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.
This session was the virtual launch of a report from the Free Churches Group assessing the impact of churches on social cohesion in the UK. The launch was followed by a panel discussion chaired by Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP on the findings.
In this session, we talked with Colin Bloom, Faith Engagement Adviser with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, on the role that faith has played in responding to the COVID-19 crisis, and heard from members of the Places of Worship taskforce, MPs and others as we explored the links that are being created between faith groups and local authorities.
In this session, our panel from across the faith and academic spectrum explored how faith can play its part in Building Back Better and sustain a more cohesive British society, post COVID-19 and post-Brexit.
Dr Jhutti-Johal would like to express her thanks to Laura Marks, Elizabeth Fewkes and Madeleine Pennington whose enlightening comments from earlier sessions were drawn on during her presentation, which were further enhanced by reflections from the Cumberland Lodge conference titled ‘Faith and Belief in 2040’.