Wednesday, January 11, 2012

When I Needed a Neighbour, You Were There, It's Just That Up To That Point We'd Never Spoken

The Observer published a major study of identity, belonging and UK attitudes at the weekend, a couple of the charts struck me:

Whether British citizens are born here or not, their weakest sense of belonging is with their local neighbourhood. Around 40% of the people who live around you don't feel like they belong.

For nearly 20% of people, they never feel part of their neighbourhood, and for another 18% there is at least 3 years of loneliness and alienation to get through before they feel that they belong and are accepted.

Here is a twofold challenge for the church, particularly the Anglican church, which works very much on neighbourhoods and the local setting:

 - If you base your identity, appeal and mission on being 'the parish church for x', and then find that 20% of your parish residents don't feel like they belong to x, and a further 20% have, at best, a very weak sense of belonging, what does that do to your mission and ministry in this area?

 (And on a wider front, if the CofE is based on the parish system, in turn premised on a sense of local belonging, and that sense of belonging is missing or tenuous for 40% of the population, then what does that say about the parish system?)

 - How can the local church enable people to feel a sense of belonging to their neighbourhood?

According to the data, (p104) the groups which feel least sense of belonging to their neighbourhood are 25-35s, working people (as opposed to non-working) and white people. The sample sizes start to get a bit small at this level, but this raises a separate question. Does a group who wants to build community (church or otherwise) try to get these groups interested in their neighbourhood, or would they naturally find a sense of community somewhere else (e.g. workplace, club scene, sport)?

not that the church should be organised based on the latest opinion poll, but then neither should it be organised as if it operates in a historical and cultural vacuum. Plenty of chewy questions here...


  1. Hmm... The thorny issue of local community. to be honest, I'm surprised that 58% of people said that they feel that they strongly belong to their local community. I would have expected it to be much lower. Perhaps physical sense of community in our neighbourhoods is not dying after all.

    Sometimes I see the CofE parish system as helpful as there is a presence in every village, town and city, but also it is a partly outdated model as community means something very different to people these days than it did 50, 100 or 200 years ago. Straying beyond the boundaries of your own parish is still a no-no, when in reality no one outside of the CofE takes any notice.

    I don't think that the church is going to be effective encouraging people to engage with their neighborhood in any way unless it's built on relationships. We can get involved with existing groups and be a presence or we can look to fill the holes where there is a need. As soon as we try getting people to engage in any way that feels artificial to them, it's going to get their backs up.

  2. well, as one of the mobile generation of higher-educated baby boomers, this comes as little surprise. I was born in Devon, grew up in two different towns in the West Midlands, went to college and began work in London before livig for 16 years in Liverpool. After theological training, our family served a curacy in anpother West Midlands town before moving to our current location in Leicestershire. Which is my local community, and would I feel as much part of it if I didn't fill a traditionally community-oriented role? Increasingly, people are unable or unwilling to live and work in the community in which they grew up. And with a fairly transient population (our village has a population turnover of around 10% per year) the concept of community is probably most apparent to those of school age, or who have school age children, and the elderly. The questions about the CofE's assumptions is, I think, a very valid one but one which few inside the structures of the Church seem willing to grapple with. As sson as questions are raised you will get a chorus of voices arguing for the value of retaining the parish system. But one has to ask whether we really have the resources to sustain this.