by Joanna Moorhead BRITAIN'S first church-led . "citizens' power group", which aims to put parishioners' needs firmly onto local government agendas, was launched in a Catholic cathedral this week with the full backing of the area's bishop.
More than 1,000 people, including Bishop Mervyn Alexander, packed into Clifton cathedral for the launch of Congregations Organised for a Greater Bristol (COGB), which involves Hindus, Anglicans, Methodists and congregations from the black-led churches as well as Catholics.
Fr Richard McKay, parish priest of Christ the King in Bristol and one of the many churchmen involved in the venture, said it had been partly inspired by similar groups in the United States. He had visited some of these in Brooklyn and the Bronx, and had been extremely impressed by their achievements. One organisation had managed to build more than 1,000 homes for those on low incomes.
The Bristol group would aim to make ordinary people powerful, he said. "We want to help people bring about the changes they want to see in their community. It's all about translating words into action we've had some very good statements about what needs to be done, and this project is about making an impact in a structured way.
Twenty-one congregations are involved with COGB. Each sends delegates to assemblies, and also has at least one person on the strategy team, the group which plans and organises campaigns of action Research carried out by the group so far has shown that churchgoers list urban decay, poverty and unemployment, education, poor transport and discrimination as prime issues for action.
Initially, said Fr McKay, the campaigns taken up by the group were likely to be small ones. "We're going to target winable issues, and to begin with they will be things like getting better street lighting or lobbying businesses and buildings to provide better access for the disabled," he said.
In time, though, the organisation was likely to rake up more .ambitious plans. "We're not seeking conflict, but we're ready to enter into it if we have to," he said. "This organisation is about a very important dimension of the mission of the churches in this country,which is our responsibility to create a better society and to bring the values of the gospel to bear."
As well as the personal blessing of Bishop Alexander, Clifton diocese has pledged £5,000 for the project in its first year, and may give a further £10,000 over the following two. The Jesuits have given £1,000, and other money has come from the Church Urban Fund and the Methodists.
COGB would aim to be selffunding after three years, Fr McKay said. Participants from groups other than the churches would be welcomed as members, providing they were in favour of the basis and aims of the organisation.