Social Housing Estate Ministry

Laurie has been the founding Chair of the National Estate Churches Network for many years and since retirement has been asked also to develop the work nationally by visiting social housing parishes, offering seminars and speaking to government and the Church about the issues.  This work is sponsored by the Church Urban Fund.

    First, here's a paper that Laurie has prepared for the Urban Bishops of the Church to reflect upon. It shows that ministry on underprivilged estates is special and therefore needs special support and provision - which is sadly lacking from government, church and the country. Laurie is currently travelling the country to research these questions and will publish more material in due course.


The inappropriateness of resources being offered to Social Housing Estate ministries.

Whereas in 1979 a third of UK stock was Council Housing, the distinctive recent history of UK Social Housing has made the remaining estates ghettos of poverty and deprivation. Tenants have been targeted by government and media, encouraging the popular myth that deprived tenants are the authors and perpetuators of their own poverty. These estates therefore have very distinct needs. Their social ethos and the tenants’ minimal sense of self-worth are altogether different from CofE norms This begs the question about how we may best provide resources for these poor who “will always be with us”. The pointers below derive from my findings during recent extensive visits to estates across England. However, some dioceses are exhibiting very good practice.

1. Many feel that the atmosphere surrounding training in colleges and courses is so class-specific that the theology imbibed, the spirituality inculcated and the skills being taught are overlaid with an inappropriate style, rendering the need to ‘unlearn’ these things in order to engage properly with Estate tenants. Rarely do ordinands in training have opportunity to live on deprived estates and learn their theology there. The lessons about ministerial training set out in the 1985 Faith in the City report have yet to be learnt twenty seven years on. (see especially Chapter 6)
2. Estate parishes are often judged in accordance with criteria derived from other quarters. This creates unfounded guilt in laity and clergy not able to fulfil blanket diocesan criteria. Financial Quota and deployment decisions can look fair when the uneven playing field is ignored. Churches are often judged on their ability to pay not on the growth and depth of ministry they share in the community
3. Social housing Estate Parishes can rarely be self-sustaining financially, even though their personal giving is often greater than the giving of the rich in proportion to personal income. Short-term funding or deployment fails to appreciate the financial non-sustainability of these estates and only raises unfair and untenable expectations leaving all concerned demoralised and feeling of little worth
4. Growth courses and expectations are often based on middle-class models. Professor John Hull’s critiques of ‘mission shaped church’ [2006] are especially apposite for us. Church Urban Fund research papers [2012] recommended new styles and showed that in areas of this sort sustainable growth comes through committed social action. The research being done in Bradford Diocese on growth is to be commended.
5. Successful congregational growth in these parishes often means that even more needy people will be attracted in addition to an already vulnerable congregation. Dioceses should not therefore assume that Quotas can be increased as numbers increase. Deprived housing estate congregations will need even more support as they grow!
6. Unlike gentrified inner city parishes, estates do not attract professionals, so the vicar is saddled with much of the management of the parish. Often the diocese offers pioneer ministers, but does not offer the administrative assistance that would set clergy free to be the pioneers they know themselves, potentially, already to be. (again, see Faith in the City, 7.58 & 59, 6.97g)
7. Some experienced practitioners would additionally argue that deprived housing estates do not need pioneers since they are not new social forms needing new forms of church. They do however need ministers who will commit long-term to tough transformation, and loving those who live there. If Pioneer Ministers are nevertheless to be appointed it is essential that they are resourced by experienced clergy living in situ (the 1970s curate/vicar model) and must additionally be trained for sacramental ministry (since ‘Rites of Passage’ ministry is particularly effective in ministry and for growth on estates).
8. Stress and breakdown will often be indicative of lack of resource for ministers. Balanced life-style mentoring and ongoing support, along with risk & stress assessment before re-entry is good practice in urban schools but rare in the CofE. Faith in the City made excellent detailed recommendations for support of this kind (see paragraph 6.97)
9. The educational attainment of indigenous estate congregations can be very low, some having special needs (one parish was pleased to have a Downs Syndrome churchwarden) yet the diocese may often require PCCs to manage complex returns and reports without providing support or arranging for the sharing of expertise.
10.Similarly, training packs for confirmation and baptism etc have to be substantially re-
drafted by the vicar to suit a non-literary style. Packs can be disabling and patronising.
11. Increasingly, substantial reinvigoration is taking place through partnerships with local agencies, but administrative assistance and specialist training is very helpful if these relationships are to be capitalised upon without the church compromising its distinctive purpose and presence and becoming an easy avenue for other agencies to manipulate.
12. Many estate initiatives can be small and yet pay dividends. Small injections of cash at the right time can help groups forward. Some dioceses prefer to lump the cash together to provide for more prestigious projects, at the expense of what, from the outside, may seem an insignificant project.
13. Collaborative working is ideal for these parishes if developed appropriately, and we would commend such projects as the Northern Ark programme in Bristol which seeks ways to empower indigenous estate church leadership. Few of the available courses and resources teach the clergy how to work this on estates but instead are based on the expectation of there being professional skill-sets amongst the laity. In our circumstances, this old style can lead to those who no longer live on the estate returning to “help” their former parish. This leads to continuance of external containment of local lay development and a de-skilling of local people. Owned and lasting change requires the appropriate training, empowerment and trust in indigenous leadership.
14. Church buildings often look uninviting from outside and in, and yet they may well be the only gathering places remaining on the estate – even the pubs are fast closing. Local building skills can be utilised if dioceses will relax strictures. Notice-boards are good examples of where modern advert-type bill boards do well but the diocese demands fine-quality, expensive replacements, so the board remains a mess.
15. The Church must find ways of hearing the voice of the poor in the estates. If, as Jesus says, “blessed are the poor” then the wider Church, for its own soul’s sake, desperately needs to learn how this is. Although the estate churches will always need financial support (see point 3) they will repay the diocese with spiritual and biblical insights. For example, the estate congregations have experiential insight into many biblical themes, such as ‘faith’, ‘commitment’, ‘perseverance’, and ‘lament’. The Church must listen.
16. Our Clergy and laity need ongoing training in social care ministry – they are called upon every day, often when local statutory care provision has failed. They need to be kept informed about changes in legislation so as to keep their parishioners and themselves safe.
17. Some parishes find CRB requirements preclude many of their volunteers since many families have a minor criminal record. Clergy need help in dealing with this practically but also need theological resources for handling the implications of working in cultures with alternative ethical expectations.
18. Canonical Liturgies are so often too long and wordy, given our non-literary cultures. New liturgies are urgently required. Our sacramental liturgies in particular miss the mark. Our estates value ordered liturgy since it is often the only secure order people experience within their week. Appropriately drafted liturgical Orders are greatly lacking in the Church of England.
19. Clergy should be appointed to teams, not left solitary. In lieu of depleting clergy numbers, some diocese have allowed for administrative support to be deployed to teams or clusters.
20. Where ordained and lay ministers are prepared to train for and take on these challenges – they must be given the key resource of affirmation!

+Laurie Green   (Copyright text 2012)

POVERTY EMPLOYMENT”    November 2012

The title of our NECN conference this year was “Mind the Gap”. This week the Living Wage campaign wants us to think of a gap that could lead to the collapse of our whole society.

Some of our national leaders are encouraging us to believe that the poor are the authors of their own poverty. Their speeches push the idea that the poor must stop being lazy, or stop pretending to be disabled, go out and get a job, and then they will pull themselves out of poverty. So when the news broadcast rejoices that more people are in work we might be bamboozled into thinking that all is now well. But this is all smoke and mirrors because the fact is that six out of every ten UK families who are in poverty already have at least one adult member who is in work. So where’s the catch?

It’s certainly smoke and mirrors. The smoke is that a very large proportion of those in employment are only able to find part-time work so they are not taking home enough to live on. That’s the smoke, and the mirror is the fact that employers are not paying a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. Employers have to pay the so-called ‘minimum wage’ but only one in five jobs in the UK are paying a fair wage – a Living Wage.

After many years of research sponsored by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation the calculations are now made by the Centre of Research in Social Policy. For those outside London the Living Wage is now £7.45p per hour, and for those in London it’s £8.55p per hour. If you are paid full time at this rate you will be above the poverty line – otherwise you will be told your poverty is your own fault! Employers will say that a Living Wage might be justice but their companies would fold under the financial pressure. They said the same thing when the Minimum Wage was introduced, and they are still there to tell us the same thing about a just wage!

Two things to say: First, the Christian word for this is sin. Sin on the part of a society which allows the poor to be blamed for their own poverty. And Sin on the part of those who argue against the introduction of a Living Wage. Second, this diabolical state of affairs leads to major unhappiness across society not only because it drives people down into the depths of poverty but it also increases inequality. Even the atheistic Chinese leadership have recently owned up to the fact that if they continue to allow inequality in their country their people will no longer stand for it. Professor Richard Wilkinson at our NECN conference in 2006 told us of the international research proving that the larger the inequality, the less happy the whole country becomes. The Old Testament prophets, Mary the Mother of Jesus, and Jesus himself gave us clear mandates – the poor are to be called ‘blessed’, not ‘scroungers’.

Poverty Wages are a wretched injustice. Campaign for a Living Wage!

Bishop Laurie Green. Chair of National Estate Churches Network.