It’s great to see you all here today.
Of course this Sunday is an apt anniversary, during Inter Faith Week.
Our Sikh friends will remember the death of Guru Tegh Bahadur.
You might recall, only 500 or so years ago, he was beheaded for standing up for his Sikh faith, giving his life to save the freedom of all religions.
You might be wondering why this is relevant in 2013, as it’s such a long time ago.
Just last week, a French priest was kidnapped in Cameroon. Forty one Shia Muslims were killed in Iraq during a religious procession and police in New York were investigating a spate of anti-Semitic attacks.
A week’s snapshot of a world still marred by intolerance.
Religious persecution remains one the greatest challenges the world faces.
That’s why, thanks to the Inter Faith Network, Inter Faith week is a special date in our calendar.
As we launch Together in Service today, the anniversary of the Guru’s sacrifice reminds us that we will always fight to overcome violence and prejudice.
Together in Service is born out of everything we achieved last year with A Year of Service.
It marked the Queen’s Jubilee by celebrating the contribution our faith communities make to the United Kingdom, and it was a great success.
Faith communities might also be seen as our army of volunteers. Whatever the need might be, you are there to answer the call.
I remember on the first day of A Year of Service, I visited a Baha’i centre where we baked and decorated cakes for a homeless shelter. The most attractively decorated bun was my one!
Other great projects took off around the country.
Croydon Hindus ran healthy living stand, to help residents quit smoking and to offer other dietary advice.
Leicester’s Jain community visited local hospices to entertain patients with live music.
Muslims packed hampers for Ramadan.
What they all have in common though, is they were very much part of our multi-faith efforts
- encouraging everyone, of all religions, to come together for a common purpose
That’s why this funding is designed, if you like, to water the seeds we planted in 2012.
Together in Service will focus on religions working together, combining our unstoppable work to make you an even greater force for good.
Last week in Washington, my colleague Baroness Warsi spoke out against religious persecution. She very rightly pointed out that ‘there is not an intrinsic clash between different faiths.’
The majority of people in this country want to make integration work. But we recognise that this doesn’t simply happen overnight.
This coalition government want to facilitate, rather than impose integration. And in the spirit of cooperation, we have asked you to match fund what the state are handing to you.
It is great when a religious group wants to provide a service to the community. It is even greater when they do it in partnership with another faith group.
There is a very small minority of people in this country
who do not put their energy into planting community gardens
who don’t wrap gifts to share at homeless shelters
nor do they donate food parcels to those less fortunate
Instead, they take the name of their religion in vain,
And re-appropriate centuries of teaching, to justify their belief
that different religions cannot work together
that you cannot be, say, a Muslim and a Brit
or that this country is better off without faith
They are the people who would rather we didn’t work Together in Service.
But, as Guru Tegh Bahadur’s selfless sacrifice proved, there is always someone prepared to stand up for what is right.
And we are so lucky to have so many of you here today who are prepared to do exactly that.
So, thank you.
Thank you for working tirelessly to make our country a place we can live side by side.
And good luck to those of you embarking on new projects for Together in Service.