Innovation is part of the Methodist tradition

Wesley Community Action’s increasing focus on finding innovative ways of helping vulnerable people is part of a long Methodist tradition of disruption, writes our director, David Hanna in the latest issue of Touchstone magazine.

Christian churches are often seen as conservative and out of touch, but as anyone with a knowledge of church history knows, churches have always been at the cutting edge of innovation.

Many significant social movements for change had their roots in churches.  The Methodist Church  begun as an innovative movement within the establishment and it has been involved in social justice issues since the 18th century.

At Wesley Community Action we are continuing this tradition, looking for innovative ways to help bring about just and caring communities.

The need for innovation is clear and acute.  People with high levels of personal wealth are becoming wealthier, while people without capital and born into inter-generational hardship are being left further behind. This fuels complex responses reflected in rising levels of meth addition, poor physical and mental health and educational failure.

We need new ways of thinking

The existing ways of helping vulnerable people aren’t working. Simple charity may make the giver feel worthy – but too often it reinforces a sense of helplessness in the receiver.  The Good News is not about providing token help to people,  it’s about the transformation of individuals and society.

Bringing about this transformation requires new ways of thinking and new approaches. As we have found at Wesley Community Action, this work is frequently messy and challenging – but it is also very rewarding.

At the heart of our innovation work is the belief that the people experiencing hardship are the experts in their own lives. Their knowledge, insights and hard work have already resulted in a range of new community-led initiatives in the greater Wellington region. They include the Wellington Region Fruit and Vegetable Co-op which provides well-priced, good-quality fresh produce to people in 12 communities,  the Good Cents financial well-being course, community cooking classes and more recently, the Porirua Wealth Pool, a savings pool that helps people to save money rather than spend it.

To better support this new approach we are now setting up a Community Innovation Hub in Porirua.  We hope the hub will allow us to strengthen our existing community-led initiatives, and grow new ones in a more intentional way. It will also provide a base from which we can evaluate, measure and share knowledge with other organisations, so we have a clearer idea about what works – and what doesn’t.

Innovation part of everything we do

Innovation isn’t just limited to our community-led initiatives.  Wesley Community Action works hard to bring new approaches and ideas into our government contracts.  Our Elder Care Team, for example, is contracted by MSD to run the Elder Abuse Response Service in the greater Wellington region, and it is contracted by two DHBs to support vulnerable, isolated older people living at home.

The team is acutely aware of the significant challenge of an ageing population, and the inability of our current services to cope.  They work with other organisations and groups in the sector, sharing ideas and exploring new ways to better meet the growing need.  This includes a new ageing well network that aims to harness resources within communities to support older citizens.

Our Te Kānano team is contracted by Oranga Tamariki to run the Family Start programme in the Wellington region. In the last financial year they supported 275 whānau to give their tamariki the best possible start in life. They are constantly trying out new ways to help this group flourish, such as organising a group outing to Te Papa – something many of them had never done before. This work is beyond what the government contract requires, but we believe it is essential to help trigger that transformation for a good life.

Drawing on the pioneering work of our sister organisation Lifewise in Auckland, we are now running the Mana Whānau initiative in Porirua.  This collaborative approach is demonstrating that there are effective options to the State removing babies and children from whānau.  A joint evaluation is helping deepen the understanding of the changes taking place.

The Methodist Alliance provides a place for organisations to share and grow their innovative approaches – and to develop this innovative and disruptive strand of Methodism.

  • This article orginally appeared in the February issue of Touchstone magazine, published by the Methodist Church