This week is Living Wage Week in the UK. It’s a time of celebration and action for a remarkable campaign, started by a group of church, faith and community leaders, trade unionists and cleaners in East London 15 years ago. The story is a wonderful testimony to the power of grassroots community organising – how conversations initiated in church halls and homes (civil society) have agitated and led government (state) and business leaders (market) into adopting the idea. I’ve written before about how I had the privilege in my previous appointment of being involved in the campaign for 8 years and observed first-hand how it transformed the life of families in my neighbourhood and congregation.
Last week, I attended Officer’s Councils (a retreat of sorts for Salvation Army leaders). A large chunk of the teaching was given by Bill Ury, a Wesleyan Methodist leader from the US, who gave us a masterclass in holiness teaching. I personally found it very helpful. I felt convicted of my own laziness and my lack of expectation of what can and should be sanctified in my own life. It was a timely reminder to all of us present that we have much work to do in this area. As he was talking, I was also reminded of something John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, famously said:
“‘Holy solitaries’ is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than holy adulterers. The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness.”
The concept of ‘social holiness’ is a powerful one. It helps us to make the connection between the holiness of God and the world in which we live. The holy is an attribute not only of God, nor simply the work of God in an individual as they draw close to God, but also a living dimension in the relationships between people. Social holiness draws together the fundamental aspects of heaven and earth, echoing Jesus’ prayer: ‘may your kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.’
Over the time I’ve been involved in the Living Wage Campaign I’ve come to recognise the tell-tale signs of social holiness at work: a worker testifying to the life-changing nature a small pay-rise has given them; an employer willingly sacrificing some profit to do the right thing; a child sharing how they have much more time with their mum now she only needs to do 1 job; a cleaner talking about the dignity that comes with feeling valued in the workplace; a father speaking of his pride in being able to provide for his family’s needs. Every time I hear these stories I feel I’m standing on holy ground – for a moment I’m in a ‘thin place’, where the space between heaven and earth is narrowed.
Why not get involved in the Living Wage Campaign where you are? Join the movement and find out which businesses near you pay a living wage.