27 Jan 2014
How to discuss Transition with … No.5: Church groups
How might Transition initiatives most skilfully approach local church groups, and what common ground might they find upon which a good working relationship might be built?
- Identify the best people to talk to
- Seek common ground around issues of peace and justice or ‘common good’
- Many of the discussions taking place within Transition are also taking place withing church communities
Professor Tim Gorringe is St Luke’s Professor of Theological Studies at the University of Exeter. In 1995 he became Reader in Contextual Theology at St Andrew’s and in 1998 took up his present post as St Luke’s Professor of Theological Studies. He is at present working on a two year AHRC funded research project on the values which underpin constructive social change, focussing on the Transition Town Movement. He is co-author, with Rosie Beckham, of Transition Movement for Churches: A Prophetic Imperative for Today published by Canterbury Press.
“The first consideration in starting a discussion with a church group is who to talk to. If it’s an Anglican or a Catholic church you’d be best to meet with the minister, if it’s a Methodist or United Reform Church you’d be best meeting the congregation elders. For me, the place to begin is with a discussion about community. All churches try to understand themselves as communities, an idea that is also central to Transition.
In The Power of Just Doing Stuff, the account of communities and what they can achieve is more positive than in many churches, so that concept of how we might go about building more vibrant, inclusive communities will really resonate. In terms of finding common ground, most churches have as their “mission” the promotion of “peace and justice”. So peak oil may struggle to resonate, but climate change is very much on many churches’ agenda”.
What, I asked Tim, might be turnoffs for church groups in how Transition is presented? “If they come across as New Age weirdoes”, he replied. He used the example of his local group, Transition Exeter: “As a group, their approach is very mainstream, and they actually contain some Methodists which means many of those overlaps/links are already there. The questions that some Transition groups are asking in terms of “how to move beyond the middle class usual suspects” is also one that churches are wrestling with”.
Food can be a good way in, as in the story of the church in Pasadena that has worked with Transition Pasadena to create a food garden around the church. Also, if a Transition group is looking for a very large south-facing roof on which to install community renewables, Tim suggests that it’s always worth talking to the local church, as Melbourne Area Transition did. He continued:
“Many of the discussions taking place within the church overlap with and resonate with Transition. For example the discussions within the Church of England about payday lenders such as Wonga, discussions about ethical investment and so on. Offer to give a talk, go along and say hello. Asking the question of “what kind of community are we and what kind of community would we like to be?” opens immense room for working together”.
The thing to remember, Tim, concluded, was that churches, and church communities, are part of the wider culture, they have the same questions and concerns as everyone else. People are concerned for their community and for “the common good”, a notion deeply embedded in Christian discourse. And what is Transition about at its heart? Common good. Perhaps it is in common good that the common ground can be found.