Caritas Conference 2017: Mission in an Age of Austerity

On September 29th, representatives of dioceses and charities in the Caritas Social Action Network came together for the Caritas Conference 2017, ‘Mission in an Age of Austerity’.

With this conference we wanted to explore how we move forward with faith, drawing on Catholic social thought and other Christian perspectives; how our work can form and inspire the next generation of parish volunteers and charity professionals; and how we can find new opportunities for working together.

We kicked off the day with Paul Hackwood of the Church Urban Fund, who analysed the challenge which austerity presents to those organisations seeking results that cannot be measured in monetary terms. Debbie James of the Church Mission Society described grassroots projects which have found ways to be faithful to Christian mission, yet adapt to their context.

This was followed by practical workshops on formation - how can the Network better support staff, volunteers and leaders at different stages in their personal development, and faith journeys where appropriate? These were coupled with detailed run-throughs of the legal challenges which faith-based organisations can face when dealing with recruitment and fundraising – how do you advertise for a Catholic board member? To what extent can you expect volunteers to adopt your charities’ values? A final element was workshops considering ‘mission’ and faithfully evaluating our impact within our communities. The ‘new modernity’ is characterised by an increasing interest in religion and spirituality, and a search for a more authentic and satisfying life, but also new forms of community and belonging. How can Catholic charities fit into this?

The day was rounded-off with Baroness Shirley Williams. At 87 years old, she gave an account of her life in faith. She spoke of the role of women in the Church and the need to recognise and promote their invaluable contributions.

Finally, she sent the Network’s representatives away with the message that they must continue what they do, in the spirit that they do it. Most importantly, we must continue to do it together. As a Network, we are more than individual charities and dioceses, but also a movement committed to building the Kingdom here on Earth.