An article by Professor Philip Sheldrake, who will be leading a seminar on Nurturing Urban Virtues for the Westcott Foundation (Wednesday 24th February 2016, 11am – 4pm). To book a place, contact us, and for more information, click here.
Over 80% of the British population now live in urban areas. Since the 1960s British cities have also become more densely populated and radically diverse. A sense of “place” is vital part of human experience. It makes us feel connected to the surroundings and to other people, evokes a sense of belonging and provokes commitment.
Urban contexts have a special capacity to focus a range of physical, intellectual and creative energies precisely because they combine differences of age, ethnicity, culture, gender and religion in unique ways.
Sadly, for a range of reasons including increased mobility, many urban areas also nowadays suffer from a serious breakdown in a sense of community identity, mutual communication and neighbourliness. This has made a number of social commentators reflect on the importance of urban virtues. Can we identify the critical social virtues for our day and how may they be nurtured as a way of reversing an increasing sense of social fragmentation and of redeveloping what might be called a “civic imagination”?
A range of urban virtues have been suggested. These include:
- the recovery of the value of casual conversation and active neighbourliness;
- greater attentiveness to and respect for our surroundings (both the physical street or apartment block and the others who live in it);
- a willingness to participate in a place and to become socially engaged;
- courtesy and mutuality;
- confronting prejudice and exclusion;
- mercy in its wider sense of kindness and compassion;
- inclusivity and hospitality to those who are in any way “other” or different from ourselves;
- cultivating reconciliation to counter violence or mutual suspicion;
- passionately committing ourselves to a process of negotiating the “common good”.
If the Church is supposed to be “good at community” what currency do our local faith communities have to offer to the wider urban environment? How can local churches and people in urban ministry actively help to reverse the loss of community identity or neighbourliness? This demands reflection on key Christian values such as the pursuit of the “common good” and how to communicate this to people beyond the Church.
But, equally importantly, it also demands we take practical action, some of which may be initially uncomfortable to religious “insiders” such as the use of church space for neighbourhood activities or the replacement of vital local facilities (e.g. a Post Office) that are being shut down.
The study day at Westcott House on Wednesday 24 February will offer the opportunity for participants to reflect on how local Christian communities and people in urban ministry can better help to underpin civil society in our cities.
To book a place, please contact us.