St Paul's Institute

First Impressions

by Barbara Ridpath

Posted: 04 Jul 2014

It is now just over a month since I started my new position as Director of St Paul's Institute. It seems an appropriate time to sketch some first impressions of the Institute and its future.

The welcome has been heart-warming from Cathedral staff and organisations that partner with the Institute as well as people who attend the Institute's events. I have been struck by the commitment of the staff and volunteers at the Cathedral and the pleasure of doing a job for those who live their values every day. The alignment of my own values with the work expected of me in this position is extremely fulfilling.

It would be wonderful to be able to convey to all those professionals in the City what a pleasure it is to go to work when your values align with your purpose.

It has been a pleasant surprise to find out how many organisations, often unsung, exist that are doing good thinking around issues of ethical behaviour, financial inclusion, and restoring trust. These include professional qualifications bodies and new non-governmental organisations, secular, faith and interfaith groups. The Institute looks forward to continuing and extending our collaboration with as many of them as possible.

The Institute's first event since I arrived was Mammon's Kingdom, a panel discussion around David Marquand's new book. In that book, there are two ideas that are extremely relevant to our mission. The first is 'If we no longer speak the language of the common good, it is because we have forgotten how to, not because an alien despot censors our conversations. If we get carried away by populist media campaigns, or sneer at 'scroungers' and 'shirkers', or gawp at flashy 'celebs', it is because we choose to do so; no one forces us. Since we built the trap we should, at least in principle, be able to spring it.' It would be good to think of the Institute as a place where we could begin to think and talk about ways to 'spring' that trap.

The second concept is a call for dialogue as critical to democracy, and that is 'dialogue, through which minds change (and are changed), new opinions and new possibilities emerge and the terms of political competition shift.' St Paul's Institute is a wonderful place to try and bring back such dialogue to the public square; indeed it is part of our mission. Let's start the conversation here. Do please get in touch directly with your thoughts on both themes and strategic initiatives for the Institute.

My first impressions have begun to help me imagine what it is possible for St. Paul's Institute to be and to become: from the macro level of encouraging dialogue on key issues, to affecting change on these issues, to the intermediary level of helping clergy get the material they need and want to help shape their discussion, to working with schools to debate key ethical issues with secondary students in the Cathedral's programmes, to the most micro level of helping parishioners and other individual City employees to have a 'safe' place to discuss their own ethical issues with a sympathetic and helpful person or group of like-minded people.

This latter has become increasingly difficult in the fast-paced, internet-based, 'anonymized' environment of the modern city and the modern trading room. Whether you quote the 20th century Jewish philosopher Emmanual Levinas or his American Protestant theological counterpart, Reinhold Niebuhr, people behave best and most trust each other when they know each other. In a financial community that has become both globalized and largely screen-based, a key issue is how we re-create the incentives for people to work together with values and trust that are most apparent when people know each other and see each other face to face.

Since I started in this position, I have been asked, 'What does the Church know about finance and economics? What does the Church have of value to add to this debate?' It was fascinating to learn that the Cathedral has been a place for this debate since at least the late 19th century when Canon Henry Scott Holland formed a group called PESEK (Politics, Economics, Socialism, Ethics and Christianity). In Holland's opinion modern capitalist companies had no conscience and were therefore acting immorally. According to him, capital and labour should be cooperating forces, sharing a common objective, but the system had turned them into unequal rivals. He felt that the role of the Anglican Church should be to convince society that "duty to God and duty to man are the same thing."

Michael Sandel, another previous speaker for the Institute in his book What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets, expresses today's challenge in more secular terms when he states 'altruism, generosity, solidarity, and civic spirit are not like commodities that are depleted with use. They are more like muscles that develop and grow stronger with exercise. One of the defects of a market-driven society is that it lets these virtues languish. To renew our public life we need to exercise them more strenuously.' The Institute hopes to help people start exercising those muscles.

If I am borrowing much from other authors in this article, it is in no small part because I still have so much to learn, and there is so much to read. Let me finish with one more quotation, this time Biblical, which sums up why I was so fortunate to be offered this position, and why I am looking forward so much to serving in it. It is Luke 12:48 'For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required.' Whether it is used to suggest the value of service, or what might still be asked of those in the financial community, it can certainly be interpreted at many different levels, all of them relevant to St Paul's Institute.

We look forward to welcoming you at our future events.

About this author

Barbara Ridpath is the Director of St Paul's Institute.

Paul King - Posted: 10 Jul 2014

Welcome! I am a provincial correspondent of St Paul's Institute, living 2 hours up the East Midlands Railway Line in Chesterfield, so not able to attend much of what St Pauls Institute is doing, but appreciating it very much and endeavouring to stir things here in whatever way I can. I hold office in the local Liberal Democrats and find myself very engaged in the interface of religion and politics. I am a supposedly retired Methodist minister and secretary of Christians Together for Chesterfield, which aims to collate the 'total Christian enterprise in and immediately adjacent to, the borough. Keep up the good work.

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