Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Ministers of State meet Ministers of Religion

Amid the swirling hoards of media-types and lobbyists at the recent party conferences could be spotted a group of people wearing clerical collars, crosses and Salvation Army uniforms. It was the annual delegation of Free Church leaders to the three main party conferences.

This delegation, organised by the Joint Public Issues Team together with the Quakers and the Salvation Army, is now in its seventh year, and allows church leaders to build relationships with Christians and other politicians within the three main parties. They are able to offer a visible witness of support for the ministry of those involved in politics, and to demonstrate that the churches care deeply about political life.

At each of the conferences the delegation sponsored a fringe meeting jointly with the Christian groups within the parties – the Liberal Democrat Christian Forum, the Christian Socialist Movement and the Conservative Christian Fellowship – offering the opportunity at each for breakfast, prayer and a time of conversation and reflection. The fringe meetings were well attended by activists, local Christians and politicians. Pictured above are Andrew Stunell MP, minister at the Department for Communities and Local Government, together with Lt Col Marion Drew of the Salvation Army, Revd Alison Tomlin, President of the Methodist Church, and Revd Kirsty Thorpe, Co-Moderator of the United Reformed Church.

The delegation took the opportunity to meet a number of politicians, some of whom are Christians, others of whom were willing to discuss issues of shared concern with the Church Leaders. The delegation raised issues around climate change, the impact of spending cuts on the poorest in society, the detention of children for immigration purposes, and the ever elusive concept of the “Big Society”. On more than one occasion, the Church Leaders were asked to pray with politicians in the middle of the bustling conference centres as the politicians shared with them the particular and personal strains of a political life.

Revd Alison Tomlin, the President of the Methodist Conference, said:

“I got the impression that the politicians really want to talk to the faith communities. We have a better than ever opportunity to make known what it is that we believe God is asking us to say in the public arena about justice and peace issues, and it was great to be able to be a part of that. “

You can read more about the delegations to the Party Conferences at the blog of the President and the Vice President of the Methodist Conference.