Ruth Young writes the first in a series of articles exploring the issues in the Fullness of Life Together, re-imagining Christian engagement in our communities report.
It’s been great to read the refreshing Fullness of Life Together report, produced jointly by Livability and Church Urban Fund. This paper is motivated by a perception and a concern that recent church-based social action has been unduly influenced by a service delivery model which focuses on meeting needs through professionalised institutions. While this model has its benefits and is appropriate in some contexts, we believe it also has unintended negative consequences for individuals, churches and individuals.
We hope the reviewing of the default mode of service provision will lead to alternatives being given a good airing and the status quo being questioned. Hopefully this will result in changes in both attitude and practice in the way as churches we engage with our local communities and the people who live there.
At Livability, we understand that change is not easy, and it can be hard to know where to start. We are committed to helping churches with this process, so over the next few months, we will be writing a series of follow-up blog articles to explore the issues further.
We start by stating that although we believe it’s appropriate to critique the service delivery model, we also believe we need to beware of throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. There are many in our local and global society who would be unable even to get into the bath if it weren’t for the support they gain from receiving the right services.
Right is the word to use, because often, as we know, what is offered is unhelpful, inappropriate and inadequate. But when people are given the means they need to live well in an environment of care, encouragement and affirmation, they flourish. Good service provision can lead to freedom and empowerment that otherwise remain elusive.
Take immobility as an example.
As she got older, my gran found it increasingly difficult to get about. She had bad legs and breathing difficulties, and though she was short she was heavy! The time came when she was virtually housebound: if she had to go anywhere, we had to launch a major logistical operation to get her out. She used to sit at her front window watching children play, and people pass by, looking out anyone she might wave to. Apart from visits from family, the rent man, the doctor and the vicar, this was her main connection to the outside world.
I remember my mother suggesting we get a wheelchair so we could take her out. She would be able to come and visit, go to the shops and the park… But Gran would stop the conversation. She would not talk about it, insisting that she was “not going to be ‘an invalid’.” The stigma of the word and its connotations were such that she would not hear of it, preferring to remain confined and ignorant of the impact of her choice on her health – and that of her main carer, my mum.
Wheelchair and other mobility services are indispensable, life enhancing and empowering for those who need them. In this instance need is the word to use, without it being negative or ugly. Acknowledging needs means they can be met, and when that is done with the right intention, in the right way with the right services, aspirations become possibilities, ambitions become achievable and life becomes livable.
Next time we explore some of the reasons that Livability and Church Urban Fund believe that focusing too much on needs only can be far from right and can inhibit real transformation and change rather than leading to it.
Meanwhile, what do you think? Let us know about your experiences.
Ruth Young, October 2015