Welcomed by David Singleton, the National Executive Director of Faith Action, Clare (our Communications and Media Officer) and I, slightly awestruck by the beautiful conference room in Church House, Westminster, began a day of asking and answering the question ‘Is faith too significant to ignore?’
Faith Action is a network of faith based and community organizations serving their communities by delivering services such as childcare, health and social care, housing and welfare to work. Faith action is an organization which supports, and is supported and run by, people of many different faiths – there were delegates at the conference from the Bangladeshi Women’s Association, Jewish Care, The Salvation Army and many others, including CSAN member organization Irish Chaplaincy.
One of the first to speak was the Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Shadow Minister of State Employment and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society. Stephen Timms argued that it is faith groups have the capacity and the resources to really make a difference to the lives of the most disadvantaged in the UK. However, Timms explained that there are many people who feel uncomfortable with faith groups as they expect evangelization and exclusivity, whereas in reality faith is one of the greatest motivators for social action, not evangelization, and therefore faith groups provide need where it is greatest. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Faith and Society has developed a covenant for faith groups and local authorities to sign; the covenant is a joint commitment between faith communities and local authorities to a set of principles meaning that local authorities are confident in using faith groups as providers and advocates. The idea is that is covenant can be adopted by local authorities and faith based organization across the country so to unlock the potential of faith groups, aiming to remove some of the mistrust that exists and to promote open, practical working.
Laura Marks, founder and chair of Mitzvah Day gave an interesting talk explaining the significance of Mitzvah day, a Jewish festival devoted to giving a day in the service of others. However, Laura emphasized that it is not simply about the one day a year, but that the initiative is to do something in that day which can then continue throughout the year. Mitzvah day is a day to celebrate social action and to bring people, of all faiths, together in their fight against poverty and oppression.
In the afternoon, after a number of seminars including those on whether faith is good for mental health and how to take faith into the public square, the theme of the discussion turned to that between faith and politics. A particularly encouraging and dynamic talk came from Labour MP for Dagenham and Rainham, Jon Cruddas. Mr Cruddas’s speech focused on the sense of common good and a shared life and duty to others that is central to all faiths and, what he believes, should now become the centre ground for politics and all social action. The climax of his speech was the assertion that to be truly radical in the current climate is to make hope possible rather than despair convincing, painting the future for our national story a picture of shared humanity.
The day ended with a panel discussion – the panel was asked exactly why, for them, faith was too significant to ignore. The members of the panel described the power of faith to give personal, community and national resilience, the ability of faith organizations to identify and respond to need fastest, the motivation that faith gives people in their very core, the influence of faith beyond its own members and the truth that it is faith that people turn to in times of the most desperate need.
Through the day it was emphasized that faith groups have resources, they have volunteers and they have skills to tackle poverty and injustice. However, it is motivation and resilience that faith truly gives people to promote human dignity and create a world of shared humanity and a sense of common good that means it is, most definitely, far too significant to ignore.
Author: Amy Pether, Network Researcher