Lent campaign aims to promote neighbourliness on and off-line

By staff writers
February 3, 2008

The Anglican Archbishops of Canterbury and York, Dr Rowan Williams and Dr John Sentamu, are calling for ‘good neighbours’ - online and offline - to try out daily suggestions to help create a better and safer world this Lent.

The campaign uses popular social networking websites and blogs to share actions to make the world a more hospitable and fairer place in small and simple ways. These range from leaving a thank-you note for your postal worker to going a whole day without gossiping.

Lent is a Christian period of reflection, re-orientation and re-adjustment of life and priorities. It looks back to Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness as recorded in the Gospels, during which he rejected various temptations to grab worldly power - something some of the historic churches founded in his name have not always succeeded in doing, point out critics within and without.

In 2007, more than 130,000 people joined in with 'Love Life Live Lent', launched by the Church of England to inspire, by text message, simple acts of service that spread happiness in local communities.

Other groups, such as Church Action on Poverty, have produced Lent campaigns aimed at getting churches involved in work for structural justice in the face of poverty and inequality. The Established C of E has gone for a softer, more personal approach.

However, there is some overlap. One of the Church of England's suggestions is spending a day trying to exist on just £1.40, in line with the majority of the world's population.

This year, the daily suggestions are available not only through two booklets produced by Church House Publishing, but also through social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and photo-sharing website Flickr.

A group of active bloggers has also been enlisted to help spread the word through cyberspace. They include ‘blogging bishop’, the Rt Rev Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, and Dave Walker, creator of the popular CartoonChurch website and blog.

Church leaders hope that the online social network group will help develop a community of ‘Love Life Live Lenters’ sharing their experience of following the daily suggestions.

In return, Facebook will reward those completing three or more actions a week with the elements to ‘build a neighbourhood’ or ‘grow a garden’ on their profile.

The latest project is the Church of England’s second initiative involving Facebook. Last Christmas, more than 2,500 users of the social networking site downloaded a special ‘application’ - sponsored by the Church of England - to send virtual Christmas cards to their friends.

There is also a Love Life Live Lent dedicated resource website, www.livelent.net, that features Bible study notes for adults, children’s activities, and material for use in collective worship in schools, and a podcast available at www.chpublishing.co.uk featuring an interview with one of the original team behind the project, Canon Peter Howell-Jones, the Diocese of Birmingham's Director for Mission.

Most of the actions Love Life Live Lent can be performed individually, while others require a group working together. They include:

* Spending a day trying to exist on just £1.40 – more than half the world’s population have only that amount to spend each day
* Cooking or eating cuisine you haven’t tried before
* Finding out about volunteering in a prison or supporting prisoners’ families
* Discovering the names of your closest neighbours.

The Archbishops are commending the campaign, acknowledging in their joint foreword to the booklets: “For most of us, life is busy and pressured. It can be difficult to take time out to be with family and friends or to help to make our communities, local or global, clean and secure places of generosity. But Jesus calls us to love our neighbour as ourselves.”

The full colour pocket-sized booklet comes in two versions – one for adults and ‘youth’, and one for children – each packed with 50 suggested actions to encourage people to be good neighbours. The actions start next Sunday, 3rd February, and finish on Easter Sunday 23 March 2008.

Love Life Live Lent started life in the Diocese of Birmingham in 2006, inspired by a local pilgrimage. The booklet was such a hit that the original print run had to be increased repeatedly, and 70,000 copies were distributed through churches, schools and community centres.

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