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. Continue reading “‘…no holiness, but social holiness’: my journey with the Living Wage Campaign”
By Nick Coke
Last night I attended a prayer vigil for refugees, with Salvation Army colleagues from across London. It was a remarkable gathering.
Look at this photo – what do you see?
Here’s what I see…
I see diverse people. Gathered in the courtyard of Westminster Cathedral 450 souls stand shoulder to shoulder. A snapshot of the diversity to be found in this great capital city. People of various faiths, ethnic and social backgrounds. Humanity in it all it’s jumbled, glorious, and wondrous mess. All belong, all needed. Continue reading “Praying towards justice – a vigil for refugees”
By Nick Coke
Inspiration for the journey comes from many quarters. Some of it is through more obvious means – scripture, prayers, sacred music, religious art – and then there’s the more oblique stuff, like a film scene, an unexpected piece of music on the car radio, the sun reflecting off a skyscraper that suddenly moves you, an overheard snippet of conversation on the street. It’s nuanced for all of us. For me it’s music – not really the kind you hear in a church meeting but something you find on an old vinyl record in a charity shop. A number of years ago I blogged a little on some of my favourite musical gems – songs for the journey. Here’s one I recorded earlier:
Sufjan Stevens – The Perpetual Self or What Would Saul Alinksy do? (Listen on Youtube here) Continue reading “Songs for the Journey – Saul Alinsky and Sufjan Stevens”
By Nick Coke
What is a justice-seeker? What do we dream of becoming? What characteristics should we desire and pray for? What should we be doing? Here are some personal reflections. Although far from this, I pray I might walk this path. When you have read it, have a go at writing your own version. Use it as a source for daily prayer.
Present: justice-seekers understand there is no justice to be done from a distance. Like the Good Samaritan, they go out of their way and take risks to recognise and know the suffering of others. There are no boundaries that they will not cross, nor comforts they will not dispense with in order to build relationships and understand others. They know that first and foremost change begins with relationship and relationship can only begin with presence. Continue reading “The justice-seekers dream… Spiritual exercise #2”
By Nick Coke
A year on and there’s only one sentence I can remember from the justice-seeking seminar. Such is the way of things, as we preachers and teachers well know. It came right at the close, just as the speaker was heading for the door. She’d packed up her notes and left the microphone behind at the lectern when suddenly she glanced back over her shoulder, fixed her eyes on me and from under her breath came the throwaway remark – ‘of course we don’t do social justice, we live justly’. She disappeared out of the door and down the corridor. I looked around to see if anyone else was struck by the Colonel’s final word but the post-session hubbub had already began. Perhaps it was meant just for me.
I’ve pondered this one-liner ever since. Continue reading “Do be do be do! Spiritual Exercises for justice-seeking #1”
Today I’ll be celebrating a great victory with a plateful of meatballs. This afternoon I’m off to IKEA (a huge Swedish furniture chain-store) to buy some furniture for the house I’ve just moved into. I’ll be honest and admit I really dislike going to IKEA. I’m just not a shopping kind of guy. But today I go with a spring in my step because the CEO has announced they will be paying the Living Wage. Not the watered down version but the real one. When I step across the threshold I will do so with great pleasure and some pride because I’ve journeyed with Living Wage campaigners for the last 8 years. And today is a momentous occasion. Last month I snapped a selfie with Abdul Durrant, a cleaner from HSBC, who 12 years ago stood up in the shareholders meeting and challenged the CEO to pay the bank’s cleaners a living wage. He did not do this alone. Behind him was Citizens UK – at that time a fairly small alliance of unions, churches, mosques, synagogues and schools based in East London. Since then the campaign and Citizens UK has blossomed. The Living Wage Foundation has accredited over 1500 employers and ensured millions of pounds goes into the pockets of the UK’s lowest paid workers. The living wage has become a hot political topic and dominated the Chancellor’s recent budget statement. In our pamphlet, Marching Towards Justice, we relate our own living wage stories – how we identified it as a prophetic and just alternative to families forced into poverty by low wages; how we worked with poorly-paid members of our own congregations to fight for a living wage; and how we took inspiration from The Salvation Army’s living wage campaign of the 1890s in the match factory. The work goes on – look out for Salvation Army announcements later in the year. Today’s victory is so important because IKEA is the first national retailer to go living wage. Imagine what can happen if others go the same way – John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, WH Smith? Thousands of workers lifted out of poverty. Bring it on! And so, today I’ll eat IKEA meat balls with pride – I even promise not to whinge when I put the flat-packs together. Well done campaigners (every victory takes great persistance, patience and invention) and well done IKEA.
By Nick Coke
In our pamphlet, Marching Towards Justice, we outline a methodology for justice-seeking. We highlight four key elements required for bringing about lasting change: visitation, power analysis, training and development, and public action. Of the four, public action is the most contentious. Why? Because it involves struggle and agitation. In our section on ‘public action’ you will find the following words and phrases: ‘actions are targeted and personal’, ‘they should involve confrontation’, ‘the appropriate action is the one that will provoke the action one is looking for’. Provoke, target, confront – words that might make us uncomfortable as followers of Jesus. After all, isn’t the Christian life all about love, mercy and grace? Yes of course it is, but if we ask the question ‘what would Jesus do?’, we might soon realise that he would not have been too squeamish about the kind of public action we write about. In fact, not only was he a remarkable practitioner of agitation and confrontation (turning over the tables in the temple courts, healing on the sabbath, telling stories about good Samaritans, reclining at the table of ‘sinners’ and ‘outcasts’), he also taught his followers exactly how to do it in some of the most revolutionary political statements you’ll ever find. In Walter Wink’s wonderful short book, ‘Jesus and Non-violence: A Third Way’, there is brief exposition of Matthew 5:38-41. You will know the passage well: Continue reading “What would Jesus do? The art of public action.”
On Friday 3 July, at the Bryant and May match factory in Bow, ‘Marching for Justice: Community Organising and The Salvation Army’ (click to download PDF) was launched. In a hot bar, packed to the rafters we remembered the brave match-girls who had fought for and won justice. We felt like we were standing on holy ground, a ‘thin place’, where heaven and earth collided – a place where justice had flowed like a river. Continue reading “‘Marching for Justice’ Launched”