The hon. Member for South West Bedfordshire, representing the Church Commissioners, was asked—
Covid-19: Support for Vulnerable People
I am delighted that Lichfield, Rochester, Blackburn and Salisbury cathedrals are among the church buildings being used as vaccination centres. As well as providing worship, prayer and community support, parishes have been providing food, medicine delivery, bereavement counselling and much more, serving the needs of everyone in their local communities.
The “Keeping the Faith” report in November showed the remarkable extent to which local councils have turned to churches and other faith groups during the pandemic, especially for help in distributing food, and how positive an experience for councils this has proved to be. Will the Church of England urge Ministers to help these new partnerships with local councils continue beyond the pandemic?
Yes indeed, and I warmly commend the all-party group on faith and society for its research, as well as the Kruger review. I look forward to Colin Bloom’s report, commissioned by the Government, which assesses faith community engagement. I hope it will build on my right hon. Friend’s important and very welcome all-party group research.
Persecution of Christians: Nigeria
I begin by very warmly welcoming the appointment of my hon. Friend the Member for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) as the Prime Minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion and belief. She has campaigned both knowledgeably and forensically on these issues for many years.
The Church is deeply concerned about the unravelling of the state security apparatus in Nigeria and the activity of non-state actors, which is politicising and polarising identity in Nigeria.
A recent Open Doors UK event highlighted that Christians are more likely to be tortured and murdered for their faith by Islamic militants in the north of Nigeria than in any other country. Persecution also includes denying Christians food, aid and treatment for covid-19. The UK Government need to place pressure on the Nigerian Government to defend and protect their Christian population. What is the Church of England’s involvement in supporting these persecuted Christians, and what relief work is it doing with Nigerian internally displaced people camps?
The Archbishop of Canterbury, who knows Nigeria well, is monitoring the recent violence and the kidnapping of 300 schoolboys. He and I have met the family of Leah Sharibu, who was kidnapped by Boko Haram in 2018, and who is still a prisoner, as she refuses to renounce Jesus. Clergy who have spoken out have been threatened by prominent civil society organisations, and the Church continues to stay closely involved.