No one can take steps for others on the hard road of recovery

My daughter and I have just got back from WLM’s Sleep Out held last night in the grounds of St James’ Church, Piccadilly.

It was an uplifting evening. 82 supporters gave up their bed for the night to sleep out and (so far) we have raised £35,000 for our work to bring rough sleepers in from the cold.

A platform for change

Michael was one of our formerly homeless clients who spoke to everyone last night at the start of the evening. He talked about how WLM gave homeless people ‘a platform to help people like him come off the streets’.

A platform to help. It’s a good phrase to describe our work.

Charities like WLM provide support, stability, consistency and resources for people in need. And these are vital ingredients that help homeless people make the steps they need to make.

But it’s wrong to think that any person or agency can sort someone else out. No one can take the steps of change on behalf of someone else – there is always a journey that is needed to be taken by the individual concerned. However much social injustice has led to someone’s homelessness, their steps of transformation will always be irreducibly personal.

Sad and sobering

As I left the church this morning after the sleep out, I got chatting with a homeless man who asked me for change as I walked along Piccadilly to the tube.  As we spoke, I thought I recognised him and we worked out that he had lived in the emergency shelter I managed back in 1999/2000 when I worked for the youth homeless charity Centrepoint.

Eighteen years later and he was still on the street.

We shared the names of many other residents we both remembered from that hostel. It was sad and sobering to realise how many had since died, almost all due to addictions.  As I traveled home it was a sad reminder of the stark reality of street life.

Hard road of recovery

This week at WLM’s centre for rough sleepers on Seymour Place, my friend Chris Ward came to speak to the Spirituality Group which meets every Tuesday lunchtime.  I have known Chris for around 6 years since we met at the Greenbelt festival (see this post for more). Later we would go on to co-write a booklet ‘Homelessness: grace, truth and transformation’ together.

Chris was on the streets for over 3 years and almost died due to his addictions to drugs and alcohol.  He spoke powerfully about the hard road of recovery that he has gone on since his days on the street.

Over the last year, Chris has been in intensive therapy after finally getting a proper diagnosis for his mental health issues. Through having good quality support, he has found the resources and courage to face up the reality of what he has been through and the trauma that he suffered when young. Importantly, it has also helped him be honest about the pain he has caused to others too. I am so proud of the progress he has made.

Grace to embrace truth

Belief in God and direct spiritual experiences have been at the core of Chris’ recovery journey. Instead of being an escape from reality, faith has helped him engage with reality and to be truly honest with himself. Grace has enabled him to accept truth.

Chris spoke with a power and directness that only addicts can. He challenged everyone to be honest and take the steps that only they could take. And he inspired us with stories and pictures from his recent pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago in Portugal and Spain.  His talk was a great example of how pilgrimage is both an outward, physical journey but also an inward, spiritual one.

Hope and reality

Chris and Michael’s stories are ones of hope. They have both been able to use the platforms available to walk the hard road of recovery. But we need to be real about the damage that homelessness, addictions and trauma have on people and lose any romantic notions we may have about homelessness.

Its never too late for someone to change and to turn their life around. And, whilst we cannot change anyone else, we can be resolute to be there for those in need, offering the platform and the opportunity for change.

If anyone wants to donate to Jenna and Jon’s Sleep Out, then please see our Just Giving pageAll the funds go directly towards the costs of WLM’s emergency centre for rough sleepers in central London.


You can listen to the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Beyond Belief’ on Begging, featuring myself and Chris Ward. (Chris’s section is at 12.42)

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged | 1 Comment

Foodbanks have saved Harvest celebrations from nostalgic irrelevance – by Simon Cansdale

I’ve been doing Harvest assemblies and celebrations for 22 years. I think they’re much richer and more authentic now, and Foodbanks are partly responsible.

Nostalgia and guilt

Harvest celebrations used to be overshadowed by nostalgia and a vague guilt that we were losing connection to the land.

People used to turn up at urban and suburban churches with boxes full of seasonal veg, some homegrown, some from the supermarket. Church looked great on Harvest Sunday but quite a lot went in the bin or in the vicar’s  and churchwarden’s kitchen ‘for soup’.

Schools used to send students out with a bag of tins and an oversized marrow to surrounding streets, ‘to give it to some old people’. Some were grateful for the visit, some had rather nice cars parked in the drive, more were bemused. Now the whole exercise would be a safeguarding horror story.

Competitive parenting

And thank goodness the days of competitive parenting at Harvest is over.

I used to sit through harvest assemblies with children processing to the front with their Harvest Gift. Each one more beautifully and exotically wrapped, with yards of cellophane and ribbon, pots of deli ragu and out-of-date water biscuits. The gifts were essentially useless with children learning only that my box needs to be bigger and shinier than my friend’s. Vulgar, horrible, good riddance.

It is partly Foodbanks that have made Harvest better.

Many schools local to me now give directly to Chiltern Foodbank at Harvest time. I’ve been down to food bank on the High Street several times this week, and each time it was merry mayhem with boxes everywhere.

Renewed confidence

This growing connection with, and honouring of, food banks is so much richer than a nostalgic return to a mystical 18th century we all live on the land scenario. Food banks have brought a renewed confidence that Harvest gifts actually go where they are needed: into the hands of those in real need. The guesswork is gone.

We are almost over our nostalgic reluctance to bring only autumn vegetables and fruit to church and school at Harvest time. Thank goodness. Here in Chesham one wonderful person organised for apples to be pressed and bottled with all proceeds to the Foodbank, including the apple juice.

We all realise that if we fell on hard times (and in Chesham alone the community is supporting about 50 people a week, so it’s possible), we wouldn’t want a tired carrot and a couple of courgettes, we’d want toothpaste, soap and food we can store and cook.

Talking about poverty

Foodbanks have made local poverty and its causes a talking point and brought it out into the open. We should all be grateful that we see our own community a little more clearly because of foodbanks.

For us in the Chilterns, it’s largely families who are supported, and some of them have one or both parents at work. Our schools and churches are better places for us knowing this and resolving to organise things better, and challenge the causes of local poverty.

Food banks help create links that can last throughout the year, rather than random one-off guilt gifts in October. The same people who send tins of food and nappies to school at Harvest also put an extra few things in the box at the supermarket, knowing that it will be used wisely and locally by our incredible array of volunteers.

Most people who are involved in foodbanks wish that foodbanks didn’t need to exist, though we are massively committed to making them welcoming and generous. But to the long list of brilliant things that food banks are achieving we should add this – they are making Harvest better, brighter, truer.

Simon Cansdale is Team Rector at St Mary’s Church, Chesham

Posted in Ethics & Christian living, Poverty | Leave a comment

Unity in action: Movement Day is a glimpse of the future for the UK Church – by Matthew Rhodes

This weekend I spent at a conference in Westminster run by the British incarnation of the worldwide group Movement Day.

Movement Day UK describes itself as a unity movement with “a passion to see our places transformed in every area of culture; transformation being characterised by spiritual, cultural and social change –[because] people and places matter to God.”

More broadly it describes its values in 5 statements:

  1. Relationship Matters
  2. Places Matter
  3. Holistic Transformation
  4. Passion for Unity
  5. Prioritising Prayer

Truly cross-denominational, it seeks to influence all the streams of the UK church.

Different spheres & the kingdom

The conference gathered 1000 leaders from across the church and included multiple seminars and practitioner facilitated tracks, including Business, Politics, the Arts, Social Tranformation and cross-cultural mission.

The movement is inspired by kingdom theology and Bible passages such as Colossians 1: 15-20. This was summed up by the Dutch Reformed pastor and former Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper, when he said:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”

Unity as whitewash?

For me, the stand out session was a discussion entitled “Is your unity movement a whitewash?” Addressing the issue of relationships between local churches from different ethnic backgrounds, it assessed both the opportunities and challenges this presents.

The “elephant in the room” is how we begin to understand the vital importance of building multi-ethnic churches, as expressions of what Ephesians 2:13 describes as the “manifold” (or in the Greek literally “multi-coloured”) wisdom of God.

Relationships built between, for example “black churches” and pre-dominantly “white churches” are vitally important, however that will only take us so far as the Body of Christ.

Painful journey

I am a leader in a church in Lambeth which comprises over 70 nationalities and is roughly 50% white and 50% non-white. In the last 10 years we have journeyed, sometimes painfully, from an unrepresentative demographic to something more reflective of our locality. We now regularly say from the platform “if you’re looking for a black church, this isn’t the place for you; and if you’re looking for a white church, the same applies.”

For me, building a multi-ethnic congregation is a true expression of the kingdom of God – but it’s not easy. We have a long way to go because a diverse Sunday service isn’t enough – true integration demands that we are in each other’s lives, that we spend time with each other outside of church, eating and playing together, truly sharing our lives.

The power of unity

Other highlights included the contribution of Kevin Palau (son of the well-known evangelist Luis), who is based in one of the most “unchurched” cities in the US – Portland, Oregon. His description of what God has done when Christians in unity set aside their differences to truly live out the Gospel is extraordinary. Taking seriously Jesus’ command in John 13:35 to love one another, he testified to the power of unity across churched and significant theological divides, in catalysing social change in a pre-dominantly secular environment.

Finally, listening to the Chief Constable of a large police force and the individual who heads up the Government’s national, somewhat controversial, counter-extremism strategy – Prevent – was a reminder that God wants Christians to be involved across the whole of society, being salt and light and extending the kingdom of God.

The day ended with a powerful symbol, when the leaders of the Government & Politics seminars symbolically washed the feet of the leaders leading all the other “tracks”. It was a moving sight.

‘What’s next?’

It is difficult to hear all the inspirational stories and to go home unchanged. But, as ever, the proof of the pudding will be in the eating! The challenge now is for Christians in all denominations to take this call for unity seriously and to turn this energy into concrete action.

Two questions were posed: What are we going to do as individuals representing many different churches and expressions of the faith? And finally, as President Bartlet memorably repeats over and over again in The West Wing – “What’s next?” I’m not sure I know the answer but what is for sure is that this is the start of a journey for many churches and individuals. It will be both exciting and fascinating to see the results.

Matthew Rhodes is a lawyer & freelance public affairs consultant who has worked in politics for 12 years. He is also on the Leadership Team of Streatham Baptist Church.

This article originally was published on Premier Christianity

Posted in Theology & Church | 1 Comment

Hope in action (even if you’re little you can do a lot)

‘Pollen’ by Hope. Inspired by a trip to Kew Gardens, London

Recently I was contacted by a Mum whose 5 year old daughter wanted to do something to help homeless people.

What struck me was that their family situation is not at all easy – the daughter has additional needs and the family don’t have a permanent home themselves at the moment and are staying with relatives.

She wrote to me to explain why her daughter wanted to do something:

“On a Sunday morning at church, a homeless guy came into the service and started shouting.  My daughter was scared and wanted to leave, but we said it was OK as people helped him to calm down and act appropriately. It’s pretty common for vulnerable people to come into church as it’s linked to a centre which cares for homeless, addicts, street-workers and those who are lonely.

On the way home we talked about what happened and about homelessness and connected issues and my daughter said that she wants to raise money to help people with no homes. We talked about doing something she was good at, so she went home, found her favourite picture and said she wanted to sell it.

She loves making art, but is a bit of a hoarder so it is a big deal for her to part with her favourite painting. It showed me how much she wanted to help.

What made me think most is that we don’t have our own home, or even much of our own head-space at the moment. Life is hard in many ways, yet she wants to help others. Her desire to help others hit me like a sucker-punch…how much do I hold onto things because I think I deserve it or an entitled to it when other people are in greater need?”

Hope in action

Appropriately enough the daughter’s name is Hope.

Her offer (and name) made me think about how vital it is that we teach younger people that they CAN make a difference to other people’s lives. This is hope in action.  As grown-ups its easy to become weary or cynical and younger people can be a real example to us.

It reminded me of the brilliant song ‘Naughty’ from the musical Matilda which has a great message:

Just because you find that life’s not fair it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it
If you always take it on the chin and wear it
Nothing will change.

Even if you’re little, you can do a lot, you
Mustn’t let a little thing like, ‘little’ stop you
If you sit around and let them get on top, you
Might as well be saying
You think that it’s ok
And that’s not right!

‘Hope is creative’

Hope is a vital ingredient of change.  The former head of Christian Aid, Michael Taylor, wrote this in his book, Poverty and Christianity:

“By choosing to believe that the world has possibilities, possibilities arise where otherwise they would not have done…By regarding the world we know, marked by the chaos of insecurity, poverty and injustice, as promising and acting accordingly, it is filled with promise. Hope is creative. It is not the child of transformation. Transformation is the child of hope.”

Buy Hope’s picture…

We are auctioning Hope’s picture for WLM’s work with homeless people. It will come framed and signed by the artist and be sent to the highest bidder.

The bidding starts at £20 and will close on October 27th at 12.00 noon. To make a bid, please email me on

…or sponsor our Sleep Out…

If you are not able make a bid for the picture, another option is to sponsor my daughter Jenna (aged 9) who is sleeping out Friday 13th October with me at WLM’s Annual Sleep Out in central London. We are aiming to raise £1000 to go towards WLM’s work to bring homeless people in off the streets. Click here to sponsor us.

Posted in Homelessness | Tagged | 3 Comments

Guns in America: religion is part of the problem but faith will be part of the answer

As a Christian, I think its vital that we are honest about the way religion can often uphold and underpin injustice.

Whilst its good to be inspired by the great faith-inspired social movements – like the battles against the slave trade, the civil rights movement or the fight against apartheid in South Africa – we cannot forget that Christianity has been deployed on both sides of these battles. As well as being a key driver for change it has also the upholder of the status quo.

Sure, leaders such as William Wilberforce, Martin Luther King and Desmond Tutu inspired movements for social change through their faith. But many others used Christian theology to defend slavery and to provide a spiritual justification for racism and discrimination.

Hands full of blood

And of course this is shown in the Bible too. A major theme in the Hebrew prophets is the hypocrisy of being outwardly religious whilst perpetuating violence and injustice. The prophet Isaiah directly attacks pious devotion which is detached from the struggle for justice:

‘When you lift up your hands in prayer I will not look. Though you offer many prayers I will not listen, for your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.’ (1:15)

And this is what we are seeing in modern-day America.  There is no shortage of outward Christian commitment in the US. Virtually all candidates to be President have to claim an allegiance to Christ. As is widely reported, 81% of white Evangelical Christians voted for Donald Trump. As a Presidential candidate he professed his Christian faith, declared the Bible to be his favourite book and also went to the National Rifle Association (NRA) and vowed never to restrict the right to bear arms.

When you consider the havoc that Trump’s action and behaviour is causing and could cause, you could easily make the case that Evangelical Christianity is currently the most dangerous movement on the planet.

The church and guns

Two years ago I wrote a post about my friend who went to a church service in Mississippi and heard the Pastor stand up and talk about a competition they were running to see who could invite the most new people along to the church in one month.

And what was the prize for the winner? An AR-15 assault rifle – plus a 100 rounds of ammo for good measure. My friend could not believe it as he watched the Pastor hold the gun up and enthusiastically announce ‘This is a killing machine’:

There was a good ending to the story because my friend’s concerns led to a genuine dialogue which resulted in the church graciously withdrawing the prize. Instead, my friend, who is a carpenter, offered to donate a coffee table he had made which was awarded instead of the gun.  He was inspired by the passages in Isaiah about ‘beating swords into ploughshares’ (2:4) and rather than just condemning the church wanted to help find a more creative and redemptive way forward.

#hashtag prayers

The terrible events of Las Vegas this week will see predictable re-runs of the arguments between proponents and opponents of gun control. We will also see plenty of hashtags and trite appeals to #prayforlasvegas. I believe God is wearied by these prayers, especially from people who are so opposed to taking any steps which will produce real change.

Many people are saying that after Sandy Hook, where 20 children were killed by a gunman, that there is no longer any hope for meaningful gun reform. Perhaps they are right.

A mass movement for change?

But could we dream about what would happen if gun-owning Christians, led and inspired by church leaders, decided to make the first step, lay down their guns as part of a mass movement and hand them in.  It could be a ‘Gun Jubilee’ inspired by the cancellation of debts instructed in Deuteronomy 15.

It may sound naive but I think history tells us the only hope for radical change lies in some form of coordinated, faith-inspired, mass movement.  Faith may be easily misdirected or corrupted but it is also the only force which can provide the sufficient bandwidth of public vision and spiritual energy to create change. At its best, authentic Christianity is personal, practical, public and political.

On December 1st 1955, Rosa Parks refused to move from her seat on the bus and sparked a critical phase in the civil rights movement.  Who will be prepared to make a costly stand on this issue?

Posted in Social commentary | 1 Comment

Refugees – a poem by Brian Bilston

They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)

Brian Bilston’s website

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How society and government policy facilitate sexual abuse – by Ruth Woodcraft

Photo: iStock

Newcastle joined an infamous list of UK cities in August with the conviction of 17 men and one woman for rape, supplying drugs and conspiracy to incite prostitution.

The media dissected events and the conclusions were critical of Northumbria Police. Early opportunities were missed to investigate the abuse, and thousands of pounds had been paid to a convicted paedophile to gain information.

But all the discussions missed one angle: the utter acceptance of under-age sex.


Our society has so normalised underage sex that children are experiencing a kind of state sanctioned abuse which allows criminals to abuse them further.

That may well appear a startling statement, but an overview of the evidence supports it. Below are extracts from serious case reviews, or public enquiries into abuse that took place from 2013-16:

  • Torbay: the sexual health (service focused on) providing a confidential service with a view to preventing pregnancy
  • Liverpool: Child D was seen as….an adult making her own choices on issues such as…pregnancies
  • Rochdale: the drive to reduce teenage pregnancy…is believed to have contributed to a culture whereby professionals may have become inured to early sexual activity in young teenagers
  • Rotherham: children as young as 11 were deemed to be having consensual sexual intercourse
  • Thurrock: national and local policy agendas have driven practice…to have a stronger focus on sexual health and teenage pregnancy rather than on sexual abuse
  • Oxfordshire: a professional tolerance to knowing young teenagers were having sex with adults…developed
  • Hampshire: school staff made aware of sexual activity by GP, judged it to be consensual
  • Bristol 2016: a confused…stance in national policy about…sexual activity, leaves professionals…struggling to recognise and distinguish between sexual abuse, exploitation and/or underage sexual activity; this risks leaving some children at continued risk of exploitation in the mistaken belief they are involved in consensual activity

Our attitude to children and sex

Putting aside individual errors, and acknowledging that people bent on committing a crime will commit crimes, professionals reviewing abuse cases are repeatedly proving that our attitude to children and sex is a major factor in why children are not extracted from abusive situations.

In the Hampshire case, the school involved was one for children with learning needs and disabilities. The child’s sexual autonomy was held in such regard that abuse continued to take place despite school staff having been informed of the sex a pupil was having, as they deemed it ‘consensual’.

And many of the children involved in these cases were under local authority ‘care’. All were called ‘vulnerable’, regardless of whether they lived with their parents. In some instances, the views of parents were dismissed; concerns they raised were swept aside as teenage sex was just expected to occur.

Green light to dangerous sex

The Brook Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool is a resource designed to help professionals make decisions about safeguarding, respond to sexual behaviour and distinguish the safe from the unsafe. A green light is given to ‘oral / penetrative sex with others of the same / opposite gender who are of similar age and developmental ability’.

Clearly, older men having sex with underage girls wouldn’t get a ‘green light’. But a child aged 13 could be given a ‘green light’ if engaging in sex with a 17 year-old. Models such as this show how easily dangerous sexual activity is seen as safe.

Playing into the hands of abusers

Contraception is routinely available to underage pupils in many schools in the UK, without the knowledge of their parents. In 2016, it was reported that rates of teenage pregnancy in the UK halved in the past two decades and are at their lowest levels since record-keeping began in the late 1960s. As non-barrier methods of contraception are widely used, STI rates have risen.  Chlamydia statistics show rates almost tripling in 10 years.

The reduction of teenage pregnancy rates by medicating girls may contribute to exposing children to conditions that could have other lifelong implications. Through the policies of schools and social services, an attitude is facilitated that plays into the hands of the abuser who preys on the vulnerable: the belief that underage sex is ‘normal’.

Ruth Woodcraft lives in South London. This first appeared in

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White supremacy is America’s original sin – by Shawn Bawulski

This is the text of a speech given by Shawn Bawulski at the Phoenix Black Lives Matter rally against hate this week. It is re-produced with permission.

I’m honoured to be speaking at this rally against hate.

I speak today as a Christian theologian: God’s love is pure. God’s love is on us all.  I love you all, and I can’t fully know what you’re experiencing right now, but I’ll never stop loving you all.

America’s original sin

First, I must say that white supremacy is sin. America’s original sin, in fact. It is an evil, a scourge. It is revolting. There’s no nuance to be struck here. There are not many sides. Polished manifestations of racism are still racism.

What we’ve seen this weekend is the latest harvest from a field that’s been around for a long time. It is recently been further empowered and validated, but it’s not new. It runs deep. It is sin.

Incompatible with Christianity

Second, America’s white supremacy is incompatible with the Christian faith. I’m a Christian theologian and I speak from my tradition. White supremacy is an idol. It is worshiped as a god, a provider of life, meaning, and deliverance.

It is, however, a mute statue, unable to save. It makes a mockery of the living God. I find it ironic that so many white supremacists claim Christianity, A FAITH WHERE WE WORSHIP A BROWN-SKINNED MAN AS GOD IN THE FLESH.

The gospel repudiates racism

The Christian message is that God has taken on human existence, and that leaves no aspect of human experience untouched. What God touches, God heals. God enters into our human relationships. Into our social structures. Into our history. An ancient theologian has said that “The unassumed is the unhealed”. The devastation of white supremacy can be healed because God has not left humanity to perish of its own devices. This gives me hope, and leads to my third point.

Third, I speak to Christians in particular for a moment, and especially to my white Christian brothers and sisters. I say this: the Christian gospel repudiates racism. Give a full-throated, unambiguous condemnation. Anything less is less than the gospel.

White or Christian?

Jim Wallis writes:

“If white Christians acted more Christian than white, black parents would have less to fear for their children.”

He’s not wrong. If white Christians acted more Christian than white, racist rallies would not be tolerated. If white Christians acted more Christian than white, domestic terrorism like we’ve seen recently would be called out for what it is. If white Christians acted more Christian than white, the idol of white supremacy would not be perpetuated under the banner of “I condemn all hate” or “all lives matter”.

God’s love is supreme

Finally, I turn to the words of Jesus. Warning the powerful religious leaders of his day, he says… “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness…”

He’d say the same thing today. Dr. King captures this idea when he says that the white moderate is almost more dangerous than the Klansman. King writes,

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

White supremacy leaves everyone disfigured, not just people of color. This includes the white people who turn a blind eye and learn to live with the lie. This includes even the white supremacists marching.

God’s love is supreme. God’s love is towards all of us. The light of God’s love is brighter than a tiki torch of hatred.

Shawn Bawulski has a PhD from the University of St Andrews and has been a professor of theology at universities in Europe and in the States. For more see 

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Abuse, collusion and cover-up in the C of E – by Stephen Kuhrt

Former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey

The Church of England and its senior leaders colluded with Peter Ball, the ex-Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, rather than seeking to help those he had harmed or assuring itself of the safety of others.

That is the damning conclusion of Dame Moira Gibb’s review of the church’s handling of the sexual abuse committed by the bishop between 1977 and 1992. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, is singled out for particular criticism through his failure to pass on letters that he received about Ball to the police.


The most tragic aspect for me, as a Church of England Vicar, is my total lack of surprise at these findings. I’m a fervent believer in the Church of England and its mission to share God’s love with as many people within this country as possible. But none of this will count for anything until the Church of England reaches a proper clarity over safeguarding.

The review acknowledges that safeguarding procedure has improved within the Church of England over the last few years. But this is not enough. The only thing that will prevent such cases and institutional collusion with them reoccurring, will be a change of culture within the Church of England.

Keeping the institution safe

At the heart of this is the need to make a crystal clear distinction between keeping people safe and keeping the institution of the church safe.

Far too often on the safeguarding courses that clergy attend, no distinction is made between these goals. In fact I have experienced a level of annoyance when I have attempted to get the leaders on such courses to make this distinction.

Within my own diocese of Southwark, the safeguarding policy is called A Safe Church perfectly illustrating this ambiguity. The problem here is that far and away the biggest motivation for hushing up sexual abuse is the misguided attempt to keep the institution safe. Whether it is the BBC turning a blind eye to Jimmy Savile or the Church of England colluding with Peter Ball, the fatal flaw is thinking, even for a moment, that the reputation or standing of the organisation should be factored in to the decision making.

Total openness

As soon as this happens, dealing with the issue is fatally compromised because people will always find excuses for hushing things up. At these points the Church, or any other responsible organisation needs to thinking purely about the safety of the victims and completely ignore any concerns about its own safety as an organisation. The dirty linen must be washed in public and with total openness if the linen is going to be washed at all.

The Church of England is right to apologise for the appalling actions of Peter Ball.

It is right to apologise for its collusion in its cover up.

It is right in the strenuous efforts that it is making to improve its safeguarding provision and training.

But the most crucial response is still needed.

The most urgent priority

Every single person with responsibility within the Church of England needs to become crystal clear upon the fundamental difference and frequent conflict between the aims of keeping individuals safe and keeping the institution safe.

The latter mustn’t matter a jot when it is dealing with horrendous abuses of trust – or indeed any other faults within the Church’s activities that it needs to address. Complete clarity over this is urgently needed and priority placed upon bringing this about. Policies with titles like ‘A Safe Church’ should be consigned to the bin as we become wiser to the factors that have caused the most awful crimes to be tolerated by an organisation that people should be able to trust completely.

Stephen Kuhrt is Vicar of Christ Church, New Malden

Posted in Ethics & Christian living | Tagged | 5 Comments

Doing To or Being With? Re-thinking Christian social engagement

This year marks 130 years since the founding of the West London Mission.

It was in October 1887 that WLM began its work to bring spiritual and practical hope to people affected by poverty. Back then in Victorian London we ran food depots, clothing stores, soup kitchens and even a job service for unemployed servants.

Of course, much has changed since those days. But there is also much continuity as today we empower positive change among people affected by homelessness, poverty, addiction and disadvantage.  For more about our work see

As part of our 130th celebrations, we invite you to an evening at Hinde Street Methodist Church on 11th July from 6.45pm.

The evening will include a talk given by the Rev’d Sam Wells, the Vicar of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields, Visiting Professor of Christian Ethics at King’s College, London and author of the influential book A Nazareth Manifesto.

The evening will start with a buffet supper served in the basement at Hinde Street at 6.45pm with the talk commencing at 7.30pm in the church.

Tuesday 11th July at 2017: 6.45pm for buffet supper and 7.30pm for the talk 

Hinde Street Methodist Church, London W1U 2QJ (nearest tube Bond Street)

If you would like to come please contact Mark Palframan either via email or by phone on 020 7569 5915 by the 1st July

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