December marks the 30th anniversary of the Church Urban Fund. The CUF emerged from a report, Faith in the City: A Call for Action by Church and Nation, which the Church of England published in 1985.

The fund initially sought to raise £10 million. Later its capital grew to £20 million. In its first decade, it focused on grant-making, often for quite small sums.

Then came 2006, a milestone year for the organization. Alongside grant-giving, it took to campaigning and won notable victories. The main social context of Faith in the City was the death of major industries such as coal and steel. The main issue for people on the ground was housing, and this remains true.

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Thirty percent of people in post-industrial Britain are doing well, but poverty and deprivation affect the other 70 percent. Hunger is a major concern that churches struggle to meet, in particular with the proliferation of food banks (and these are not confined to poor communities).

With serious reductions in government-funded welfare there is, as Archbishop Justin Welby has said, the opportunity for the church to fill the gaps and “do the things the state had run out of the capacity to do.” This, he believes, is the church’s “greatest opportunity since the Second World War.”

Even before it was unwrapped, Faith in the City produced howls of protest. One of the two big ideas emerging from the Archiepiscopate of Robert Runcie (1980-91) — the other was the report The Church and the Bomb: Nuclear Weapons and Christian Conscience — was dismissed as “pure Marxist theology” by an unnamed Conservative cabinet minister. Another Conservative said the Church of England was in the hands of a “load of Communist clerics.”

The late Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt. Rev. David Sheppard, a member of the working group that framed the report, reflected later that the loud “rubbishing” of the report gave it oxygen. Never in living memory had a church report gained such notoriety. It made Faith in the City famous.

The report had an important powerful factor in its favor. It was hard-minded, marshaling compelling statistics to back up its case. It thus won the moral high ground for the church. The Home Secretary, Michael (now Lord) Heseltine, had to concede the validity of the report’s findings when he visited Liverpool, where he saw firsthand evidence of the inner city’s decay and the brutal neglect of tower blocks hurriedly built after World War II.

John Martin

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