Small-scale initiatives are vital in regenerating local communities, the leader of the Church of England has declared. His message was particularly addressed to situations of poverty and to the global picture.
The local church and its associates is “probably the only organisation of civil society that can deliver [development] goals concretely at grass-roots level, in modest but real ways”, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, told a gathering of Anglican mission consultants in South Africa on his recent trip.
“Whether it’s the work of the Mothers’ Union, which is a great sacrament worldwide … whether it’s micro credit initiatives in a village somewhere; whether it’s a small school in the back of beyond like the little school that we visited meeting under a tree in Southern Sudan at this time last year. All of those are examples of the real difference that no-one else can make,” he claimed.
Churches and faith organisations, many supported by Western agencies, play a major role in Africa’s development, where state, organizational and civil society infrastructure can be weak. Many praise this work, but some critics say that it can create dependency or give the churches too much leverage.
Dr Williams’ focus, however, was on the small-scale. He declared: “There’s a role, heaven knows, for the large-scale NGO, and I’m not for a moment saying they should not exist; I have huge belief in and a passion about the work of Christian Aid and many other large agencies, yet what we need to do is not to think that there’s a solution which can be delivered from large agencies top-down and ignore the rest; nor to suppose that everything can be done by local initiative.”
Added the archbishop, in an address to the TEAM (Towards Effective Anglican Mission conference in Boxburg, South Africa: “We need to have a kind of mental and moral map in which each organisation at every level simply asks ‘what is it that can be done here in this way, with these people?’ so as to value both the large scale and the small scale”.
The church also needed to challenge perpetrators of injustice and to remind them of their own suffering. There was a clear message for them, said Dr Williams: “… ‘Have you understood that you are deprived and dehumanised by a system that tolerates the idea of superfluous people, allowed to remain invisible? Have you understood that it’s your life we’re talking about as well?’
He went on: “I’m not sure that’s something we hear very easily or readily in the prosperous West or North; that we are victims of injustice as well, because to be a perpetrator of injustice is also to be a victim of it. We are making ourselves less human if we don’t respond to God’s call to meet the needs of those who suffer."
The church stands for the principle that no-one can be forgotten or left outside in God’s Kingdom, said Dr Williams, spiritual leader of the world’s 78 million Anglicans and leader of the Church of England. He said that it was important to resist global notions of isolation and security based on resources:
“There are no ‘gated communities’ in the Kingdom. There are no communities that are protected from involvement in the loss or the trauma of others, much as we’d like to think so. We all know what it’s like to live in an urban environment where so much of the development that goes forward seems to presuppose that, actually, you can protect some people from the poverty or the need of others. We know what it’s like to live in a world where, again and again, we act as if there were some kind of protection for the wealthy, the resourceful, which would allow them to live with no consciousness of and no impact from the privation of others.”
This, he said, had profound implications for what the Church had to say to the community of nations: “… the church is saying to the world ‘The form of human community that’s ultimately in accord with God’s purpose and God’s nature is one in which this principle applies: this principle of mutual enrichment and the converse, the mutual impoverishment that happens when we forget or ignore the suffering of others’.
Christians needed especially to look for the outcast and the excluded declared Dr Williams: “The Church today … is bound to be asking in any given situation ‘Who is being forgotten here? Who is not being heard’ To be asking ‘Who are the ones who are not reached by the Law and the Gospel? Whose deprivation or diminution is actually wounding us all here in this situation or that situation? And that means positively that the Church has to be involved in creating, consistently, globally, participation and empowerment.”