Happy Valentine’s Day everyone and thanks to Lord Wei and Jubilee Plus for having me.
It’s a year to the day since I went to the Vatican.
To say clearly that Britain does do God.
And that Europe should be proud of its Christian heritage.
Some said that arguing for Christianity at the Vatican was like taking tea to china.
They were right: last Valentine’s Day was one big pro-faith love-in.
With the largest ministerial delegation ever to visit the Vatican.
Further strengthening the UK’s bond with the Holy See.
There is one big reason why I made the case for faith that day.
Why I continue to do so in my role as Minister for Faith at home…
And why, as a Foreign Office Minister, I have made freedom of religion and belief a priority…
And that’s because people who do God do good.
In other words, very often faith is the basis for good deeds.
It influences, it inspires, it impels at every turn.
We may see the manifestation of faith as a crucifix around a neck, or a spire on a skyline – which of course it is.
But too often we overlook the practical manifestation of faith.
The mother and toddlers’ groups, the school assemblies, the fundraiser days, the 98 million hours churchgoers spend volunteering each year.
For me, that’s the most powerful manifestation of faith:
The collective demonstration of people’s individual beliefs.
Church Social Action Survey
And here we are today with the proof before us.
I must congratulate Jubilee Plus for pulling this research together.
And showing that the hours donated by church volunteers have increased by 36% in the last 2 years.
That each church in this country delivers, on average, 8 social initiatives in our communities.
With more diversity in the projects delivered and 74% of them self-funding.
This signifies what a crucial role faith communities play.
And it reminds for of something the ever-wise Lord Indarjit Singh said to me:
That faith reaches areas of need that government cannot.
Which is what churches, synagogues, temples and mosques have been doing since time immemorial.
Under this government you have a Minister for Faith – the first ever such position.
And a government which gives faith a seat at the Cabinet table.
Not a privileged position but that of an equal informer in the debate.
Ladies and gentlemen, in this government we split our approach to faith into 3 clear categories:
First, faith for faith’s sake – supporting everyone in their right to follow a faith.
Second, tackling intolerance – cracking down on hatred and bigotry against those who follow a faith.
And third, faith-based social action – championing and supporting those whose faith motivates them to do good works.
Together in Service
Let me take the last point first.
We have shown with our Near Neighbours programme, which has delivered 400 faith-based social action projects through inner cities…
…that working together, using the networks of faith communities, we can make a big difference.
And we relied upon these networks during A Year of Service, which marked Her Majesty the Queen’s 60 years of service to our nation…
…by helping and promoting small projects, often uniting different faiths, throughout the country.
So today it gives me enormous pleasure to announce that we will be building on that, by launching a joined up faith-based social action initiative for the next 3 years.
We are calling the programme Together in Service.
It will continue the calendar-based model of different faiths taking it in turn, one each month, to highlight all the work that it does and encourage new volunteering efforts.
There will also be a Together in Service Fellowship of willing volunteers around the country, and a grants scheme to kick-start new multi faith projects.
We will shortly be launching a competition to identify an organisation to lead the programme. And I know you will be as excited as I am about this opportunity.
However big or small the state is at any one time.
And whatever colour of government we have in at any one time.
I believe there will always be a place for faith.
It’s why we must value it.
It’s why we must support it.
And it’s why we must celebrate it.
Thank you once again for having me.