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Theos has produced a set of practical guides for churches and policymakers offering some basic principles for engagement in this work. (2020)
Social cohesion is about the strength of our collective relationships – and this affects every aspect of our lives, from happiness to economics, from austerity to elections, from racial justice to keeping each other safe in a pandemic. Recent events have not only demonstrated how fundamental social cohesion is to the flourishing of our societies, but have made it increasingly clear that cohesive societies do not “just happen” by accident. Cohesion needs to be nurtured through time and effort over many years – and the nation’s churches have the potential to offer this time and effort in abundance, as a significant element in the nation’s social fabric.
However, neither the churches’ community contribution nor its wider potential have been considered in detail by policymakers. Rather, policy has tended to view religion (including churches) as a risk factor for division. This is largely because most cohesion policy is commissioned in response to crisis – that is, when things have already gone wrong. At the same time, churches are often unaware of the wider support available for their community engagement. There is therefore huge potential for more collaboration between churches and secular organisations interested in cohesion, who are often having the same conversations without realising it, because they use different language. But where to start?
In order to encourage stronger working relationships between churches and secular partners in pursuit of positive cohesion outcomes, Theos has produced a set of practical guides offering some basic principles for engagement in this work:
– Nurturing Social Cohesion: Why it matters and what your church can do about it A guide for churches looking to engage more deeply with their communities, and especially looking to build more positive relationships with secular partners.
– Nurturing Social Cohesion: A how–to guide for engaging churches A guide for policymakers and other secular partners looking to work more effectively with churches in pursuit of stronger communities.
These guides draw on the findings of The Church and Social Cohesion: Connecting Communities and Serving People – an 18–month investigation into the impact of churches on social cohesion, which consulted 361 individuals across 14 local authorities within England. We sought to understand what happens in communities on an everyday level, beneath the headlines. What do the churches have to offer, and what could they do better? Reflections from participants in the Commission research are included throughout the pamphlet, and the full report can be found here.
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Madeleine is Head of Research at Theos. She joined Theos in 2018 as a researcher on the Free Churches Commission, investigating the impact of churches on social cohesion across England. She holds a doctorate in theology from the University of Oxford, and previously worked as a research scholar in Philadelphia. She is the author of The Christian Quaker: George Keith and the Keithian Controversy (Brill: 2019).
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Theos researches and investigates the intersection of religion, politics and society in the contemporary world.