to thrive and flourish, a willingness to respect others as we ourselves would want to be respected.

Next Friday, I will host a breakfast focused around mental health issues in young people. Those of us present will ask how we can use our influence in our different spheres of activity to be change-makers at a local level. When it comes to human flourishing and transformation, this is not only about welcome, hospitality, compassion and generosity, it is about modelling courage and indeed the hope that is so central to the Christian faith.

Recently, a baby in Gloucester died as a result of numerous injuries and his parents were arrested for neglect. The shocked community came together in its parish church. When in times of pain people come together and light candles in our churches and cathedrals, we are proclaiming together that the light of hope is stronger than the darkness of fear. Shared values cannot be actively lived in communities marked by fear. I think we can all agree that there have been times over the past year when communities in Britain and across the world have not always reflected the values of which we have been speaking. People can easily turn in on themselves and hope has sometimes been diminished by fear and distrust. For some, there has been a feeling that somehow those who enjoy power and responsibility are too keen to be the projectors of values rather than participants in their shared expression. That slogan in the EU referendum, “Take back control”, clearly had power for a reason, and these concerns cannot simply be dismissed.

Rather than pulling further apart as a society, we need to draw closer together, and that begins at the local level where relationships are forged and partnerships built. This enables values to be lived. The values of which I have spoken, modelled within local communities, are not about doing things to other people or even always for other people, they are about creating a culture of “with” other people. At our community party last Saturday there were people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities, representatives of different local organisations, charities and enterprises. All were celebrating what we can be and do together; celebrating our assets, not our deficits. In it all I glimpsed those values being lived and it was a place of great hope being lived at the local level.

If we want to help build communities that embody healthy values which have shaped Britain at its best, we must ensure that our policies are courageous in empowering communities to make these values their own and be participants in their own futures. We must do what we can to resource and equip communities and enable charities and organisations in the middle ground to work with local communities so that people can live these values freely with others. It is a challenge that I believe the Church is rising to in local communities up and down the land. It is also a challenge for us here as legislators not simply to talk about values but to model them in who we are and what we do, and to use our influence to create the conditions within which these values can be lived for the flourishing of all, particularly at the local level.

(Via Parliament.UK)