Faith Communities Forum of the Inter Faith Network for the UK
The Faith Communities Forum: faiths addressing together issues of shared interest and concern, for the common good
Good inter faith relations require the active engagement of faith communities as well as policies and structures which support and sustain positive engagement. Integration, and good inter faith relations, are more likely where people of different faiths feel that they are active and valued contributors to a society rooted in shared values and where people of different faiths are engaged well by those developing policy and legislation which bears on their lives in the UK. Engagement with public affairs matters which affect faith communities and their relationship with each other within wider society has therefore been part of IFN’s role since its establishment in 1987.
In this context, the Inter Faith Network established the Faith Communities Forum in 2003:
- to promote the development of closer working relationships between the UK’s faith communities by enabling discussion between these national faith community representative bodies on issues of common concern to them as faith communities; and
- to provide opportunities for member bodies to share good practice relating to their inter faith/ interreligious work.
The national faith community representative bodies in membership of the Inter Faith Network for the UK (IFN) together form the FCF and can send representatives to its meetings. A list of these bodies is at https://www.interfaith.org.uk/members/list/national-faith-community-representative-bodies.
The FCF is a place for discussion and consultation, rather than a decision making body. Its Terms of Reference are here. Faith community representative bodies make connections through it to strengthen their common engagement for the wellbeing of society. With the agreement of the Board, it can commission work on particular issues. It can also make statements in carefully prescribed circumstances and where there is agreement. The most recent was ‘Cooperation and positive coexistence: Faith communities in the UK’. https://www.interfaith.org.uk/news/cooperation-and-positive-coexistence-faith-communities-in-the-uk
The FCF normally meets around four times a year. However, it has met much more frequently, for shorter sessions, during the pandemic so that communities have been able to share their experiences of tackling COVID-19.
The current Co-Moderators, who chair the FCF, are the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark and Mr Malcolm Deboo of the Zoroastrian community. There are also 8 Vice-Moderators (see https://www.interfaith.org.uk/about/people).
The FCF as a place of engagement with external bodies and initiatives
Speakers are regularly invited to make presentations to FCF members about public affairs issues of interest and concern. Government Departments and others also request the possibility to present and consult. For instance, in recent times there have been presentations from:
- Home Office officials about Faith communities and security of places of worship;
- NHS Blood and Transplant managers about organ donation and faith communities;
- officials from the former Department for Exiting the EU about Faith communities and the UK’s exit from the European Union; and
- SCIE on faith communities and safeguarding.
From time to time external bodies ask for special FCF roundtables to be convened for consultation. For example, in 2019 the Royal British Legion convened such a meeting with IFN assistance to look at extension of inclusion in Remembrance to encourage greater engagement of and by different faith communities.
Government use of the Forum as a place of consultation: goes back to its inception; dipped somewhat during the period that the Government had an internal ‘Faith Communities Consultative Council’ from 2006 to 2011; and was increased after the work of that council concluded. (See reference made by Sir Andrew Stunell, then relevant Minister at: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm110623/text/110623w0003.htm#11062350000238)
FCF and public affairs in the UK and devolved nations
The scope of the FCF’s engagement is UK-wide. A representative is also invited to attend Forum meetings from each of the inter faith linking bodies of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales (which of course engage, separately, with matters relating to their nations). These are: Interfaith Scotland; the Inter-faith Council for Wales; and the Northern Ireland Inter-Faith Forum. Given the increased devolution of powers to Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and also the primary focus of the national inter faith instruments of these nations on devolved matters, a significant part of the FCF’s public life agenda has, however, an England focus (or sometimes England and Wales). Thus, for example, there has been greater focus on the UK Government’s England-specific response to COVID-19.
Records and servicing of FCF
Feedback is sought regularly from members about the meetings of FCF. This helps establish how useful they are finding it and which kinds of items they find of the greatest benefit. The FCF’s work is also kept under review by IFN’s Board, as part of ensuring that it continues to contribute to the pursuit of IFN’s charitable aims.
The Forum is serviced by the office of IFN. Its Executive Director attends meetings and other staff attend as required.
Meetings have two sections: (1) discussion of external issues and (2) IFN business matters involving the national faith community representative body category of membership. Minutes of the former are publicly available and can be downloaded below. Presentations made by external speakers are always cleared with them ahead of distribution of the minutes.
Minutes of FCF discussions of external issues
Cleared minutes of FCF sessions discussing external issuses can be downloaded below. As explained above, most FCF meetings also include an 'IFN business matters' session, the minutes of which are not publicly available.