A new report out today says there is a “significant lack of understanding” within Government of the Church of England’s huge contribution to social welfare provision.
The “Moral, but no compass” report was launched by the Von Hugel Institute on Monday, a year after it was commissioned by the Bishop for Urban Life, the Rt Rev Stephen Lowe.
The report’s authors pointed to the “significant lack of understanding of, or interest in, the Church of England’s current or potential contribution in the public sphere” at the levels of local and national government.
“The Church contributes a huge amount below the radar of its own perception and certainly below the radar of any evidence gathering of the Charity Commission or in departments of state,” said Francis Davis, co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Faith in Society at the Von Hugel Institute and one of the authors of the report.
“The Church, should it so wish, has the skills and resources to respond in a new way to make an enhanced civic contribution.”
He went on to praise the contribution of the Church in social welfare, demonstrated by the high number of bishops engaged in civic activities and the number of churches that double up as cafes, post offices, youth clubs and even GPs to ensure that their local communities do not go without vital services.
“As researchers we were astounded…to uncover the empire of civil society that’s out there, run, sustained, maintained, funded and kept going by Anglican buildings, Anglican volunteers, Anglican clergy in pretty much every neighbourhood across the country,” said Davis.
He noted that, prior to the report, the Church “perceived itself to be well understood by government and by society at large”.
“What we discovered was that actually the Government had no evidence about the Christian churches in general and the Church of England in particular when it came to its own policy planning framework,” he said.
Davis claimed that the Government had underestimated the number of faith-based charities operating in the country by as much as 50 per cent, resulting in the “significant underestimation of the civic and volunteering and social welfare contribution that they make across the country”.
The report’s researchers picked up three major concerns among respondents, who included clergy across every Anglican diocese, and every single Anglican bishop in the Church of England. These concerns included what Davis called a “profound religious illiteracy and lack of understanding among central and local state government” as to the contribution of faith-based groups.
There were also “significant weaknesses”, he added, in the way that the Office of National Statistics and the Charity Commission count the number of charities and faith-based charities, in that they do not include parishes.