Contemporary debates about faith and volunteering raise questions about the relationship between, on the one hand, claims from theological ethics about the sources and forms of Christian action in the world and, on the other hand, claims and assumptions in policy discourse about why people of faith undertake voluntary work. Using findings from a small-scale study of volunteers in a Christian social action organization in the UK, we argue that a narrative- and community-focused theological ethics can offer an important corrective to oversimplified accounts of volunteer motivation, but that it needs to give a theological account of the multiple overlapping narratives and communities that form ethical character, and also of the gratuitous and ‘extraordinary’ nature of voluntary action. In dialogue with Paul Cloke, Nicholas Adams and Charles Elliott, Luke Bretherton and others, we propose ‘sustained untidiness’ as a starting-point for theological descriptions of Christian social action in a multi-faith and secular society.
Paul Cloke Jon May and Sarah JohnsenSwept Up Lives? Re-envisioning the Homeless City (Oxford: Blackwell2010). See also Paul Cloke Sarah Johnsen and Jon May ‘Ethical Citizenship? Volunteers and the Ethics of Providing Service to Homeless People’ Geoforum 38 (2007) 1089–1101.
John ReaderBlurred Encounters: A Reasoned Practice of Faith (St Bride’s Major: Aureus2005). See also Elaine Graham and Stephen Lowe What Makes a Good City?: Public Theology and the Urban Church (London: Darton Longman and Todd 2009) which draws extensively on Lowe’s work as Bishop for Urban Life and Faith.
See for example Christine PohlMaking Room: The Recovery of Hospitality as a Christian Tradition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans1999); Luke Bretherton Hospitality as Holiness: Christian Witness Amid Moral Diversity (Aldershot: Ashgate 2009); George Newlands and Allen Smith Hospitable God: The Transformative Dream (Aldershot: Ashgate 2010).