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Hunger to put faith into action is frustrated by secularist agenda

Jesus commanded: “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” The Church will undoubtedly be strongly criticised by secularists and politicians for interfering yet again in politics. But all it is doing is attempting to fulfil its gospel mandate to help others. What the report shows is a Church heavily engaged in social welfare through its dioceses, cathedrals, bishops, priests and laity, and receiving little or no recognition from the Government. Research shows that more than 50,000 churchgoers are regularly involved in church-based or church-backed social action, such as helping the poor, elderly or disabled. A similar number of churchgoers are involved in volunteering for secular charities.

The Church of England wants this recognised, and where appropriate, funded. But this has become even more problematic now with the Charity Commission’s new guidelines, which state that using sacred texts to advance a political purpose can no longer be regarded as “advancing religion”. At Monday’s launch the authors will have to answer questions on whether they are placing welfare above worship, and whether the whinge is really justified. After all, the Church enjoys some pretty serious privileges as the established Church. But at the highest levels, senior bishops have for some time been concerned at the secular agenda of the Government. The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has publicly criticised what he perceives as a drive towards equality based on diktat and bureaucracy, with the Government overreaching into the realm of personal conscience.

Church leaders believe this is a deeply flawed and uniquely British problem. They look with envy to countries such as Hong Kong and Australia, where the Church works in active partnership with the state in providing welfare services. They also noted the tumultuous reception given to the Pope recently by government and public in the United States.

By contrast, when the Buddhist equivalent of the Pope, the Dalai Lama, visited Britain, the Prime Minister refused to see him at Downing Street and instead they met at Lambeth Palace, the London office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. If viewed as a worshipping community alone, the Church’s future over the next few generations is in doubt.

Declining numbers of elderly worshippers in many congregations present the Church with a challenge to change or die out. In the late 18th and 19th centuries, the evangelical revival and the emergence of the Anglo-Catholic movement led by the soon-to-be-canonised Cardinal Newman carried in its wake an outpouring of social action. The antislavery campaigner William Wilberforce and the rest of the Clapham Sect were pioneers in this field, along with inner-city clerics and many members of the laity. They set up charities, founded groups and organised schools and hospitals that are still functioning.

In spite of falling rolls, there is among those who remain in the pews a similar revival of spiritual energy. Evangelicalism is flourishing throughout Britain’s Christian churches, as is traditional Catholicism. These people are hungry to put their faith into action by helping the poor and needy, as Jesus commanded.

Diddorol iawn!

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