Our church faces many challenges about funding, organisation, credibility and appropriate approaches to mission. Where might modern slavery fit in?
Bath and Wells is a leading light within the Church of England in terms of a positive and effective response to the growing evil of modern slavery. On behalf of the Clewer Initiative, which coordinates the Church of England’s work in this area, I would like to say a huge thank you to David Maggs, Sian Owen and others. They have helped the diocese lead the way in raising awareness, offering training to establish community resilience, fight back against the phenomenon of county lines (the involvement of children and young people in drug trafficking), and pioneered the development of partnerships which enable the church to play a key role in both care and prevention. Bath Abbey has been doing some ground-breaking work about monuments and the transatlantic slave trade with an approach which will be very helpful to others. Yet, with modern slavery increasing, there is much to do.
Jesus calls us to love God and our neighbour as ourselves. The gospel makes clear that the neighbour is not just the person next door, but is particularly the person everyone easily passes by – while they are suffering without hope. In Matthew 25 Jesus makes it clear that we meet Him in the poor and oppressed – or in Clewer’s words, Hidden in Plain Sight.
In the modern rush to grab cheap goods and services, we rarely notice those who may suffer and are criminally controlled in order to provide them. As we rightly reorder our priorities as churches, our ways of working, our mission and service – modern slavery is a key indicator of whether we aim to serve the church as our own safe place, or whether we aim to be out on that road between Jerusalem and Jericho, looking to encounter and rescue and raise up those who are trapped and suffering and generally ignored.
Let us not rest on our laurels, but build upon our work so far, so that others may be brought good news, embraced into our communities, and given confidence to know the love of God through the love of their neighbours.
Assistant Bishop of Bath and Wells
Chair of the Clewer Initiative