Where I grew up, the vicar of the village church would write to every new household that moved in to the area – letting them know about church services and activities, of course, but also telling them about the playgroup, meals on wheels, Women’s Institute, the days that the mobile library visited…
The church itself, the church hall and the vicarage formed an infrastructure that supported groups and individuals who wanted to play a role in serving others. I remember in the early nineties, when many families suffered the devastation of redundancies as the big companies based nearby in Swindon were laying people off, the church found volunteers to give advice on CVs and job searches, and provided support to couples whose relationships were suffering under the strain of unemployment.
Now I live in east London, an area where many faiths are thriving. My local church runs children’s clubs, summer holiday kids clubs, organises mentoring of local young people, provides a platform for cultural activities and hosts events that celebrate our collective heritage. Other faith groups and institutions perform a similar role.
Rowan Williams spoke today as the head of an organisation that provides public services and forms a part of the fabric of communities across the country. He’s not a political actor; he’s the head of the biggest group of community organisers in the UK. He spoke because loving your neighbour means standing up to be counted when the brutality of cuts and the uncertainty of political chaos are threatening our schools, our health services and our safety.