One of the things that we were asked to do at the end of the Together for the Common Good
conference was to reflect on what we would do as a consequence of being there. This was a particularly poignant challenge for me; as a contemporary Church leader on Merseyside, I might well be considered as one of those on whom the mantle of Sheppard, Worlock and their contemporaries has particularly fallen.
I would seek to answer that question in three ways. Many participants highlighted the work done by the two bishops to ensure that the presence and contribution of the Free Churches was not "airbrushed out" of the picture.
There is a particular challenge for Merseyside as both roles of Archbishop and Bishop of Liverpool enter a period of vacancy. So firstly, for those Free Church leaders who remain, we need to commit ourselves to engage and speak out on behalf of the Christian community; but there is also a challenge to the media and indeed the Christian community itself as to whether or not we will be given the opportunity to speak and be heard.
During the conference, reference was made to the ecumenical structures and initiatives that have developed since. These are to be celebrated and have achieved much good, but perhaps an unintended consequence of the Sheppard-Worlock legacy is that those of us tasked with leadership today, risk having much of our capacity absorbed by the maintenance and oversight of what we have inherited. One key message was that much of the significant work done by the two bishops was founded on a strong and genuine friendship between them.
So a second challenge is whether those of us in leadership today, have the courage to set business and agendas aside and to ensure that the time we spend together is invested first and foremost in relationship building. I sense that this will be increasingly important as new leaders are appointed for five of the six mainstream denominations on Merseyside.
I was also struck by the emerging significance of the concept of "Common Good" as an entity in its own right. In a landscape where political expediency and economic return seem to dominate the policy agendas, there is a doorway of challenge and opportunity for people of faith.
Politicians and business leaders are hugely impacted by public opinion; the electorate and the consumer wield significant influence. As a General Election looms ever nearer, how might manifestos and the agendas of debate be influenced if churches had successfully worked to create a public mood that demanded a commitment to a wholesome definition of Common Good from our nation's political leaders?
Msgr. John Devine speaks of his time as Churches Officer North West as one when he learned to express the message of the Church in the language that statutory agencies and policy makers understood.
In a similar vein, what is required is not so much an account of the Common Good expressed in the terms of profound theology, but a much more accessible narrative in which we say "this is what we believe to be the economic policy of a government committed to the Common Good" - "These are the welfare reforms that we would expect in pursuit of the Common Good" - "This is how we believe business should be regulated in the interest of Common Good" and so we might go on.
So my third challenge is whether we will sit back and allow the debate ahead of the next election to be the usual media driven "what's in it for me?" agenda, or dare we begin now to work relentlessly to create a public mood that demands a different narrative?