10 June 2013
What have Christians ever done for us?
One hundred and fifty local authorities have given fresh insight into what exactly Christians contribute to their communities. The findings are revealed in the new report, Faith in the Community.
Local authorities report how faith organisations are vital to them doing their job. They commended their 'cradle to grave' service, the value of faith groups being deeply rooted in their communities and that they can be trusted to deliver vital work.
The fact that they are faith groups, rather than just a collection of volunteers, matters too. Local authorities recognise that their beliefs motivate Christians to act for the good of their communities.
But there's room for improvement. Some authorities don't know how much community work faith groups do – estimates varied from one to 70 per cent. And there are myths about working in partnership, which made some local authorities hesitant to work with faith groups. But it appears that misunderstandings of faith groups could be rectified through training. There were also indications that the bureaucratic hurdles some groups have to jump through to partner with their council are a big turn off, and this can undermine the benefits faith groups offer.
So what exactly are faith groups doing in their communities?
Dog training to anger management courses - the range of services that faith groups provide is vast.But debt crisis agencies, street pastors and food banks were the most readily recognised by councils. Abandoned services such as libraries and post offices were sometimes taken over by churches.
Gary Streeter, Conservative MP for South West Devon, Chair of Christians in Parliament, which commissioned the report, said: "Local authorities will have less money and more demands in the years to come. Faith groups are not here to plug a gap, or pretend to be part of the state, but they are vital to the life of our communities. Churches and other groups stand on the side of the poorest and most vulnerable, they get started before funding bids are accepted, and they stick around after they are cancelled.
"The Faith in the Community report demonstrates the vibrant and essential work of faith groups, and both local and national government need to pay attention and move on from warm platitudes to supporting practical partnerships that will make a difference to all of our neighbourhoods."
Dr Dave Landrum, director of advocacy at the Evangelical Alliance - which produced the report for Christians in Parliament - commented: "Local authorities and churches clearly take seriously their responsibility to serve their communities. This report shows that despite obstacles it is possible to work together for the good of all – indeed it shows that many of the things that limit partnership are more based on perception than reality. These myths need to be exposed and the report shows that partnership is not only possible but preferable.
"Christians are already doing a huge amount of great work in every city, town and village across the UK. The sheer depth and scope of that work is astonishing and I hope this report will encourage an increase in this essential work in the years ahead."
Comments from some of the local authorities:
- Doncaster Council said: "One of the aims of most faith groups is to provide support to champion and meet the needs of vulnerable people in the local community. We are all called to serve the people. The fact is that by working together with faith groups we can do and achieve more. Faith groups often stand on the side of the hungry and poor and provide support for those who are grieving."
- South Norfolk Council said: "A recent issue has arisen that a charity (for the homeless) has been unavailable to provide the service that they are volunteering for because they are too busy at church-related meetings, meaning the money being spent on recruiting and training hosts has been wasted."
- North Yorkshire Council said: "There is a perceived fear within parts of the public sector, public and media that faith groups will seek to use public sector funded service delivery as a means of increasing the number of followers of that faith group and/or seek to discriminate on the basis of a users' faith. There is a perceived fear within faith groups that local authorities won't work with faith groups. Generally, all of these perceptions are false or can be overcome through discussion and better understanding of each other."
- London Borough of Kensington and Chelsea said: "Local authorities may also need to be mindful of any religious views that could cause discrimination of service users, for example faith groups that are opposed to homosexuality."
The report is available at www.eauk.org/faithinthecommunity
Andrew Green - email@example.com
020 7520 3853 or 07734 194 445
Notes to Editors
Christians in Parliament
Christians in Parliament is an all-party group of MPs, Peers and staff working in the Palace of Westminster, and exists as an umbrella organisation for the diverse expression of the Christian faith in Parliament.
The Evangelical Alliance
We are the largest and oldest body representing the UK's two million evangelical Christians. For more than 165 years, we have been bringing Christians together and helping them listen to, and be heard by, the government, media and society. We're here to connect people for a shared mission, whether it's celebrating the Bible, making a difference in our communities or lobbying the government for a better society. From Skye to Southampton, from Coleraine to Cardiff, we work across 79 denominations, 3,500 churches, 750 organisations and thousands of individual members. And we're not just uniting Christians within the UK – we are a founding member of the World Evangelical Alliance, a global network of more than 600 million evangelical Christians. For more information, go to www.eauk.org