A VOLUNTEER DIARY
"Events, dear boy, events"
My first hour at CSM this week was occupied by a meeting with Jay Hart Román, Andy Flannagan and Rt. Hon. Alun Michael, MP for Cardiff South and Penarth and Chair of CSM. The meeting threw me right in at the deep end, with intense conversation about costing, funds, and the upcoming conference among other things.
Alun is a straight-talking, focused individual who described his role in CSM as one where other people come up with the ideas while he has to ask the question "What if...?". Alun also quoted Harold MacMillan's famous phrase, "events, dear boy, events" as he explained that in his role he had to look ahead and anticipate events. He said he wanted to see CSM become more focussed, smaller and targetted, in order to release the energy of others.
In 1 Chronicles 28:19 David says "All this I have in writing from the hand of the Lord upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan". For me, this verse and it's preceding verses about the plans David was giving Solomon for the portico of the Temple to house the Ark of the Covenant, highlight what a practical-thinking, detail loving nature our God has. Our God is a practical God, which is demonstrated throughout the Bible and in our daily lives. God has an amazing plan, the practical details of which he has already planned out meticulously, we just need to pray and trust that he will give us "understanding in all the details of the plan".
The start of a week at CSM
As part of my work experience at CSM I am writing a blog about my experiences and observations during the week.
I'm a sixth-former in Birmingham studying A-Levels in French, Spanish, History and Politics with a view to studying French and Politics at University next September. I go to a small independent Church in Smethwick, just 10 minutes from my home, it is a former Plymouth Brethren Chapel with a strong sense of community.
It is the mix of faith and politics that interests me greatly and poses lots of questions such as whether faith and politics should be mixed, whether they can be mixed, and how much influence Christians can have in the world of politics.
It is in Mark 16:15 that Jesus says "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation" and I think very often that as Christians we don't see politics as part of the world Jesus said to go into or part of the creation he said to preach the good news to. Indeed, we are greatly concerned by single issues such as poverty and injustice, which is wonderful, but we often don't see how we can have a Christian influence in places such as the Houses of Parliament or the European Parliament as they seem somewhat distant and unapproachable.
Therefore as part of my week here I'm looking forward to seeing the work that CSM does in Westminster and how the wider Christian community can participate in this and influence politics.
On the campaign trail
Yesterday the CSM office team went up to Norwich North to help in the campaigning for Labour candidate, Chris Ostrowski in Thursday's by-election. We arrived in Norwich at about 11 AM after an early start and a long journey up from London, with a short stop at the World Famous Comfort Cafe.
We were quickly deployed to various streets in Norwich to deliver letters and leaflets through doors. What amazed me was the diversity of people and places within Norwich. In the morning we were delivering to small flats and terraced houses, while in the afternoon we went to huge detached houses with long driveways which took ages to walk up. What interested me here was what a diverse job politicians have and how candidates have to try to appeal to such a wide range of people. It's no wonder there are concerns about consensus politics with everyone trying to appeal to the majority of voters.
After a day of delivering countless numbers of letters and leaflets we returned to London, arriving around 9:30 PM.
One body with many parts
On Monday, I met with Jay Hart Román and Andy Flannagan, the two people I would be spending the majority of my time with during the week.
Jay is the full time Office and Communications Manager of CSM, she is very friendly and says that she strongly values hard work. She is obviously a very committed and hard-working individual with a passion for God and for CSM.
Andy, the director of CSM is an extremely enthusiastic and active person as demonstrated yesterday at around 4 o'clock when the rest of us were getting tired and worn out, Andy was still running from door to door delivering leaflets.
At our meeting on Monday, Andy asked me a number of tough questions to get me thinking, one of them included what I thought that the top 5 issues were that Christians should prioritise. At first I didn't know what to say and it is a question that I shall continue to ponder throughout the week and probably beyond. However, I have always noted how different Christians have different passions and different issues that God has put on their heart. A friend of mine at Church is strongly passionate about the persecuted Church and gives a lot of time to that cause. Indeed, personally I do care about the persecuted Church, however I don't feel it is something God has particularly put on my heart, while at the same time I'm sure my friend isn't passionate about the things God has put on my heart.
This goes back to 1 Corinthians 13 where Paul explains about the body of Christ being made up of many parts. In verse 27 it says "Now all of you together are Christ's body, and each one of you is a separate and necessary part of it." (New Living Translation), therefore as Christians we do all have different passions, interests and characters that God has given us and different causes God has called us to.
Day three at CSM
Yesterday lunchtime, Jay and I met with Tom Quinn, researcher for Andy Reed and a member of CSM who plays an instrumental role in 'Young CSM', for lunch in Portcullis House. It was great to meet Tom who is obviously a very hard-working guy and who is really passionate about God and cares about politics. He has been instrumental in setting up 'Young CSM' for those members under the age of 30. After starting up very recently with a launch in early May, 'Young CSM' is still in its early stages. It was really exciting to meet Tom who obviously has a bright future ahead of him but who is also so passionate about God's kingdom and about the role he has within CSM and I couldn't help but get excited about how God is going to use him and about the great stuff God has got planned for the places Young CSM is going to go and the things it is going to do.
After lunch I went with Andy Flannagan to a Christians in Politics meeting in Westminster Hall. Christians in Politics is a cross-party group made up of the Christian groups in the three major parties with the aim of getting Christians outside of Westminster involved in voting and in party politics as well as supporting Christians already in those three parties. The focus of the meeting was about providing resources for Christian groups to get people involved in politics before the next general election. Representatives were there from CCF (Conservative Christian Forum), the LDCF (Liberal Democrat Christian Forum), CSM, Premier Christian Radio, the Bible Society, Care, and Evangelical Alliance. The meeting was frustrating at times with alot of discussion and deliberation and little decision making. The meeting ended at around 3.45 PM with decisions having been made about the direction of the preparations for these resources for the general election.
After the Christians in Politics meeting in Westminster Hall, I met up with David Landrum for coffee in Portcullis House. David Landrum works for the Bible Society as their Senior Parliamentary Officer. His role is to support and equip all Christians in Parliament to use their Bible and apply it to their politics regardless of party alliances. David is also a member of the Labour party, although not of CSM and when I asked him what his connection to CSM was he said that he loved Andy Flannagan and thought he was doing a great job for CSM. This was evident later on when Andy joined us, I could see that there was alot of affection and friendly banter between the two of them. David is a former politics and sociology teacher and so for me it was great to meet him and talk to him about my experiences of A Level politics and its relevence to my Christian faith. I went away from the meeting with a long list of books to read and websites to visit and it was great to have someone who is full of advice tell me what he thought would be useful for me to have a look at.
Yesterday (Thursday) I met Michael Winter, a man coming up to the age of 80 who has been volunteering a morning or an afternoon a week at CSM for 10 years. Michael said that he first became interested in politics at the age of 15 when Clement Attlee won his 1945 landslide victory promising social reform. However, Michael said that he resigned from the Labour party in 2003 due to the Iraq war, when he cut his membership card in half and posted it to 10 Downing Street. Over the years Michael has seen CSM change and develop, and noted that the organisation has become more professional and the Socialism has been sharpened and said that CSM kept socialism alive in the Labour Party and influenced Labour thinking. When I asked him how his Christian faith and his political beliefs worked together he said that he sees Capitalism as incompatible with Christianity which has been proven by the recent economic events. He also said that the socialist principle "from each according to his means to each according to his need" was a principle based in the Bible, from the books of Acts and 2 Corinthians. When I met with Michael he was working in the CSM office inputting figures into the member database and I couldn't help but admire his commitment and desire to serve God through doing the mundane and 'boring' tasks which mean that the full time office staff have time to focus their attention on the more pressing matters. I loved this work ethic and feel its really something that Jesus talked about, Michael is really serving CSM simply by doing the jobs that aren't neccessarily that fun or interesting but that need doing and are essential for the running of the Christian Socialist Movement.
Later on I also met with Daniel Gover, the editor of the latest copy of 'The Common Good'. Daniel is the parliamentary researcher for Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms, MP and got involved with CSM through the organisation Christians in Politics. I loved his answer when I asked him about how he mixes his faith with his politics because he said that he sees politics as an outworking of his faith according to the work ethic written about in the Bible. I thought this was really important; that he saw politics this way, particularly that politics was an outworking of his faith rather than his faith being an outworking of his politics. This reminded me of a conversation I had earlier with Jay Hart Román, about how if we are Christians then everything we do is Christian and there is nothing that is seperate from God. Daniel said that for him politics is about coming to a good compromise with people and that often a 'compromise' is seen as something bad and negative but that for Christians politics should be about coming to a good compromise with people, a compromise that has Christian input. It was great to meet Daniel. I really admired his commitment to the CSM magazine, which he said that he underestimated at first, but I know from speaking to Jay that he worked really hard to make the issue great.
My Final Day
Today is the last day of my week at CSM, but the work does not stop as I have had two meetings with members of the CSM executive, Martin Holst and Helen Dennis.
Martin Holst is the CSM Regional Representative for the South West Region and is obviously very committed to the cause and to his role in the organisation in the South West. Mr Holst first got involved in politics through Trade Unions, notably the lecturers union because the College that he taught at was threatened with closure in the 1980s. He said that it was through this that he learned how politics works and that in order to have an effect it is important to go to the people at the top or at least to those whom the people at the top listen to. He also said that sometimes the most unlikely leads can turn out to be the most important and it was obvious that he valued communication and saw it as an important part of his role to make personal communication with the CSM members in his region. When I asked him what his thoughts were on the mix of politics and faith he said that Jesus didn't come to set up a government, and that it is the same with CSM, that we should encourage policies with Christian principles. He said the state is there to administer justice and that we need Christians in Parliament to interpret Jesus' teachings in a modern context, with policies focussed on justice, fairness and respect. I asked Martin about the changes he has seen within CSM and what the future looks like for CSM, and he said that he thinks it has been a strategical strength to be affiliated with the Labour party and that it was a good thing not to have all executive meetings and AGMs in London in order to rally people in other parts of the country. It was interesting to meet Martin, who obviously holds his role as a regional representative in great esteem and who has a huge amount of committment towards this role. It was also great to meet a member of the organisation who was not from London and to see that indeed the organisation does extend beyond Westminster. I noted how the regional representatives have such an important role in communicating the Christian Socialist Movement to the rest of the UK and ensuring that the CSM does not become too London and Westminster focussed.
My meeting with Helen Dennis, Vice Chair of CSM, followed on the heels of my meeting with Martin. Helen currently works for Tearfund and in the past has worked as a CARE intern for Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms, MP. It was through Stephen that Helen got involved with CSM and with the Labour party. I noted how fondly she spoke of him, saying that he acted with a lot of integrity and was an inspiration to her. As CSM Vice Chair, Helen is on a five year term and says that she sees CSM as helping the Labour party to rediscover its committment to community and to help policy direction. Helen is an extremely friendly and interesting person who is really easy to get on with. I really admire the work she is doing for CSM as Vice-Chair while working for Tearfund and studying for her masters in Public Policy. Unfortunately, our meeting was very short ,which was a shame, as it would have been great to have chatted to Helen for longer and have quized her a little more.
So this is my final blog from my week at the Christian Socialist Movement. I honestly can't believe that the week has gone so quickly and now I really don't want to leave.
It has been wonderful to spend some time here at CSM, and it has really opened my eyes to the world of politics and more importantly the role of Christians within politics. I have concluded that it is essential to have Christians in politics. Although it is a tough world to work in and be part of, I don't like the thought of important decisions being made without any kind of Christian input. I have also realised that there is a great support network for Christians who work in politics, particularly in Westminster, through organisations such as CSM, Christians in Politics and the Bible Society, which I experienced on Wednesday when I met with David Landrum and was greatly encouraged by the work he was doing in Parliament.
Not only has this week helped me to think more deeply about politics and the role of Christians within politics, it has also really encouraged me in my personal faith. Praying with the other members of the office team has been really cool and Andy and Jay have been a great source of inspiration to me. Jay and I have chatted loads over lunch and in the office about God and Christianity, which has really opened my eyes and made me think about things that I would not have thought about before.
Meeting such a diversity of people who work for CSM this week has been very interesting. I have met people from all levels of the organisation, and it has been great to talk to them about politics and their faith and observe how they mix the two.
Earlier in the week I wrote about how the Director, Andy Flannagan, challenged me to come up with the top five issues that I think Christians should prioritise. I have thought about it, but still can't pin down what I think they should be. It is something I shall continue to ponder and will get back to Andy at some point about.
Finally I would like to thank the visitors of this site for reading this blog. It has been such a priviledge and an honour to be at CSM this week, to have met the people that I've met and to have been able to write all about it on this blog.
Thank you very much.
Grace (Author: Grace Vanstone-Hallam
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Rosie writes about what brought her to CSM and what she thinks we're doing now. (Author: Rosie Colthorpe)
Volunteering with the Christian Socialist Movement
Zoe writes about her experience at the Labour Party conference and why she decided to volunteer for the CSM. (Author: Zoe Hart)
A point of view: faith and politics
An article from Christina Grant, a recent volunteer, about what brought her to CSM. (Author: Christina Grant)
The Heartbeat Of A Movement
A summary of Sam's time spent interning with CSM. (Author: Sam Brown)
Three Weeks with CSM
Read Simon's experiences of volunteering with CSM up to and at Labour Party Conference 2010 (Author: Simon Watkinson)
The Real Politics
Read Charlies' account of volunteering with CSM in 2010 (Author: Charlie Baughen)
Being Thrown in at the Deep End
Read about Esther's time at CSM (Author: Esther Barlow)
Read Tom's thoughts on volunteering with CSM (Author: Tom Warnett)
Volunteering for CSM (Author: )