In October 2015, a crowd of folks met together at Lincoln Cathedral to celebrate the results of an audit that had just taken place in the City.
This was a ‘faith action audit’, one of many that had taken place across the country at the request of the Cinnamon Network as a way of quantifying and showcasing the contribution that faith groups make to society in Britain.
The national results were staggering: over 16,000 projects supporting almost 3.5 million people – valued at over £3 billion worth of support. As we gathered together in Lincoln we heard that locally there were over 40 faith based groups delivering hundreds of projects, ranging from support for young people and families to reducing loneliness and combating poverty, with 5,000 volunteers involved in running these. That is a lot of people doing some pretty amazing things in Lincoln!
As the evening drew to a close, the message was clear – the faith community is a force for good in the City. The challenge was equally clear; to get organised. Ric Metcalfe, the leader of the City Council shared his own delight at the results of the local audit and commended these groups for the work that was being done. However, finding it equally overwhelming, he encouraged more organised networking. This, he said, would help the local authority and other groups in the City to interact and work with the faith community in an easier, more effective and meaningful way.
A few years earlier I was invited along with Joy Blundell who led our Church’s community work at that time to meet with a few others – Derek Markee, Andrew Vaughan and Simon Dean – all keen to see the local church ‘have a voice’ into the City. Derek shared how historically, the Church in Lincolnshire had had a key influential role and a voice within the third sector but for many years ‘the seat had been left empty’. There was a strong desire to reestablish stronger relationships between the active work of the church community and other third sector organisations and local authorities. Off the back of these early discussions I was invited to represent the churches at county and city wide forums… but I had a problem. If I was to represent churches, how could I do that if I didn’t know anything about what churches other than my own were doing? And if I learned about some exciting opportunities, who would I share these with?
Without strong relationships between the various churches projects, we would have struggled to relate as a group outside of ourselves. Recognising this truth, we aspired to create a network of churches and christian-rooted organisations, for which I coined the name the ‘Active Faith Network’. Our aspirations slowly became reality as others joined in, helping momentum to build. But we needed something big, something significant to capture the imaginations of those we wanted to draw together. The Cinnamon Trust’s Faith Action Audit was the perfect catalyst.
Following that inspiring event at the Cathedral, there was such a strong desire from the churches who participated in the audit to make it count and to do something really special together. The ‘Greater Lincoln Active Faith Network’ really kicked into gear with a vision of ‘service to Christ through service to the people of Lincoln’. We began gathering as social action practitioners from the local christian community for regular events to learn and relate together, and formed ‘sub groups’ to encourage cross-denominational collaborative work on important topics such as food poverty and homelessness. Churches Together in All Lincolnshire (CTAL) took this movement under their wing and we were able to employ a network coordinator, Sian Wade. With our stated aims to ‘Relate, Achieve and Represent’ we are surely becoming a well organised force for good with a voice in our City.