25 October 2012
Positive engagement with the public sector
This month, the Alliance in Wales and Gweini organised two separate events to meet with 40 Christian leaders from both north and south Wales. The reason for holding the meetings was to hear directly from those involved in community based projects, to hear first-hand their current experiences across a range of issues. The need for such meetings initially arose out of conversations in which concerns were raised that some Christian organisations were possibly being discriminated against in applying for funding. Along with this, it was also felt important to listen to current experiences regarding the use of non-Christian volunteers and trustees in Christian projects.These meetings were therefore designed to provide a snapshot of the present landscape in Wales for Christian community projects and would be part of an ongoing conversation with our members.
It must be remembered that the current trend for evangelicals to be involved in community work is a relatively new phenomenon. Historically the evangelical movement was at the forefront of social change in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, birthing such organisations as the Salvation Army and the YMCA but, for complex reasons, it withdrew from such engagement in the early part of the twentieth century. We mustn't assume that present-day Christian engagement will necessarily mirror that of previous centuries and there will be new lessons to be learned.
The most interesting finding from the meetings was that Christians by and large are currently enjoying positive – and sometimes excellent - relationships with local councils in Wales. The hard work done by individual Christian leaders along with church projects making a lasting impression with their consistency and quality are major contributing factors to this success. These relationships with the local council are even more important than a church's relationship with the Welsh Government as it is the local council that will be delivering most if not all the services of most relevance to the local church. The recent Clearing the Ground enquiry also confirmed the positive role that Gweini has played in facilitating these relationships.
Two Christians in the meetings went on to say that they had been approached by grant funders to apply for funding for their projects. This, like the relationship with local councils, is significant and challenges the mindset that Christians are being increasingly marginalised in the UK today. While discrimination undoubtedly does occur, so does favour and blessing and we need to recognise when this happens otherwise we will paint a picture of current Christian engagement that is not fair or accurate.
There is every indication that such engagement will continue as well. Gweini has arranged a meeting in November, for example, in which the Welsh Government and the Welsh Local Government Association have agreed to meet, for the first time, the collective grouping of the Welsh representatives of food banks, CAP and Street Pastors.