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What’s in a name?

2.9.15: Parts 2 and 3 have now both been added

I have been with All We Can as Head of Fundraising and Supporter Relations for a year now. During this time I have had the privilege and pleasure of meeting many of our wonderful supporters at numerous events and through speaking in local Methodist churches. I have found our supporters to be generous, humble, faithful and extraordinary people. From ex-mission partners who have retained their concern for the poor across the world, to uniformed group leaders engaging the next generation in social justice issues, from 13 year old advocates lobbying parliament on garment worker’s rights, to committed local church volunteers encouraging their congregations and friends to support our Harvest Appeal in support of the world’s poor – they have all inspired me beyond anything I can describe in these few short words. I feel honoured to work for an organisation that not only makes an incredible difference in some of the world’s poorest communities, but also a charity that is entrusted with resources by a wonderful community of faith across the country and the world, the Methodist Church.

While I hold a deeply rooted personal faith in Jesus and am myself a committed volunteer in my own local church, I don’t come from a Methodist background. I grew up in an Anglican church in Surrey and now attend a contemporary non-denominational church in central London. As such, Methodism was new to me when joining All We Can. Over this last year I have been profoundly inspired by the Methodist Church in Britain, the rich heritage of concern for social justice within the Methodist tradition, and the many individual Methodists I have met.

As I’ve gone on this journey of discovering Methodism and meeting our supporters, one of the most common questions I am asked is about our name, All We Can, and the change from our old name, MRDF. I have heard, for instance, a number of people express the view that ‘it doesn’t mean anything’ or ask ‘are you moving away from Methodism?’ It is in response to these concerns that I wanted to write a personal reflection on our name, why I believe it is deeply meaningful, and the profound sense of connection I see between it and the beautiful Methodist tradition that I have encountered and fallen in love with over this last year. To do this I am going to look at each word of our name in turn in a series of blogs.

All

Selah (pause and think about it) on the word ‘all’ for a moment. When I do, it strikes me what an amazing word it is. It’s a word that speaks of scale, of commitment, of innovation and ingenuity, of inclusion. It also has a real resonance in the Methodist tradition. In much of our literature, for instance, you can find the words attributed to John Wesley from which our name is drawn:

Do all the good you can.
By all the means you can.
In all the ways you can.
In all the places you can.
At all the times you can.
To all the people you can.
As long as ever you can.

When we were MRDF (the Methodist Relief and Development Fund), there was a fundamental mismatch between the charity we had become, with the approach we had to serving people in the world’s poorest communities, and our name. A ‘fund’ is just that, a pot of money. A repository for collecting money and a store from which to give it out. There’s nothing wrong with this, and we still have particular ‘funds’ within our financial systems for instance. These provide us with prudent and robust procedures to ensure that every donation we receive is properly managed and accounted for to the highest standards.

But, at the same time, All We Can is so much more than just a fund, as I’ve come to discover since joining. We’re an international development and relief agency birthed within Methodism which remains inspired and motivated by the attitude expressed in Wesley’s words and the Methodist commitment to social justice. We don’t just want to collect and give out money, we want to do ‘all the good we can’ as a Methodist expression of Christ’s love for the poor. That goes far beyond money to include prayer, friendship, solidarity and a long term commitment to working alongside people in the world’s poorest communities. Solidarity with the world’s poor has to go beyond a payment or a transaction. It has to extend to all the good, by all the means, in all the ways we can so that we serve those on the edges of society.

I have a personal conviction that this is the kind of service to which Jesus has called us as his church. A call to serve without a self-imposed restriction on its boundary (providing money), and with a total commitment to the poorest of our global brothers and sisters. Expressed in shorthand: ‘All’.

We

You’ll notice there is slight difference between the ‘all you can’ of Wesley’s famous quote (see above) and the All We Can name… the collective ‘we’ as opposed to the individual ‘you’. In a western world that is culturally individualistic and increasingly insular in our politics, the solidarity, inclusion and collaborative nature of ‘we’ is, I believe, vitally significant.

According to recent research, the number of people in the general public who are ‘very concerned’ about the levels of global poverty has halved, while those with ‘no strong feelings’ has doubled. This is just in the last two years! As Christians I believe we mustn’t fall into the trap of forgetting about the global poor as our own country struggles through an age of austerity. I believe we must hold to Christ’s call to be witnesses both in our local ‘Jerusalem’ and also to ‘the ends of the earth’ (Acts 1:8). To both ‘seek the peace and prosperity of the city’ (Jeremiah 29:7) in which we live and ‘speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute’ (Proverbs 31:8). That includes our sisters and brothers in the world’s poorest communities.

Humanity is the global fellowship of humankind, and each one of us is created in God’s image with dignity, purpose and inherent worth, deserving of love and attention no matter where we were born, the colour of our skin, our gender, or the creed we adhere to. ‘We’ is not meaningless drivel or corporate management speak. It is a shorthand for the profound statement of the solidarity we have with our fellow human beings as Christians.

‘We’ also says something of the fact that All We Can is not just about a few staff located on the third floor of Methodist Church House in London. All We Can is a community of care for people trapped in poverty. A collective Methodist expression of love towards and within communities struggling with the cycle of suffering caused by poverty, inequality and injustice. Whether you are one of our direct debit supporters, a member of staff, one of our partners working in a situation of great need, a volunteer speaker, or a minister who champions our work with your congregation – you are part of this movement of love and care. You are part of the ‘we’ of All We Can and an embodiment of the values and ethos that drives us.

Can

The final word of our name speaks directly to the vision that this community of care, this movement of love is working towards: the fulfilment of every person’s potential. The way we see it, wherever people live and whatever their situation, everyone has God-given potential built in. So where the need is greatest, so is the potential.

‘Can’ speaks of this potential, it speaks of encouragement and support, of promise fulfilled, of positive change and transformation, of what is possible. This is so important given the context many of our partners are operating in. If we want to make a difference for people living in poverty then a fundamental belief that change is possible, that even a seemingly desperate situation can be turned around, that no matter what a person may be facing that there is still potential within them that could be fulfilled, is vital.

The other aspect of ‘can’ is that it speaks a word of encouragement to us that there is something we can do. God is not calling us to do something we cannot do. I believe he graciously provides each of us with the means and tools to make a difference, a real difference, to people we may never meet this side of eternity. All We Can is one way in which people can do that, and I am proud to play my small part in this channel that I believe God has provided for Methodists so they can reach out in love to our global neighbours in poor communities.

Doing all we can

These blogs are not a corporate response to the questions I have been asked by our supporters about our name. Rather, these are a few personal reflections I have had on our name over my first year of working for All We Can and engaging with the Methodist community. I hope they go some way towards demonstrating why I believe our name is both profound and meaningful to me as a 33 year old Christian passionate about social justice. Rather than the concern some have expressed to me that All We Can might be moving away from Methodism, I can affirm wholeheartedly that All We Can is deeply committed to the Methodist community and proud of our heritage as a Methodist charity. The change in the name actually did the opposite of moving away from Methodism. It drew me, as a non-Methodist, towards the organisation, and as a result I have discovered the Methodist tradition and become a friend and advocate for it. My hope would be that All We Can can serve the Methodist Church in this way many times over. That through having an appealing and accessible brand (which I believe we have) we can attract many other non-Methodists to discover the heart and drive that the Methodist community has for those in need and for the poorest communities in the world. We don’t want to draw away from Methodism, in doing what we do to serve the global poor, but rather draw others towards it.

About the Author Simon Beresford

Simon Beresford has been All We Can's Head of Fundraising and Supporter Relations since August 2014.

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