Faith: the golden thread in society #MyManifesto

I was invited to a local community group last week. I spent time talking to a mixed group of people, ranging from an older man who suffered from schizophrenia to a 15-year-old school refuser (let’s call him Tommy) both of whom had discovered a sense of belonging and purpose through the group.

In conversation with one of the volunteer helpers, Shirley, I discovered she was a person of faith. “Why do you do this?”, I asked. “I want to rebuild this community,” she said, “the heart’s been lost – and how else will Tommy ever make something of himself?” As I left, I thanked the organiser for inviting me. “I couldn’t do this without Shirley”, she whispered. “Why?”, I asked. “Well, Tommy has agreed to do a cadets course – it’s every day. Shirley and her husband pick him up every morning and take him there, then collect him when it finishes. He wouldn’t go otherwise.” …

This week is Inter Faith Week, a week that is aimed at strengthening good inter-faith relations, increasing awareness of the different and distinct faith communities in the UK, and increasing understanding between people of religious and non-religious beliefs.

Here at FaithAction, as the name suggests, our emphasis is on action. People of faith and faith-based communities or organisations the length and breadth of the nation do some incredible things. Regardless of their faith heritage, they fill the gaps in services, look out for their neighbours, provide spaces where community is built, and are first in and last out at times of crisis. After Grenfell: the Faith Groups’ Response, a report by think tank, Theos, draws attention to this, observing “A range of witnesses testify to the lively presence of faith in the community, and offer invaluable insights into qualities of engagement and service that began long before the disaster, and will continue into the future.”

And that’s what faith does. It inspires and motivates people to do things that support and empower others, even if the ‘others’ don’t appear to deserve it – like Shirley with Tommy.

Different faiths won’t ever agree on points of theology, but what people of faith do agree on is the need to provide for those who are vulnerable or in need in society. From the Muslim tradition of zakat which focuses on contributing to society for the benefit of all, to the Sikh langar community kitchen in a Gurdwara, where a free meal is served to all visitors without distinction, or the daana practice of cultivating generosity to individuals in distress or need, or public projects that empower and help in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, Jewish tzedakah – giving to people in need – and Christianity’s instruction to give alms – do good for others (whether materially or in kind) in secret, so that only God sees – one of the core values of people of faith is to do. To act. To look out for others apart from oneself.

This Inter Faith Week, let’s focus on the good that people of faith and faith-based organisations do. Let’s celebrate, highlight, and draw attention to the positive contribution that faith makes in every strata of society. And let’s help Government to recognise that faith is too significant to ignore.