One of the tremendous privileges of my work and job is being part of lots of networks of people who do fantastic things because they are inspired by their faith (in God or in humanity).
As a paid worker I am sometimes overawed by people who find time for their service to God and the world between work, family, worship and recreation. But being paid full-time to hang out with people like this (people like you) I have a wonderful helicopter view of the network of love in action that is criss-crossing this city linking churches, gurdwaras, synagogues, temples, mosques, Near Neighbours projects, Places of Welcome, arts projects, environmental action and the support of vulnerable people such as refugees and asylum seekers.
Sometimes there is the chance to get some of this network into one room and the effect is always wonderful. To quote Desmond Tutu in Made for Goodness again: “You can see from the people we truly admire that we are attracted to goodness. We do not revere people who are successful. We might envy them and wish that their money were transferred to our bank account. But the people we revere are not necessarily successful, they are something else. They are good.”
That’s why it is fantastic when the networks of good people come together. But I am also concerned that the more networks we create, the more day conferences we hold, the more seminars we run and the more workshops we attend the less time we have to do what it is God has given us to do.
However I think my concerns are unfounded. One of the best networks I have ever come across has a daily meeting. At 9pm. For prayer. Six years ago I was privileged to spend an evening with the San Egidio community in Rome. This is an amazing global network of communities without borders of people who are committed to Friendship with the Poor expressed in hundreds of practical ways. For example, on Christmas Day 2013, the lunch with the poor, a tradition of the San Egidio community that dates back to 1982, gathered 165,000 people for 1,100 lunches in 74 countries around the world, among them about 22,000 prisoners. I experienced their practical love in action after the short service in the Trastaverte district when we went to an amazing trattoria connected with the community which was staffed by people with learning difficulties and celebrated those people’s gifts and talents in ways I have never forgotten.
This is not a particularly brilliant picture of this part of the San’ Egidio community at 9pm on a normal Tuesday evening. But their worship reflected the hospitality of their lives. The service was easily accessible and translated into several languages. Old, young, able-bodied and those with disabilities, rich and poor were welcomed together and the quality of relationships was evident – no-one wanted to leave after the service finished.
Alongside prayer and service, the community is committed to communicating the Gospel, ecumenism and dialogue – all things I would happily sign up to and I know many people in this city whose lives model all those values. But I know many others who would love the ethos but belong to different faith traditions.
So this blog is really a question. Does the San’ Egidio community offer something to a city like Birmingham? What might it look like if it grew out of intentionally multi-faith gathering or would separating it from the Church loose the essence of the movement?