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Faith communities and Covid: responding together at a time of need - A Statement

A Statement by the Co-Chairs and Faith Communities Forum Moderators of IFN

We stand at the outset of this new year at a point of both greater hope and greater danger in the COVID-19 pandemic: hope, with the arrival of vaccines; danger, with the accelerated transmission of the virus in its recent mutation.

We express anew our profound gratitude to all working to tend to the health of those affected by COVID-19 and to respond to its wider impacts: NHS and other health and care workers; emergency response services; providers of food, medicine and other vital goods; teachers, transport workers and those in public service; other ‘key workers’; faith leaders in local communities; and all others who make such a difference to our daily lives at this time.

Faith communities have, since the outset of the pandemic, continued to provide a vital spiritual and pastoral framework for their members. They have also provided a powerful resource for wider society through their social welfare programmes and the outstanding volunteering initiatives of their members throughout the nations of the UK. We stand together at this time of need.  

As vaccine programmes are rolled out, faith leaders and scholars are providing guidance that provides reassurance of the vaccines’ acceptability in terms of religious requirements – and the religious and moral bases for choosing vaccination.  Members of faith communities are also providing volunteer support to assist the rollout in a number of areas. 

We know that the faster transmission of the recent mutation of the virus brings a need for the greatest of care in terms of abiding by requirements for distancing, wearing of masks, cleaning of hands and surfaces and ensuring replacement of air through ventilation.  Since the most recent lockdowns, restrictions have closed a wide range of facilities such as ‘non-essential’ shops. The nations within the UK have taken varying positions on whether places of worship may open for communal worship.  Where they are permitted to meet, faith communities are redoubling efforts to ensure safety.  Some who are permitted to open are doing so.  Others are choosing not to do so, on the basis of judgements about such factors as the demographic and age bracket of their worshippers and the size of their buildings.   Where opening for communal worship is possible, whatever the approach taken, we encourage continued high attention to community safety.

During 2020 we saw outstanding responses from faith community volunteers.  We know that this will continue in 2021.  As before, it is crucial that volunteering takes place within the official guidelines.  We have been heartened to see the inter faith dimension of a number of initiatives, for example joint drives for food banks and use of each other’s premises for distribution of supplies.  In adversity, and in service of others, new bonds of understanding and friendship are being forged. 

We have also welcomed the important conversations and mutual learning about COVID-19 response that have taken place between national faith communities – and continue to take place – through the Faith Communities Forum of the Inter Faith Network for the UK and the inter faith structures of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.  Important to note also are temporary Government instruments such as the Places of Worship Task Force in England; as well as COVID-related initiatives such as Faiths United and a number of area specific initiatives.  Locally, faith groups are playing, together, a very significant role alongside local authorities and others in responding to the pandemic.

Faith communities and their volunteers remain a very important part of the response of society overall to the pandemic, alongside others.

It is vital that all within society respond in ways which can enable us all to move forward together: the vulnerable and those in need arm in invisible arm with those who at this time are stronger; the old and the young; people of all backgrounds.

We are only as strong as our common bonds. Moving forward together in this way can give us our strongest chance to build together a renewed common life and a healthy and positive future for all.

A Statement by the Co-Chairs and Faith Communities Forum Moderators of IFN

13 January 2021

Notes
  1. Media queries to the Inter Faith Network: email ifnet@interfaith.org.uk.
  2. This statement can be found at http://interfaith.org.uk/resources/statements-and-messages and a copy of IFN’s statement making policy at https://www.interfaith.org.uk/uploads/Policy_on_making_of_statements.pdf.
  3. The Inter Faith Network for the UK www.interfaith.org.uk was founded in 1987 to advance public knowledge and mutual understanding of the teachings, traditions and practices of the different faith communities in Britain and to promote good relations between people of different faiths in this country. It works with its member bodies and others to carry out these aims.
  4. Member bodies of the Inter Faith Network include: national faith community representative bodies; national, regional and local inter faith bodies; and academic institutions and educational bodies concerned with inter faith issues. A list of member bodies can be found at www.interfaith.org.uk/members.

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