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22 November 2013

Faith in the Community in Scotland

Faith in the Community in Scotland

We do a lot of work with guys who have drink problems, trying to keep them in their jobs. Often their employer will ring us up and say: "we've got Jimmy here who's a great painter but he never turns up on a Friday. We don't want to sack him because we see the impact on his family and the wider community and we know it will just make his problem worse. Can you help us out?"
Story from a participant at the Faith in the Community meeting in Inverness.

Last week saw the first Faith in the Community meetings take place with local authorities in Scotland. These meetings brought together representatives of churches and social welfare providers with Councillors and officials to map the local picture of what churches are doing in an area, look at gaps in local community provision, and discuss how churches and local authorities can best work together to see community transformation. It was clear from these first two meetings that this is an idea whose time has come.

The background to these conversations is fairly simple and well known. In the current public sector spending climate local authorities are struggling to cope. With increased pressures on services coupled with smaller budgets inevitably gaps arise and services get squeezed. And this is not a short term phenomenon. The Christie Commission into the future of Scottish public services has estimated that it will take until 2026 for public spending to recover to 2010 levels. By this time there will be a substantially older population and the resulting financial pressures that have not been seen since the creation of the welfare state. To borrow the recent quote, "there is no money left".

The Church has stepped into the gap in our communities, perhaps more visibly than for generations. The food banks are perhaps the best known example but there are many other activities going on day-in, day-out in our communities across Scotland. Last week we had representatives involved in Street Pastors, money advice, alcohol and drug rehabilitation work, employment support, community development and youth provision, all sharing how their work is transforming lives and communities across Scotland.

This conversation therefore needs to happen. And it is beginning to be recognised.The former head of the Scottish civil service has coined the term "the enabling state" in recognition that government can no longer be provider of services, but rather an enabler of communities. And as a current civil servant told me recently, "we recognise we will need churches and faith groups more in the future, not less."

Faith in the Community is that tool for conversation.It recognises the good work already existing, is honest about the challenges we face and points a way forward to enable churches to be agents of community transformation. On the basis of last week's meetings, it is clearly a vision whose time has come.

If you are interested in arranging a local Faith in the Community meeting with your local authority in Scotland please contact Kieran at k.turner@eauk.org or the Evangelical Alliance Scotland office on 0141 548 1555. For the rest of the UK please contact Danny at d.webster@eauk.org.

Kieran Turner, public policy, Evangelical Alliance Scotland.

Read more about the Faith in the Community report launched in June 2013, based on a survey of 155 local authorities.