Big Society: Engagement not endorsement, says Methodist Church

Today the Methodist Church agreed that, despite many concernsexpressed by Methodists about the Big Society, churches must notwalk away from opportunities to serve their communities.

A report to presented to the annual Methodist Conference expressedserious concerns about the Government's use of the Big Societyinitiative to justify cuts in public spending.

"We are already seeing the impact of spending cuts on localcharities, hitting the lives of the most vulnerable and making thechanges promised by the Big Society harder to deliver," said RachelLampard, Public Issues Policy Adviser. "Even if the emphasis onlocal decision-making and volunteering isn't a cynical cover forspending cuts it certainly makes the 'new austerity' politicallypossible."

The Conference also raised concerns about how the implementation ofBig Society initiatives might benefit some communities whileleaving others behind.

"Not everyone will be able to join in the Big Society and benefitfrom its opportunities to the same degree," continued Ms Lampard."Communities that lack resilience, confidence, practical and innerresources will be less able to participate, and may end up incompetition with more articulate and powerful communities. The BigSociety will look very different in Kensington and Chelsea than itwill in Kensington, Liverpool. In reality, the Big Society couldreinforce the fault lines in an already fractured Britain."

However, despite these concerns Ms Lampard argued that the Church'sresponse should not be one of disengagement: "Methodists don't walkaway because things get difficult. We are called to continueengaging, identifying who needs us and who we can work alongside.We are called to live out our faithful, long-term commitment toothers. This has to be part of our mission as active followers ofJesus Christ."

This report recommended that the Methodist Church should tocontinue to speak publicly about justice, whilst serving itscommunities locally, nationally and internationally. The Church wasalso encouraged to continue examining its own practices to ensurethat it promotes equality and works towards a society in which allcan participate.