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ARC Home > News and Resources > News archive:

From Princes to Paupers: the Story of ARC.

February 9 2005:

"It was the model of social action in the Church that inspired [the Mongolians] to rebuild."

Prince Philip describes the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC) as the charity that doesn’t exist. Martin Palmer, ARC’s secretary general, wants it to be disbanded within 10 years. SIMON PARKIN of the Christian Herald. explores the paradoxes that make up one of Britain’s most enigmatic and unrecognised charities.

“ARC will only be working properly if most people haven’t heard of it.” It’s an extraordinary standpoint in a world where charities increasingly have to employ complext marketing trickery for a modern media-manipulated impact.

Q: So, in ARC's experience, how has it been possible for so many diverse religions and theological perpsectives to stand and work together with one international charity?
"Because we ask them to be true to their own beliefs and we do not ask them to accept anything beyond that but to honour that of faithfulness in others. When we started ARC we asked each faith and each tradition to 'come proud of what you believe but humble enough to listen to others.' That stands and it has proved to be remarkably successful.
But Prince Philip’s assertion is indicative of a charity whose emphasis lies in understated matchmaking partnerships rather than fundraising drives. Aside from Prince Philip, the founder of ARC, there are some extremely high profile associations involved and, at a recent meeting in central London, such luminaries as Richard Chatres, Bishop of London, Richard Scobey head of the environment programme on Africa for the World Bank and His Excellency Mr Enkhbayar former Prime Minister of Mongolia were all in attendance. But if such high-profile movers and shakers subscribe to ARC’s mission statement, why is brand awareness negligeable and what exactly is it all about?

“The key to ARC’s success is that we are not an interfaith body: we don’t bring faiths together, explains Martin Palmer, ARC’s secretary general. “Rather we bring individual faith groups together with secular bodies. They are frankly not that interested in faith-to-aith meeting. But they are interested in talking and then working with key secular organisations which are having an impact on the world. The secular bodies have also long wanted to talk to the faiths but didn’t know how to, whom to contact, how many faiths to work with, nor what language even to use! That is why ARC exists.”

So ARC exists as an intermediary – an organisation to put big businesses wanting to give large sums to improve desperate environmental and social situations around the world in contact with faith groups already at work in those situations. Perhaps the best way to describe their role is as ‘matchmaker’? “Matchmaker or broker” agrees Martin. “I think I like your image even better!” Yes, we enable worlds that don’t know how to talk or meet to do so, but we also set expectations that this is not a talking shop but a place from which commitments will come and do come.”

"The fact that the Church owns some 48 percent of Lebanon also means it is worth all our while to develop projects with them"
Martin explains how the charity has evolved: "We betan with WWF International as a direct result of HRH The Prince Philip's interest. From this we then expanded out to other conservation bodies and also attracted the interest of the BBC. Then in 1995 when we decided to launch ARC we asked the faiths what issues they would most like to explore with a secular body. Economics was the top of the list and so we went directly to the World Bank (introduced by various key secular bodies like WWF) and got them involved. It has been a long, slow and difficult process but now we are really working side by side as partners."

Working with different faiths must surely throw up some conflicts and possibly even abstentions from more orthadox conservative groups. How does ARC deal with those?

"ARC doesn't do much that is interfaith with te exception of occasional major events and the International Interfaith Investment Group (3iG) process. We tend to work unilaterally with a specific faith tradition developing the particular strengths and insights that they have. Sometimes we will put them in touch with other traditions within their own faith or even broader to other faiths.

But ARC's strategy is to develop projects that make sense of the specific insights, land holdings, traditions and beliefs of specific groups. For example in Lebanon we have a major series of projects with the Maronite Church. This has been developed by building upon traditional sacred sites - the Holy Forest of Harissa, site of the statue of Our Lady of Lebanon - and on Maronite theology rooted in the hermit life of St Maron himself. The fact that the Church owns some 48 percent of Lebanon also means it is worth all our while to develop projects with them.

In the case of Africa the same principle applies, though we have been clear from the beginning that we are also working with the mosques. The Muslim leader who joined us at the Christian leaders' meeting last week spoke about the fact that the model of the churches' involvement is what is inspiring the mosques in Africa and this was echoed by the Mongolian Buddhist who attended (as our International President) who said that when Mongolian Buddhism re-emerged after 70 years of Communist prosecution it was the model of social action and spiritual life in the church that inspired them to rebuild as they have."


SIMON PARKIN is a journalist working with CMC/CPO. This article is reproduced with kind permission of the Christian Herald. It first appeared in the Christian Herald on January 8 2005, p4.

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