Britain’s Vice Faith Minister tells churches to “keep Government focussed on 2012 legacy”

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Over 200 Christians from across the denominations gathered together with members of charities and other NGOs at Westminster Central Hall in London this past week to engage with matters of social justice in the lead up to the 2012 London Games. The meeting was hosted by More Than Gold, the churches’ 2012 umbrella charity. The four key areas being addressed are homelessness, human trafficking and prostitution, Fairtrade and climate change. Keynote speakers included the Rt Hon Stephen Timms, Member of Parliament for East Ham, Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Labour’s Vice Chair for Faith Groups, and also Commissioner Betty Matear, Moderator of the Free Churches Group of England and Wales, and the most senior member of the Salvation Army.

David Willson, CEO of More Than Gold, opened the day by sharing of his own experience over the past fourteen years heading up the churches’ work alongside Olympic and Paralympic Games. “The Olympics are an opportunity wherever they occur for dynamic short-term celebration and long-term regeneration for millions of people. However, for some the Games can mean further degradation and misery. It is our duty as Christ’s body here on earth to do all we can to prevent this from happening, while serving and encouraging all that is good.”

The Rt Hon Stephen Timms, MP opened his address saying that the 2012 Games, hosted by the East End of London, are “the most exciting event worldwide that can change this run-down area economically”. He acknowledged that “church attendance in London is on the rise”. He also saw that “More Than Gold are right to recognise that the Olympics are a moment for national pride but also for service, and Christian service in the Games is something to be supported and celebrated.” He went on to express his “strong support of social action rooted in and inspired by faith” and sees More Than Gold’s work as being “not about activists with a background in Christianity but about initiatives rooted in worship and love for Christ. It is about those with a passion to get involved with individuals” he said. “We need to renew our communities and our politics in the years ahead.”

He went on to make reference to Wesley, Wilberforce and Booth, men of both transformation and of service, and left those gathered with a mandate: “Transformation needs to be at the heart of the Christian contribution, speaking up for those with no voice, and challenging government where necessary. You need to keep us as government focussed on legacy.”

Commissioner Betty Matear’s address recognised that, as a united Christian voice, we have “one shot, one opportunity to make a mark on the global scene in this way. We’re at the centre of the action,” she said, “and want to uphold the objectives and purposes of the Olympic movement. But what will we be remembered for beyond 2012? Every major sporting event plays a big effect. We need to re-orientate the moral compass where necessary in our land.”

More Than Gold’s work was to be seen she said “not as a narrow church agenda but a big stage with a long-term focus, commitment to excellence and to justice, involving people of all faiths and none. We must work for the good of others where there is exploitation, or damage, or where people are further impoverished.” She went on to say that we need to “think globally, act locally. We will reflect and discuss and build on what is already happening.” She also saw that the Christian community across the UK “needs to recognise positive aspects but also speak up, speak out and speak for those whose voice is not being heard.”

Presentations were given on the four key areas with Alison Gelder of Housing Justice speaking on homelessness and the many improvements that have been made over the past thirteen years with figures “down from 2000 in 1997 to about 500 now”. She spoke of the “unsung success of the current government” while challenging the Christian community not to be complacent. “Half of rough sleepers in the UK are in London,” she said, “and to achieve the long-term target of zero rough sleeping by the end of 2012 means a change to society, with the church taking the leading role.”

Ruth Dearnley of Stop The Traffik spoke graphically about the issues behind human trafficking and prostitution. “This business,” she said, “is the fastest growing crime on the planet with a $32 billion profit, which is bigger than Microsoft.” As a united church, “we need to answer a challenge that has not been answered before” she said.

There are no known statistics, no in depth research of how a global sports event affects the traffic” because this issue is one that “is organised and systemised, and is both adaptable and moveable whenever something is shut down.” She suggested addressing this social cancer by means of “every local community having the power to change what is happening around them. Communities are the answer, and if community groups are there, led and driven with faith in Christ then there is no more powerful cocktail to bring the kingdom of God. The UN wants us on board because they realise the key lies in the community and in community groups” she passionately exclaimed. “We will only ever stop the traffic if we work in partnership to bring about change to the community where people are being bought and sold. There is no room for tribalism and territorialism.”

Paul Chandler of Traidcraft addressed issues of justice within the marketplace calling for “a better deal for the poor in the world”, demanding the provision of “better working conditions” which in turn “bring dignity, opportunity and hope where it didn’t exist before.” He welcomed the decision by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) to commit to using Fairtrade items in food outlets during the 2012 Games where over 40 million meals will be served during the Games, but recognised that “the 2012 Games are an opportunity for Fairtrade to be a key provider and for this important trademark of justice for market providers to become further known.”

Mary Colwell of The Catholic Climate Covenant campaign, which links the effects of climate change to the needs of the vulnerable, also praised the efforts being made by LOCOG to host a games that are the greenest to date. She encouraged church members present to “be leaders in energy efficiency, incorporate awe and wonder for the world and creation into your worship, be witnesses to God’s mark on creation by having eco-friendly church grounds.” Alongside the forthcoming Olympians, “this is a time for us all to be heroes,” she said.

Attendees then gathered in smaller groups to propose recommendations that More Than Gold might give further consideration to in the lead up to the 2012 Games.

James Parker, Catholic Executive Coordinator for the 2012 Games, who was in attendance, said: “I am profoundly encouraged to see that over a third of those presently engaging with these issues of social justice are from the heart of the Catholic community in the UK. We have the highest representation on these topics and have a strong tradition of being a voice for the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised. There is no reason,” he said, “why the 2012 Games in the UK should not make a lasting difference to everyone concerned in our land. We as Catholics will do all we can to ensure this happens.

More information

1. More Than Gold is a brand that Christian Churches have been using since 1992 leading up to the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. Its unique label has been used for Christian outreach efforts at major international sporting events such as the Commonwealth, Pan Am, and Winter and Summer Olympic Games all around the world. One of its key roles is to mobilize Christians for service and witness throughout any particular event. More Than Gold’s work at the 2010 Vancouver/Whistler Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games can be seen at www.morethangold.ca.

2. All the main Christian denominations within the UK are on board with More Than Gold, as well as over 80 main Christian agencies and missionary organisations. More Than Gold was launched by the Archbishops of Canterbury and Westminster and other leading Christian figures, as well as by the charity’s Chair of Trustees Lord Mawhinney (also Chairman of the Football League), and the Minister for the Olympics, the Rt Hon Tessa Jowell MP.

3. For further details, please visit www.morethangold.org.uk. For further enquiries, or to speak with Dave Willson, please contact: Christians In Sport, tel: 01869 255 630, e-mail: info@morethangold.org.uk.

4. For photographs relating to the Social Justice Seminar, which include images with the Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Commissioner Betty Matear of the Salvation Army, and More Than Gold’s CEO, David Willson, please contact James Parker at james.parker@cbcew.org.uk, 07930 119381.