Lord Stephen Greenhalgh was appointed Minister for Faith on the eve of the initial lockdown in March 2020. One year on, Daniel wanted to ask Lord Greenhalgh what his first year as Minister has been like: what lessons he has learnt, what has surprised him most, and what role his own personal faith has played throughout the crisis. The Minister also wanted to take this opportunity to celebrate the way in which faith communities across the board have stepped up in response to the crisis, and share his thinking on the role faith might play in Britain during the rebuild and beyond.
Lord Greenhalgh was unable to speak at FaithAction’s Building Back Better conference in November 2020 but instead submitted this statement.
This year has been a challenging one for all of us, in lots of different ways. As I came into this position, I became sick with COVID myself, and I very tragically lost my mother to the virus. I know how difficult it has been for families who have been hit by the pandemic. I also know how challenging it has been for communities to respond to rapidly changing restrictions, many of which have meant marking significant occasions or festivals without loved ones or separated from our communities. These restrictions have been necessary to protect public health, and we keep them under continuous review. It has been a tricky balance to keep people as safe as possible, but also provide support to ensure that everyday life goes on.
I am proud to have been appointed Faith Minister during one of the most challenging periods in our history, for our society in general but – with the recent necessary restrictions on communal worship – particularly for faith communities. I have been struck by the ability of our faith communities to adapt and respond both efficiently and compassionately throughout the pandemic. I have been inspired and impressed by the way in which communities have supported some of the most vulnerable, be it through foodbanks at churches, Langar at gurdwaras, Mitzvah Day activities in synagogues, or the myriad other social action activities people of faith undertake daily to help us combat the virus.
I continue to be grateful for the good humour and grace of faith communities throughout my time as Faith Minister which has made my job much easier and much more enjoyable. As a man of faith myself, I know how invaluable belief is to people. I understand personally the immeasurable benefit that faith communities provide to our society as a whole. I would like to say a special thank you to Daniel Singleton and the team at FaithAction, and to members of the Places of Worship Taskforce; many of whom, I know, are attending the conference today. Without your support our response to the pandemic would have been much less effective.
I am very interested in the recent review by Danny Kruger MP in the response to the pandemic where he suggests a ‘New Deal with Faith Communities’, and I invite you to share views on this. I want to unleash the best of faith groups, by removing barriers to action. My vision is for a partnership of faith communities and government to build a society that is better for everyone, supports the most vulnerable, and tackles the drivers of inequality and division.
My very best wishes to you all.
Lord Greenhalgh was appointed a Minister of State jointly at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) and the Home Office in March 2020. In his capacity as Minister for Faith, he has been primarily responsible for engaging with faith communities throughout the pandemic, which has included chairing the Places of Worship Taskforce and hosting regular roundtables with faith leaders. Lord Greenhalgh also welcomed FaithAction to join this Taskforce and commissioned our Faith-Covid Response project, through which we conducted over 100 focus groups of our own.
Daniel Singleton has been the National Executive Director of FaithAction since 2007. In this role, Daniel has become an influential advocate for faith in a number of government departments, highlighting the significant contribution of faith-based organisations to communities across the UK. As part of FaithAction’s mission to connect government with grassroots organisations, Daniel also meets regularly with FaithAction member groups to help them develop in their social action.
Daniel is a sought-after speaker on such topics as the role of faith in local services, how community groups can partner with government, and how to engage the community in local action. As a member of the UK Government’s Places of Worship Taskforce, Daniel is playing a key role advising government and helping faith leaders navigate COVID-19, lockdown and recovery.