Thinking Anglicans

The Von Hügel Institute report

Here is the official Church of England press release on Moral, But No Compass: Von Hügel Institute: Government ‘moral without a compass’ says report into Church and Welfare.

The government is ‘planning blind and failing parts of civil society’ when it comes to faith communities in general and aspects of charity law and social policy in particular, concludes a report by the Von Hügel Institute, an academic research centre and think tank based at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge University. “The government has good intentions, but is moral without a compass,” the authors say.

The report, Moral, But No Compass – Government, Church, and the Future of Welfare, was commissioned by the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe, Bishop for Urban Life and Faith, who officially received the report today on behalf of the Archbishops’ Council of the Church of England. It was researched and written by Francis Davis, co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Faith in Society at the Von Hügel Institute, Elizabeth Paulhus, a researcher at the Institute, and Andrew Bradstock, co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Faith in Society at the Institute.

The Institute’s research involved interviewees from politics, churches, other faiths, the civil service and the voluntary sector. It ‘uncovered huge gaps in government evidence about faith communities in general and the churches in particular,’ according to the report.

“We encountered on the part of Government,” the report says, “a significant lack of understanding of, or interest in, the Church of England’s current or potential contribution in the public sphere. Indeed we were told that Government had consciously decided to focus its evidence gathering almost exclusively on minority religions. We were unsurprised to hear that some of these consequently felt ‘victimised’…”

And the CofE comments:

…Welcoming this report, Bishop Stephen Lowe said: “We had little information about our own capacity or indeed level of existing activity. We had only a sketchy idea of political aspirations for our involvement. We needed an informed and reflective assessment of the position for the Church to consider the nature and extent of its future participation…I am delighted with the outcome.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and the Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, called it a ‘fascinating and important report’.

“On the one hand it highlights and details some truly remarkable examples of public good delivered by the Church and faith based organisations – sometimes funded by the state, though mostly not – and a general picture of committed social engagement which if grasped imaginatively by the state could, indeed would, yield some extraordinarily positive results,” the Archbishops said.

“On the other it reveals a depressing level of misunderstanding of the scale and quality of contribution faith-based organisations make to the civil and civic life of our nation – our common good. This is particularly true in relation to the contribution of the Church of England, and its membership, on which the report focuses.

“In short, this report urges the Church, government and others, notably the Charity Commissioners, to sit up, take note and to better understand each others roles and intentions in order to make the most of one of this nation’s most diverse, creative and enduring assets – the Church..

“We all need to consider very seriously the report’s recommendations and take appropriate action – for the good of the nation.”

The press release includes the full list of recommendations made by the report. Some of those are addressed not to the government but to the church. These are reproduced below the fold.


(i) That public service reform and the Church’s role in domestic welfare provision be the subject of a workshop at the forthcoming Lambeth Conference.

(ii) That the Archbishops call a St George’s House consultation (or its equivalent) to follow up on some of our interim findings.

(iii) That the Archbishops commission a feasibility study to establish a new Lambeth- and York-led ‘Anglican Philanthropy’ fund to encourage a fresh wave of donors to back Christian social innovation, advocacy and welfare provision with both funding and the investment of time, skills and knowledge in a strategic and coordinated fashion.

(iv) That the Archbishop of Canterbury, in conversation with Lambeth Partners, should explore the establishment of annual ‘Archbishop’s Awards for Faith-Based Civic Action,’ ideally in partnership with a national umbrella body such as ACEVO and with the media. These awards would celebrate and recognise the role and contribution of faith-based social innovation, service and action across the country. They would affirm not only inter-faith conversation, but also the full realm of faith-based civic contributions.


(i) That our interim findings form the basis for a debate in the House of Lords to examine the weaknesses we have uncovered in the Government’s approach to the Churches, as well as the wider need for a refreshed set of contracting principles, which are rooted in an attempt to measure more qualitative factors and enable a wider range of sustainable voluntary sector engagement.


(i) That the Church should establish a new social enterprise/voluntary sector support and coordinating body to develop public advocacy and service provision engagement across the country, modelled on existing best practice in its work in education and on international counterparts such as Anglicare in Australia. This body would encourage the support and continued development of the existing Anglican contributions to health and social care, community development, post-compulsory education, criminal justice, asylum and refugee advice and services, welfare-to-work, job creation, the rural economy and the arts and cultural economy. It would also encourage increased utilisation and coordination of activities in the civic hubs of cathedrals and dioceses. It may have some ecumenical potential as well, since some of the Catholic children’s societies are seeking, or are being required, to reinvent themselves outside the governance networks of the Roman Catholic Church.

(ii) That the Church develop a fresh conversation and process of theological enquiry as to the appropriate nature, form and content of Christian principles for contracting. This could include bishops addressing these ‘principles’ while visiting chief executives in their diocesan areas or while engaging in their myriad civic activities. It could also include a sustained campaign alongside smaller voluntary organisations to enhance decentralisation of contracts and increase wider civic engagement.


(i) That coursework introducing the modern structure of the state (including commissioning, the role of the voluntary sector, and the nature and form of public management and its successors) become a mandatory part of ministerial training.

(ii) That pioneering projects at local, diocesan, and Anglican Communion levels are regularly ‘case studied’ in ministerial training as a source of inspiration and creative thinking and as a reminder of the Church’s innovative nature.

(iii) That training in grant and bid writing, as well as performance leadership, be available to Ordinands.

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