Friday, July 10, 2009

Anatomy of distrust

Last night I was the recorder for a crisis meeting of the Street Carers Forum Representative Group in County Hall to consider the breakdown in consensus leading to the cancellation of the first ever training session devised by this group to meet the needs of volunteer teams out regularly on the streets offering support to the city's homeless and vulnerably housed people. The training was meant to be a decisive step in setting up a collaborative partnership between the voluntary community of Street Carers and the Local Authority.

Voluntary bodies have enthusiasm and dedication to be there for people at times when professionals in statutory agencies are not available. Those who work voluntarily with the homeless and vulnerable on the city's streets have an admirable record. In my role as City Centre Missioner, I've commited myself to build bridges between voluntary caring groups and the City's professional social workers, convinced that each needs the other to do justice to the needy.

Not all faith based Street Care teams find it easy to work with Local Authority professionals. Fear of control, fear of being 'taken over' hinders progress. Volunteers do a job professionals cannot do. Each needs the other. Dialogue between them is essential. Many involved realise this and are willing to sustain a proper relationship, but not all. Some are indifferent or distrustful of the intentions of local government, and those elected to power.

Patience is needed to make progress, plus determination and sensitivity to ensure that the anxieties of a few inform but do not hinder the progress of the majority. None of the anxieties hindering progress are new to me, but their sheer persistence astounds me, and reminds me how hard some people find it to overcome their fears and embrace change,

It spells out something of the problematic relationship between people with faith and initiative, and those charged with implementing rules laid down by those elected to authority in civil society. This relationship is made harder when people of faith forget that the society sustaining them rests on Christian values and ethics, no matter how secular and alien it may appear to be in their eyes. This kind of narrow vision among passionately committed Christians, I find frustrating and discouraging.

Will people of faith ever be capable of doing things deserving respect and trust among those elected to hold power over us? In principle there's no reason why not. In practice, it's the opposite.

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