Faith Communities in the 'Big Society'
Friday 16th July 2010Together with the Chief Rabbi and Archbishop of Westminster and leaders of other faiths, the Archbishop of Canterbury yesterday hosted a discussion with the Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, and the Minister for Decentralisation, Greg Clark on the government's new scheme.
In the course of the very constructive and positive discussion which focussed on the government's approach to the 'Big Society', participants shared their optimism about the sense of a 'new moment' arising from the government's willingness to see Church and faith communities as providing a model to be appreciated, rather than as a group to be shaped by government. The approach is one of co-operation rather than co-option.
As one contributor said, "churches and faith communities have a great deal to offer to this society and to the common good. In addition to a vast network of volunteering, they offer the wisdom of tradition and scripture, a lived understanding of community and the rewards of friendship across boundaries. All these are needed in times of uncertainty but perhaps are not always valued as they should be. People of faith want to share these gifts with the wider community and hope the government is also interested in helping us to share what we have to offer for the common good and the widest possible benefit."
In the discussion current serious challenges were recognised, particularly those arising from policies to reduce the public finance deficit which will affect vulnerable groups and initiatives. Four areas of focus for faith communities were recognised: disaffected youth; micro finance initiatives, governance and leadership and care of the elderly - and there was concern sudden withdrawal or collapse in funding could have negative consequences on current work, care was needed to prevent damage which would be hard to repair.
Overall there was a sense of real encouragement amongst participants that the government had chosen to take an approach that recognized the value of the harmony of many voices, rather than that of a single tune or drumbeat emanating from government – that they were willing to engage with the faith communities, recognizing that they play crucial part in building a 'Big Society'.
The Secretary of State Eric Pickles said:
"We see the Big Society as a very practical way to put people in control of the decisions that affect them and to encourage everyone to take an active part in civic life.
"For years, faith communities have been quietly making a huge difference day-in and day-out, to every single neighbourhood in the country - something that has not been sufficiently recognised by central Government. Today has been an opportunity to do so and to explore how, in realising our ambitions for a Big Society, we can together build on the huge amount of experience faith groups have in getting out into the community.
"Some see religion as a problem that needs to be solved. The new Government sees it as part of the solution. I want to send an important signal that we value the role of religion and faith in public life. The days of the state trying to suppress Christianity and other faiths are over."