Presentation to the 81st AGM of IofC UK

By Gerald J Pillay

Gerald J Pillay

Gerald J Pillay

A statement made by Gerald Pillay, President of Initiatives of Change International, to members of the Oxford Group at the 81st AGM.

My dear colleagues

I am delighted to be able to say a few words to you early on in my tenure – in fact, after just five weeks in this role.  Thank you, Margaret, for your kind invitation.

I am mindful that this is the 81st annual general meeting of the Oxford Group, which means that you have been meeting almost since IofC, as we know it today, began.  Eighty-one years ago we hadn’t yet emerged from the war but the unsettled times in which moral re-armament was born made its focus extremely clear in the context of re-establishing some sense of normality after the dreadful years of strife that decimated Europe. MRA’s insistence on not just the rearming to prevent war, but morally rearming to build a better society, was a grand foundational vision; its work of healing between nations and between peoples in conflict was clear for all to see. Our task, all these decades later, is again brought into sharp relief as we emerge out of a global pandemic that has affected the entire world in a way that even the great wars did not.  All our institutions and businesses everywhere were brought to a standstill. We are now living in a time of building back safely and restoring some sense of normality to public life and to ordinary work.

It is very clear that the challenges in the public square resonate with our founding vision of restoring not just some sense of normality but restoring integrity and wholeness to a world that seems strangely ‘out of joint’ and fractured.  Our leaders fail us, and our trusted institutions have lost their place in the public square.  Not just the churches and religious bodies but also the voluntary societies are deeply concerned about their futures. Richard Neuhaus wrote a perceptive book called the Naked Public Square in the 1980s in which he showed how secularist and separatist thinking has eviscerated public life of religion and faith. Their place is filled by lobbyists, think-tanks and consultants, committed to the language of efficiency and ideological interventions of all kinds. The ‘efficient society’ replaces the ‘moral society’ – in fact, morality is now ‘old fashioned.’

Those of us in the UK have been increasingly unsettled by the goings-on in government. The new word to describe licentious individualism and political self-indulgence is ‘Trumpian’, a new word that seems self-explanatory when you say it.  We have seen the polarisations in our society between left and right and the intolerance and coarseness in the way our leaders speak and behave.

Part of the problem is the evidently accepted view that one’s public or professional commitment to truth, honesty and integrity doesn’t necessarily have to reflect in one’s private commitment to these values.  That is the nub of the problem. One can’t live out publically what one is not privately or personally committed to – that is something that IofC has always considered foundational:  we cite the words of Gandhi – ‘we must be the change we seek in the world’.  A movement like ours that emphasises the four absolutes -honesty, unselfishness, purity and love – is now more needed than it has ever been, not just within national politics, but across the globe. We are interconnected now in ways our founders could not have imagined 90 years ago.

Having taken up this role at the beginning of January one of the first things we did in the International Council was to revisit the Constitution of IofC that was put together very carefully and, may I say, wisely. I shared with the Chairs of IofC members last Saturday the importance of the Preamble which sets the tone for the four key strands of our IofC work:

“IofC focuses on the vital link between personal change and global change, and aims to inspire, support and equip people to play their part in building a better society.”

This is how the “Approach” is stated:

“Recognising that it will take more than human reason and ability to solve the problems of the world, IofC places the search for inner wisdom at the heart of its approach. When people listen to what is deepest in their hearts, insights often come which lead in unexpected directions. Many understand this experience as guidance from God, others as the leading of conscience or the inner voice. The regular practice of silence can give access to a source of truth, renewal, inspiration and empowerment.

  • Start with oneself: Of these, IofC singles out absolute honesty, unselfishness, love and purity of heart and action as practical tests for motives and daily actions.
  • Listen to others: These enable healing, partnership and common action.
  • Take focused action: IofC’s people and programmes seek to strengthen the moral and spiritual foundations of society and to (and here are the four strands)
    1. bring healing and reconciliation where there is conflict.
    2. build bridges of trust between different communities and countries.
    3. embed ethics, justice and transparency in the global economy.
    4. empower leadership to act with integrity, serve unselfishly and be effective agents of change.”

It is very clear that Frank Buchman’s vision from the very beginning was ‘to change the world.’ After our strong individual leaders passed on, precipitated by local tax and employment laws and the dwindling of numbers who were full-time volunteers, national bodies took more defined shape. But the global vision remained and to affirm that commitment the IofC established the International Association (IA) to represent the ‘whole IofC family’ and the International Council to help build from the various national members and transcultural programmes a global, collaborative framework.

The IC’s role is clearly stated in the constitution to be the facilitator and conduit to help shape that global face. It is not a superstructure or another bureaucracy – its role is stated thus:

“The International Council will provide leadership to IofC International in agreement with the goals of the Association and the directives of the Global Assembly, and in particular:

  • build and facilitate partnerships across IofC.
  • develop, coordinate, manage and evaluate transnational programmes of action that serve IofC’s vision and strategies in addressing world needs.
  • articulate IofC’s message and get it into the public domain, while also building effective communications within the network.
  • empower people as agents of change and build leadership capacity through carefully designed and supervised training and development.
  • search for resources and funds to meet IofC’s needs.
  • design and manage collaborative actions with other agencies.
  • ensure the management and see to the practical running of the International Association (see Article 17, “Powers and Duties of the International Council”).

The IofC International is not merely a conglomeration of national entities and national interests as important as these are. If the IofC is well focused and faithful to these stated objectives, it will be greater than the sum of its parts.

May I place on record the thanks and gratitude of the IA and the IC to IofC UK. You are still our biggest supporter financially and, indeed, I have had the benefit of talking with your Chair, Margaret Cosens, on more than one occasion in these four weeks and expressed our thanks. Margaret herself has clearly articulated the UK’s understanding of its global responsibility. The Trusts in your care were always intended for the global mission as well. We are indeed grateful for your faithfulness in this regard.

There is much to do. The IC has its work cut out and that work is clearly defined in the constitution. For us to maintain a healthy global vision we need all our members to come together in this common cause; for the strong through the IC to help the weaker. If all our members are strong, then IofC International will be strong and vice versa.

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