So, what exactly is Social Action?

Wednesday, 9th September 2009 at 17:24 UTC 2 comments

Its not so much a crises, a moment of panic, indeed, anything dramatic at all. I’m just slightly dazed by the enormity of what I could choose to consider my “patch” in this new job. There’s an awful lot of it! As Social Action Parish Assistant, I could be said to cover campaigning, volunteering or indeed anything justice related, but none of these seems to fit. And there is only one of me, a lesson I may have to learn extra well this year.I’ve already either mentioned or done something about Climate Change, FairTrade and Urban Poverty in the UK, but I can also cover all manner of peace issues, human rights issues, ways of directly serving the community such as offering free gardening services, or the exciting new Street Angels York project. There’s so much to cover. There’s the things the church does, like buying Fairtrade Coffee, the things individuals within the church do in daily life, such as recycling. There’s the things that happen in York, like doorstep loan sharks, and the things that happen to other people, like WTO trade rules, and there are the things that happen to all of us, like, lets see, er… Climate Change!

I’m managing to be reasonably restrictive just right now, as its fairly clear whats important at the moment: Climate Change is a big source of events for people to interact with, and Street Angels are just getting started. But what about trying to fit in Christian Aid’s Bethlehem campaign last thing before Christmas, or working out how to fit in the myriad events that will cram up the last few weeks of my tenure in May and June (the Noise project, the demonstration Soul Action are planning and Slum Survivor, all of which are geared at youth and students)?

For those who don’t know, by the way, Street Angels go out in teams onto the streets of a city during the biggest drinking nights of the week (Friday and Saturday) and help those who are most vulnerable, be they the homeless, distressed clubbers who’ve become separated from friends, people who’ve had a lot too much and just need a taxi calling, or whoever. Training is provided, which is worth its weight in gold, and you only need to commit to one night per month, 9pm to 2.30am. Seriously, do it!

But anyhow, I’m trying to figure what I might say to people if they ask what my job is about. Unpacking Social Action can be a bit of a pandora’s box, just because of the number of different things that could be included under the title. Some of them I find really exciting, some I couldn’t care less about (OK, I’m struggling to name one, but something will come along) – some I really want to put time into, and some it would be great to see happening without me! Some of them are really totally in my area, but some are pretty much split, and to be honest, I’d like to see a closer connection between Sunday worship and day-to-day living, between Action and Mission.

I suppose “making the world a better place to live” would be a good start, but it doesn’t really sum up why this is important. It sounds horrifically airey, as in airey fairy. What it doesn’t do is convey vision. I wonder if perhaps a reasonable alternative might be “the things we do for others in response to God’s gifts to ourselves”. But then one has to be careful not to make out that salvation comes through works; these are the acts we undertake freely, and no more likely to see us enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

There’s probably got to be 2 explanations; one which ticks all the theological boxes and another that ticks the practical boxes for those to whom the spiritual is almost entirely uninteresting, or perhaps even offensive. Its all a bit tricky really. There aren’t any neat boxes, any precise ring-fences to place around the parts of church life that are social action. And at the same time, one wants to avoid making the whole thing so spiritual it isn’t of Earthly value, especially when part of the reason for doing Social Action is a recognition that the physical matters, that it isn’t a second rate part of our existence to be forgotten in favour of the spiritual, that creation isn’t just a disposable playing field on which God subjects us to tribulation, but is inspired by love; a stage for a grand narrative of love that we can honor by taking care of the Earth on which it is played.

Its bewildering, but also incredibly exciting. I’m really glad to be here and I’m really looking forwards to a year of challenges and opportunities. But right now, after two days of work, it feels like I just haven’t even begun.


Entry filed under: Activism, Church, Climate Change, Faith, Participation, Politics, Poverty.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. John Cooper  |  Wednesday, 9th September 2009 at 17:40 UTC

    How about ‘enabling York’s Christians to turn their faith based morals into practical action’

    all the best


  • 2. Lois  |  Thursday, 10th September 2009 at 8:07 UTC

    Just direct anyone who asks to this post? I think what you said about wanting “to see a closer connection between Sunday worship and day-to-day living, between Action and Mission” is another good summary, about living a lifestyle that reflects our faith by taking seriously God’s commands to love other people and to care for the wrold around us.


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