Meet our patron: Bishop Dr Joe Aldred

02 December 2019, Peter Wright

We’re continuingly looking for ways to raise awareness of safeguarding and to get the message out about the importance of creating safer places.  To help us do this even more effectively we’ve recently started working together with a small group of charity patrons to help us raise the profile of the work that we do to protect vulnerable people from abuse.  We’re delighted to announce our newest patron Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, who has been a long-term friend and supporter of thirtyone:eight.  Bishop Aldred is an author, broadcaster, church-leader and currently has responsibility for Pentecostal and Multicultural Relations at Churches Together in England.  We chatted with him about what motivates him and why he’s taken on this new role:

You’ve been involved in church leadership most of your life – as a Sunday school teacher, youth leader, pastor and bishop in the Church of God of Prophecy  - what have been some of the main lessons this has taught you about church and your faith?

I’ve observed that church is a complex human space, a place of discipleship where diverse peoples and cultures, grapple with what it means to be the people of God, live as sisters and brothers in a complex world. Agape love towards one another as individuals and groups is therefore an essential component if the church is to function as God’s missional instrument, salt and light, in the world for which Christ died. Sadly, the church doesn’t always live up to this ideal; and yet in the midst of its imperfections the church manages by the grace of God to be a catalyst for good more often that might be thought possible.”

You’ve written and edited a number of books including; The Black Church in the 21st Century, Thinking outside the box – on race, faith and life, and most recently Pentecostals and Charismatics in Britain. What inspires you as a writer and what do you see as some of the main challenges facing Black and multi-ethnic churches in the UK today?

“I was initially inspired to edit and publish mainly black British Christian writers to address the lack of literature from the black church community. Since working more closely with Pentecostals and Charismatics, black and white, I have discovered a similar though less acute lack. I believe any people ought to be the epicentre from which their stories are told.  I write and broadcast for similar reasons, to represent an informed insider view to itself and the wider world. The main challenge facing these churches seems to me to concern applying a Pentecostal ethic that effectively communicates with the society in which we live.”

You’ve spoken publicly about your interest in Christian ecumenism being born out of a concern about fragmentation.  What does Christian unity mean to you and why do you think it is so important for the church?

“The premise on which my ecumenical work is based is a pre-existent ‘oneness’ in Christ, as one Christian family in the world belonging to many different ‘rooms’ or cultures, streams, denominations, etc.  My understanding is that we are already one in Christ, like a natural family, but diverse and challenged to live out a unity that is true to the family name, the oneness we share because of belonging to the same parent, God in Jesus Christ.  Christian unity does not mean for me a search or quest for uniformity or forced cohesion.  It is important the church works hard to live unitedly in diversity because it shows that diversity is God’s idea and we can be one yet not all the same.  When observers see how we can love and live in unity in the midst of such great diversity they may be convinced that the Prince of Peace Jesus is alive in our midst.”

In your role at Churches Together in England (CTE) you have responsibility for Pentecostal and Multicultural Relations.  What are some of the main strategies the churches could be using to build and maintain strong relationships?

“The big idea at CTE is that relationship is key.  We also recognise that all churches have their separate lives, organisations to run, etc, therefore ecumenism that builds relationship has to be wise, light of touch and inclusive.  The twenty-two different national members that make up the constituency I work alongside meet twice a year through their nominated representatives, there are four working groups that support the forum and reports to the half-yearly meetings, and one of the CTE Presidents represents Pentecostals and Charismatics. By these means we seek to strengthen relationships between Pentecostals and charismatics themselves and between they and other church traditions. I act as a kind of centre of contact on matters relating to this ecclesial community and try to convey the essence of Pentecostalism and charismatic beliefs in my broadcasting, writing and preaching.”

You’re a big Chelsea football fan. What are some of the parallels with the world of sport that the church could be leaning from?

“My Chelsea support is really quite light of touch…I am the ultimate armchair supporter from a far. My support of West Indies cricket runs much deeper and is the source of much pain in the past twenty to thirty years. I am welling up even as I speak! The glory days of the 70s and 80s are well behind us. I really fell in love with Chelsea during Mourinho’s first stint as manager -  I loved his confidence and must win philosophy.  After he left I stayed a supporter and have watched then once and recently did a tour of the Bridge – a gift from my daughters. A big lesson for the churches from the world of football may be the intensity of training to get the best from players and  observing that people are prepared to pay a lot of money and support with their time something that gives them excitement and belonging. Too much of church can be lacking in a commitment to excellence and commitment to make every church service ‘an experience’ that is planned and delivered to the very best of all our abilities.”

Awareness of Safeguarding among churches and the need to be invest time, money and energy into creating safer places for all is growing.  Why do you think safeguarding is so important for churches and how does it reflect the message of the Gospel?

“I am afraid the church’s record on safeguarding issues is not as good as it has needed to be. Some of the reasons may be that society on a whole have not taken safeguarding seriously enough and churches are part of society. I for one welcome the current and increasing focus on keeping people safe. Whether children, older people or vulnerable adults everybody must both feel safe and be safe in our care. Jesus in his earthly ministry shows how to be welcoming to people from all walks of life, typified by his ‘let the children come to me’ rebuke to his disciples shushing them away. The gospel is about salvation, redemption, flourishing in this life and the next and the church at all levels must simply work harder to ensure the value we place on the image of God in ‘the least of these’ is reflected in how we care for everyone.”

What does becoming an Ambassador for Thirtyone:eight mean to you?

“Thirtyone.eight has been helping churches create and maintain safe spaces for many years, but is not sufficiently well known about in some spaces. I hope that my ambassadorial role as patron can assist even a little in making the organisation more visible and its services taken up in more churches in the sector I work with and beyond, so that more people may be protected from harm and abuse”