The Church and Social Responsibility

The cataloguing of a large and important collection of records created by the Board for Social Responsibility (BSR) is close to completion. Work on the collection, held at the Church of England Record Centre, is being completed as part of a 16-month project, funded by the National Cataloguing Grants Programme, which will also see the equally substantial and varied collection of the Board of Mission and Unity made widely available to the public for the first time.

Ethics in Industrial Relations -published by the BSR in 1981
Ethics in Industrial Relations -published by the BSR in 1981

Established in 1958 as an Advisory Committee to the Church Assembly (later General Synod), BSR was an amalgamation of two earlier central Church bodies – the Church of England Moral Welfare Council and the Social and Industrial Council. Taking over and expanding on the work of these bodies, the Board sought ‘to promote and co-ordinate the thought and action of Church in matters affecting family, social and industrial life’.

The work of the Board was dictated either by outside requests (from Synod, individual Churchmen, Government departments) or its committees deciding that a particular task should be undertaken. Tasks falling under the remit of BSR included: advising clergy and laity at parish level on matters of social responsibility; accepting requests to provide evidence to central Government, Royal Commissions, departmental and Select Committees; writing reports on issues and briefs for bishops involved with debates in the House of Lords; represent the CofE on external bodies – the BCC for example, and encouraging national and international links thereby helping the Church fulfil its pastoral mission.

The Board was also expected to inform those within the Church wishing to speak on a wide variety of social issues, resulting in an array of subjects appearing on the BSR radar, including: alleged human rights infringements at home or abroad; political and social unrest in South Africa; the accumulation of nuclear weapons and the threat to peace by the ‘Arms Race’; rising unemployment and concurrent decline in traditional industries, such as mining and steel working; the growth of multinational organisations; and the complex and varied anxieties faced by the family in modern society.

Many of the more in-depth BSR investigations were completed by Working Parties comprised of experts drawn from both within and outside of the Church. Generally headed by the BSR Secretary (or a Secretary of a BSR sub-Committee) and convening over a defined period, discussion would focus on material (reports, articles, publications) presented to the party members which offered a range of arguments and viewpoints. Conclusions would be drawn, and, generally, a report of the findings presented to Synod and published.

The focal point for BSR activities was the Secretary, and it was he, supported by the Secretaries of the internal Standing Committees of BSR – Social Policy Committee, Industrial Committee and International Affairs Committee, who would create what became known as ‘resource files’. It is these files, and those created by the Working Parties noted above, which form the core of the collection. Varied in size and content, the files generally contain correspondence, reports from external bodies relating to the specific subject, and all manner of booklets, publications and pamphlets sourced by the Secretary to offer a range of perspectives on the particular subject.

Work with the collection has progressed well, and since February around 500 boxes of BSR material have been appraised, re-packaged when necessary, and catalogued into CALM – the Lambeth Palace/Church of England Record Centre electronic catalogue. A completion date of late November has been set.  Once complete, then work will begin on the 600 or so boxes of material in the Board of Mission and Unity collection with a completion date for that collection of summer 2015.

To view the collection click here.


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