Bishop: Church has been doing Big Society since time of Jesus

There is nothing innovative about the Coalition’s vision of a Big Society of volunteers serving their communities. It is what Christians have been doing since Jesus walked the earth, says the new Bishop of Stafford.

In his first pastoral letter to the Diocese of Lichfield since his consecration last week, the Rt Rev Geoff Annas said some Christians had welcomed the Big Society as a way of helping each other, while others were more sceptical about the Government’s intentions at a time of spending cuts.

He said there were already many people putting their faith into action by hosting coffee mornings, supporting Friday night revellers and hosting events aimed at bringing people together.

“However we view it, the ‘Big Society’ is far from being innovative,” he said.

“Ever since Jesus reminded his followers that ‘I am among you as one who serves’, Christians have tried to follow his example and do just that. Service remains a key part of our faith.”

“There is no doubt that as the recession deepens the notion of faith as ‘social capital’ will become even more attractive to all political parties.

“Hopefully, the present plethora of rules and regulations that often inhibit local volunteers will be reviewed and relaxed, but whatever happens the Church will continue to serve the community.”

The bishop went on to say that the church would “fail in its mission” unless it engaged with the issues that concern people and helped them to discover healing in Jesus Christ.

He concluded: “For us, it is not so much about ‘The Big Society’ as about helping to establish ‘The Kingdom of God’.”

Secretary of State Eric Pickles has spoken of the crucial role of faith communities in the Big Society. At a recent inter-faith meeting, he told faith leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury and Chief Rabbi that the Coalition regarded faith groups as “part of the solution” to Britain’s problems.

The Evangelical Alliance recently delivered a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron telling him that thousands of churches were already helping to make the vision of a Big Society a reality.

Steve Chalke, of Faithworks, said there were “enormous opportunities” for churches and said it was great that their contribution to society was being acknowledged.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, said the launch of the Big Society could turn out to be a “watershed” for British politics and the nation, although he also said it was too early to tell if it was a “buck-passing exercise”.