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Building Back Better: FaithAction’s Conference

On 26th November, FaithAction hosted an inspiring three-part conference, Building Back Better. It examined the themes of faith and social cohesion, the role of faith during the current crisis and looked forward to the role of faith in the future.

In the first session, Madeleine Pennington, Head of Research at Theos, launched the Free Churches Group report on The Church and Social Cohesion, identifying assets such as volunteers, social networks and convening power, and highlighting that churches full potential is best realised when distinctive assets and motivations are recognised. This led to an interesting panel of reflections from Rev Dr Joel Edwards, formerly of the Evangelical Alliance, Manmit Bhambra of the London School of Economics, and Rev Dr Hugh Osgood of the Free Churches Group, hosted by Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP.

The second part of the conference focussed on the response of faith to the pandemic. The panels shared examples of a common willingness to serve the community across faiths. Colin Bloom, Faith Engagement Advisor from the Ministry of Housing Communities and Local Government encouraged delegates by stating: “We have been bowled over by the sensitive, careful, generous and gracious way that faith communities have responded to Covid-19.”

This sentiment was echoed in a statement by Lord Stephen Greenhalgh, Minister for Faith who said: “I have been inspired and impressed by the way in which faith communities have supported some of the most vulnerable, be it through food banks at churches, Langar at gurdwaras, Mitzvah Day activities at synagogues, or the myriad of other social action activities people of faith undertake daily to help us combat the virus.”

According to Prof. Chris Baker, Faiths and Civil Society Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London, 91% of local authorities described the experience of working with faith groups as positive or very positive during the pandemic.

The conversation continued for many at our virtual reception after the event. Attendees were split into breakout groups and it was inspiring to hear conference participants share the work their organisations had been involved with the length and breadth of the UK.

The third session looked to the future. Thought-provoking contributors included Dr David Landrum of the Evangelical Alliance who warned that the pandemic is only the prelude to a much longer economic crisis but encouraged us that “faith communities have the connectivity and creativity for the proactive work and the strategic economic regeneration that will be needed”.

Dr Jagbir Jhutti-Johal OBE, University of Birmingham, noted that “religious communities have to be integral to create a truly equitable society” and Dr Salman Waqar, University of Oxford, considered faith as the only “unprotected protected characteristic”.

This conference marks the start of an important conversation about what ‘building back better’ looks like, as we progress towards a ‘new deal’ for faith. We look forward to you joining us as we consider these issues in more depth in future events.

To watch recordings of all the presentations from the conference, see the FaithAction website.

About Dr Anne Smith

Creative English Lead Trainer

Dr Anne Smith is the Lead Trainer and Founder of the Creative English programme. In this role, she writes session plans and materials, trains facilitators and supports those delivering Creative English. She is responsible for developments of the Creative English programme, including variations to support Health Professionals and Creative English: Family Learning.