Director of CSM, Andy Flannagan; Office and Communications Manager, Jay Hart Roman; CSM Treasurer Lee Clark; and CSM Volunteers and members Edward Rennie, Jayne Buchanan, Madeleine Jones, David Hart, John Mitchell and Alex Mitchell made their way down to Brighton on Saturday, 26 September 2009 in order to prepare for the 13 fringe events CSM has organized for this party Conference.
Things started a bit slow as Andy and Jay made their way to Conference Services in order to pick up their Conference passes, allegedly hijacked by Postal Services. Andy breezed his way through, whilst poor Jay sat in a corner with her husband David for a couple of hours. Luckily they managed to bump into quite a few CSM members in similar predicaments. Thus it made for an entertaining time. The volunteers were hard at work setting up for the Sunday service at about 8 pm on Saturday night and then made their way to the houses of those kind enough to put them up free of charge for the week. It’s safe to say most of them had a restless night as they went over the agendas for the weeks’ 13 fringe meetings, radio interviews, networking and all the rest.
In this blog, the volunteers take turns discussing the various events so that those of us unable to attend the Conference are able to follow along and share their experience.
We wish to especially thank all of the CSM members, whose continued support – in prayer, with finances, comments, advice and words of encouragement – make these events and our continued fight for change possible. God bless you – and enjoy the blogs!
CONFERENCE SUNDAY SERVICE at Gloucester Place Baptist Church
Keynote Speakers: Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Dr. Elaine Storkey, President of Tearfund; CAFOD; The Tablet
At least 200 hundred people were in attendance for the Conference Service at which Prime Minister Gordon Brown led us in a scripture reading. With so many people in attendance, many CSM volunteers were left lining the walls! CSM Volunteer Ed Rennie tells us about the service.
Gloucester Place Church has an unmistakable down to earth feel, with its regular congregation made up of blessed salt of the earth Christian families. As we await the start of the service I discuss work life balance with Government Minister and CSM Vice-Chair Stephen Timms.
The Prime Minister and Sarah Brown enter effortlessly without drawing attention to themselves.
The new Church Minister David Steel welcomed us to his church humorously pointing out that if he has the Prime Minister as a guest in his second week in post he’s not too sure what he can do to top that next week!
Alun Michael MP our Chair follows and strongly emphasises that although the Conference service is a tradition it is by no means a formality, likewise neither is the tradition that the Prime Minister attends a formality. These traditions arise for the Labour Party because of the confidence in our shared values, in social justice; which springs from the same source: our faith - the teachings of Christ. Alun also points out that because the PM has to leave before the end of the service nothing should be read into the fact that he leaves just as Andy Flannagan begins to sing! Andy and Gordon share in the laughter that follows.
We open worship with Be Thou My Vision sung heartily by all. David Steel (not incidentally the former Liberal leader!) asks us to pray for Brighton especially but to include the cities and towns that we each live in. He mentions the plant at St Peter’s round the corner by Holy Trinity Brompton (now well known because of the Alpha course). We pray silently while a slide show of images of Brighton was accompanied by the moving song, 'God of This City', written and sung by Chris Tomlin.
I pray for Brighton and my local towns of Ealing and Acton. Gordon takes a moment to pray with his eyes closed, Sarah watches the images projected intently. It is at this point that I notice what a formidable couple they make, has no journalist picked up on this in all the time they have been in the public eye?
During the slide show one slide shows a Banksy piece of Art, a picture of a beggar holding a signed that says 'Keep your coins – I want change'. It is at this point that Gordon catches my eye. I feel prompted to pray for him, that in his speech he will speak from the heart, that he will offer the Labour movement real vision, and that above all he will allow himself to be guided by the gentleness and humility of the Holy Spirit.
The Prime Minister reads confidently the words of Christ from the Gospel of Luke (12:11-34) introducing it as a social justice Gospel. Pearls of Wisdom from the Lord: Do not be anxious... Solomon not arrayed like one of these... seek first the Kingdom of God. The Prime Minister exudes some of the confidence and charisma we once saw more often.
Andy Flannagan introduces his song written when he worked at a Ugandan orphanage, a song he wanted to help a young orphan see that he could be trusted. It is a powerful and beautiful song accompanied by projected photos taken from the orphanage, the Sanyu Babies Home. One of the images is of some of the orphaned children in their metal caged cots, a legacy of the lack of resources that these wonderful missions have to cope with.
Elaine Storkey from Tearfund speaks on Redeeming the Economy. The reading was especially appropriate because it had spoken of the parable of the rich fool, who wasn’t apparently fraudulent, just an idiot. His vision had been turned by his wealth, skewed by the idol of money. Not a swindler but he hadn’t used his money to help others, by for example setting up mutual finance for the poorer people in his community. There were key areas where he had been a fool. He had become obsessed with self-interest. Like the prevailing orthodoxy of our time, the neo-classical model, argued by, amongst others, Milton Friedman that all behaviour is motivated by utility maximisation.
Elaine pointed that with some this is a dogma, of universal egoism, an elevation of the basest human struggle. It is wrong to say as one Jewish business man once said leaving a religious celebration that ‘Business is business and Moses is Moses’ Quite the contrary the two do, and must mix! The rich fool had no ethics or had at least pushed them to the sidelines. He had been overtaken by expansionism, where the possibility that growth is not always good had been excluded. He had followed an unlimited Growth model, a model challenged by questions of sustainability. Rich fool corrupted by the idol of wealth had become in his own way poverty stricken. The worship of money is something that pervades our culture today and will take a cultural shift as well as the personal one. The attempt to give everything a monetary value has greatly distorted the meaning of so much that is not principally economic. We need to recognise the need for a gift economy, that behaviour is something deeper than economics. The neo-classical model has nothing to say about the caring economy, or the values expressed in marital vows. That compassion and love remain a part of who we are. The Redemption of the Economy what will it look like?
What it will mean in the Kingdom of God that our treasures will be for the whole world to share in and ultimately to be for Creation itself.
The service ends with Andy Flannagan making a call to engagement, gently encouraging those present to move beyond the single issues, pray for us and join us on a journey! I hope many of us will I intend to be one of them myself. Pray for us!
INNOVATIVE FINANCE AND CLIMATE CHANGE – HOW DO WE TRANSLATE THIS IN TODAY’S WORLD?
Speakers: Rt. Hon. Sarah McCarthy-Fry MP; Phil Bloomer, Oxfam; David Hillman, Stamp Out Poverty; and Andy Flannagan, CSM
At least 35 people were in attendance for this engaging and important, if difficult topic. Young CSM Member and CSM Conference Delegate, Jayne Buchanan, gives us insight as to what went on during the meeting and what she thinks about it.
I left the event, mind boggling at what the implications of innovative financing are. With a limited knowledge and understanding of finance (just to give you a brief hint, I’m frequently heard to ask the question - ‘So what is money?’), I listened with interest to the speakers. Following the buzz of the church service where Andy encouraged us that we need systemic change, I was left thinking that we don’t just need a plaster over the gaping wounds we have inflicted through growth and greed, for which, painful as it is to admit, we are all responsible.
But what does this really look like?
At times of trouble, people look to experts and governments for answers, but I was left feeling that the onus really is on all of us to make a difference. Speakers David Hillman, from Stampoutpoverty and Phil Bloomer of Oxfam, discussed taxation options and what innovative financing really looks like. David insisted that public spending cuts would not necessarily be imperative, an idea which I could definitely get behind. The sensationalism in the press about cuts has instilled fear in the hearts of many. Although, I don’t deny that we have to be willing to take a hit for the questionable choices we have made.
David offered an alternative means of gathering together cash, a kind of Robin Hood idea. Of course Jesus is always our model of what social-ism really means, but Robin Hoof had a good bash at letting us know how this could play out. David talked about Financial Taxation Taxes which Steinbruck said would “end the binge drinking on markets”. Although Jesus turned water into wine, I’m sure he would not be behind this market binge, whose benefits we have reaped for so long. Even to a humble arts student, David clearly outlined that we need to find robust streams of money that are reliable and his solution – adding a tax of 0.005% on foreign currency exchanges. This would have a small effect on business, but should gather together the needed cash to reach Millennium Development Goals and to tackle climate change.
The public should not pay for the banks’ greed, said David, and we cannot afford to leave any source of revenue untapped. Phil shared a moderately different standpoint. He said that the sources of finance should be public cuts, but also generating cash from carbon markets. Phil came at the whole issue from a different slant and highlighted the majority of the world’s population who live on 2 dollars a day. That’s less than taking a bus, and living in London, I take a few of those a day. In our culture of plenty, my mind is stretched to ponder how people can live on so little and how much we in Britain expect to be able to take from the world. My main problem with things like this is that the ideas often remain abstract, and the people become the figures of anecdotes, whose lives shock us from a very middle-class standpoint. If we are serious about innovation, I think we need to live innovative lives.
The discussion then moved onto the hot topic of the year – climate change. Will the lasting legacy of this generation be destruction and despair? Well, to be honest, it’s looking that way. If we don’t want this to be the case, Phil pointed out that there is a price to pay. We bandy around the word equality and we don’t really think about what it means.
Which leads me on to the third speaker...
Sarah McCarthy-Fry, Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury advocated an international approach. I guess it’s kind of ironic in a globalised society how difficult we find it to have a globalised gaze at the world. Sarah said we are on the brink, but what do we want to be on the brink of?
According to Sarah, it’s crucial that we don’t divert money away from where it’s needed. So we have to continue to commit to the Millennium Development Goals, but we also have to help countries help themselves. Recently developed countries must be empowered and burdened to be innovative.
Interestingly, or so I thought anyway, Sarah said that it can’t all come from government investment, but that private funding has to be harnessed. This doesn’t make the state redundant – facilitation is the name of the game.
And now for the science bit. That’s not going to happen, but I’ll leave you with my thoughts – however few of those I can gather together. We all leave this world behind with a legacy, collectively and individually, and this legacy will count because of the choices we have already made and the decisions we take today and tomorrow. Even if we go at a snail’s pace we will leave a trail behind.
Frankly, the government can’t pack the punch alone, and mostly, they do what they want to do. The key is to make them want to make a change.
So, here’s the punchline – the future is in our hands. We need action, not just appeal; and change, not just chatting. That’s it from me.
Well, since we are at party conference, I’ll add in some Labour charm. Harold Wilson once said, “this party is a moral crusade or it is nothing” – the question is, will we join in?
SUNDAY EVENING PRAYER GATHERING
Speakers included Rt. Hon. Alun Michael MP and Andy Flannagan, CSM
About 25 people made up of local Brighton Christians, CSM members and Labour Party Conference Attendees gathered together to pray for our nation, politicians, government and policy. CSM Volunteer Madeleine Jones shares her experience.
After a thought provoking day we gathered together to reflect and pray.
The Lord’s Prayer was the theme used for the evening prayer meeting, which was read slowly line by line. We began with a prayer of repentance. This followed with Andy Flannagan leading on guitar with ‘Holy, holy is the Lord. Holy is the Lord God Almighty’.
Together we read the first line- ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name’ and then sang ‘Amazing Grace’.
‘Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’. We split into four groups – Health, Education, International relations and Economy. After deciding which group we felt we most immediately drawn to, we began to pray for God’s will for each area.
David, the parliamentary officer from the Bible Society talked about the need to pray for our politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations and the need for our Government to reflect on the decisions they’ve made, as well as those they ought to make,
‘Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’.
Following on from a poignant sharing by Alun Michael about his experiences in government, we spent a further time praying in our small groups for leading politicians, their families and that their initial passions and inspirations for why they went into politics would not be lost.
On entering the meeting, we were each given a tea light candle. At the end of the gathering we lit our candles with the hope that as Christians, we could be a light in the world. We were encouraged to take home a candle to remind us of the calling on our lives.