As the debate about the relationship between government provided social welfare and church involvement continues, a Christian minister who chairs an agency working with people in housing need says that state funding is "a mixed blessing".
"The Church of England seems to be running to mother State because some new children have caught her attention. Perhaps we should grow up and state our case in the context of the facts and circumstances of today’s secular world rather than yearn for the long-lost privileges of the established Church," says the Rev Paul Nicholson of the Zaccheus 2000 Trust in a letter to the Times newspaper today.
Responding to claims, arising from the new Von Hugel Institute report Moral, But No Compass, that the church is being marginalised in public policy formation, Mr Nicholson says his small Christian charity is "bound by our constitution to work with people of goodwill of all faiths and of none. We do not feel marginalised and excluded by the Government or opposition parties at national or local level."
Zaccheus 2000 does not receive any government money, says Mr Nicholson. "We would prefer to go without, not so much from the point of view of the productivity required but because it is motivated by the ruling party’s political need to show that its policies are successful, which can clash with our motivation to serve the interests of our clients."
Among other activities, the group trains and supports volunteers to advocate on behalf of people facing eviction through rent arrears and other circumstances.
Its statement of principles declares: "We will pursue policies that are rooted in the experiences of the disadvantaged and excluded people of the United Kingdom, and the work of NGOs among them. They will be designed to reform the structures that create those conditions," adding "We oppose discrimination and inequality".
Mr Nicholson adds: "The level playing field we enjoy with all other agencies doing the same work is related to its quality and relevance to the impoverished people we serve. The doors of ministers and officials are wide open when we have a valid case opposing or contributing to their policies and proposals."
Patrons of the Zaccheus 2000 Trust include Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, who noted in his response to the Von Hugel Institute report commissioned by urban bishop the Rt Rev Stehen Lowe, that the great majority of the community and social action backed by the Church does not involve government directly.