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Archbishop - 'Inter Faith Week is about the celebration of resources'

The Archbishop of Canterbury addresses the assembly

Monday 16th November 2009

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, gives his opening address to the faith leaders and Trustees of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, for the Inter Faith Week launch.

Click on the right to listen to the Archbishop's address

Full text of the Archbishop's address

Welcome everyone, it's a very great pleasure to be able to have so wide and distinguished a gathering on this occasion. I'm very glad that the trustees of the Inter Faith Network of the United Kingdom are here; very glad that so many members of the religious leadership of various communities have been able to join us today, and I would also like to acknowledge the presence of the Secretary of State – it's a particular pleasure that he's been able to be with us on this occasion.

And that gives me an opportunity also to acknowledge the contribution made last week by the launch of the DCLG (Department for Communities and Local Government) of Inter faith week on 12th November. Some of you will have been there, many of you will have seen reports in the press about it and I think that those who've studied what John Denham had to say about the occasion - well there has been a real and creative shift in the approach of government to faith communities, represented by that address.

If I may put it in these terms: one of the challenges in recent years has been to see if we can, corporately - as a society, as a nation – move from regarding faith communities as a problem to regarding them as a resource and an asset. That, I take it, is the great part of what this Inter Faith Week is about: about the celebration of resources. We're all aware that this is a society quite deeply in need in various ways. It's a society which still knows realities of material poverty and inequality, also a society that knows the reality of spiritual confusion and the sense of a vacuum in some of our public life. That we shall all be able to recognise together the need for an exercise in deepening our understanding of human needs and human possibilities is a very great step forward.

I think those who are most concerned about the future of our society are increasingly coming to a kind of convergence around this insight. We cannot solve our problems simply by an attitude dictated by problem solving. We need a more three-dimensional approach. We need something deeper. We need to believe and to see more in human beings than just the solving of problems and the meeting of needs.

So, that is one reason why this week is timely, why the initiatives of government has taken have been welcome and why it is such a very great pleasure that you're all able to be part of this event today. We're celebrating the breadth and the depth of the involvement of the communities of faith across the country in all sorts of events and initiatives directed towards the lasting - pardon the jargon word - "sustainable" health of who we are corporately in this country. The witness and the work of people of religious conviction is deeply embedded in a great deal of what makes this a liveable place. Earlier this morning I found myself addressing a conference organised by the TUC on the ethical framework of economic decision-making - never a dull moment in an Archbishop's life I can tell you! - and one of the things I attempted to set out there was the need for our economic life to be framed by certain convictions about what three-dimensional humanity looked like. Because so often, an economically dominated discourse can lead us to a shrunken view of humanity. We've learned that the hard way in the last year or so. And here we are, as a group of people, committed - I believe - to that three-dimensional depth of the human reality; the human reality which grows into what it's meant to be – in mutual relation in relation to the infinite.

Across the country, temples, mosques, churches and synagogues are part of what makes this country what I called earlier this morning - a "habitable environment", a habitat for humanity - to coin a phrase - and to borrow an idea shamelessly from the Chief Rabbi!. We are all involved in building a home to last for ourselves, a home we can share. And in that work, the long reach, the long term commitment of religious people and their communities is more and more obviously indispensable. It's very good that we've moved on from simply seeing the relation of public bodies to faith communities as one of nervousness, damage limitation and a general sense that this is not quite the main stream. Actually, as I've said many times in the past couple of years, people of faith are not exotic, they are neighbours. They are us. The more we learn that faith is routine – I'm tempted to say "unexcitingly"- routine for a lot of people - I wish it were rather more exciting, but it is routine and simply part of how they live their humanity and shape their values. That's who we are: not an embarrassing fringe; not an exotic tolerated minority, but the solid fabric of British society. This event symbolises the continuing commitment of all our communities to the well-being of our country and - I think it's fair to say - the well-being of each other, because part of the function of our Inter Faith Networks is to express our commitment to be there for one another. It's been said often enough in recent years but it's worth repeating: when any one community in this country is threatened or at risk, we should all be there alongside. And we've made a number of public commitments about that which I think are essential for our corporate health.

Our well-being depends on one another within this family of faiths, just as we depend on one another in the family of our society. So we express that commitment to a healthy, a sustainable, a three-dimensional and human society and we express once again our deep commitment to one-another's well-being; one-another's liberty; one-another's dignity. We express our commitment to allow voices to be heard across the diversity of this family within the diversity of our society. And we're celebrating of course, among other things, the Millennium Act of Commitment which was signed by a number of faith leaders nearly 10 years ago. In the light of that commitment to the wider society, it seemed right that I should be in contact with Her Majesty The Queen about this meeting to let her know of the commitments we wanted to express, and later in this event I'll have the privilege of reading a personal message from Her Majesty to this assembly.

As I've said, we have a wonderful variety of people here and we will be addressed by some of the most familiar and beloved and distinguished of our leadership among the faith communities. So, I won't take up your time any longer, but simply say once again thank you to all of you for being here from all these organisations and communities; thank you for the commitment you to continue to show to one another as well as to our national community. And I'm going to invite first of all Dr Indarjit Singh CBE, Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations and Vice-Chair, Inter Faith Network for the UK to speak, followed by Lord Sacks of Aldgate, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Great Britain and the Commonwealth. I'm congratulating him -if I may - yet again on his peerage - long awaited, expected and much celebrated by all of us.

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