Local churches 'key to meeting development needs'

By staff writers
July 20, 2009

Local churches both in the UK and abroad are key players in international development according to a new report from an aid agency published at the weekend.

‘In the Thick of It’ describes the role that local churches are taking around the world in meeting local community needs. It pulls together a substantial body of evidence highlighting the value of faith-based organisations in addressing development needs.

“We passionately believe that local churches have something extremely valuable to offer, around the world,” said Matthew Frost, Chief Executive of Tearfund.

“In our experience, faith and development are inextricably linked in the developing world and that makes the church an essential partner in delivering sustainable development at the heart of the world’s poorest communities.

“In fact, we would argue that there are some parts of the world where development simply would not happen without the local church.”

In the Thick of It calls for Governments and international donors to recognise the role of faith in development and to develop strategies to engage with faith groups.

A fortnight ago, the Government doubled overseas aid for faith-based aid organisations following a summit at Lambeth Palace in which the churches put their case.

The move, announced in the Department for International Development’s (DfID) White Paper Building our Common Future, was welcomed by Tearfund, as “increasing recognition of the role of faith groups in mobilising communities to find locally sustainable solutions to development issues.”

“It’s very encouraging to see the UK Government take a huge step forward in recognising the role of churches in meeting local needs and in engaging with local communities to facilitate discussion and come up with local solutions,” said Matthew Frost.

“We need to see governments and donors harness the unique position of church-based organisations to make sure that people in poor communities have a greater say about decisions that impact their livelihoods and wellbeing.”

The report argues that local churches are uniquely placed since they are not an ‘external’ organisation coming in to help but often are the poor. It also points out that local churches do not leave after a few years, but remain in place and are committed to long-term sustainable solutions.

The aid agency suggests that local churches have ‘unparalleled resources’ in the form of motivated and committed local volunteers, invaluable local knowledge, are ideally placed to facilitate local discussions and community engagement and in meeting emotional and spiritual needs ,can offer support beyond the practical.

Drawing on examples of good practice in the UK and Ireland as well as in developing countries, In the Thick of It presents anecdotal as well as empirical evidence of the contribution that local churches make to the lives of communities.

The position paper also describes work which has already started in supporting local churches in developing countries to address their own limitations, including paternalistic approaches to welfare or beliefs about the role of women. Seeking to work with churches to challenge these traditions and promote best practice in development, Tearfund is the first UK agency to achieve certified Humanitarian Accountability Partnership compliance in recognition of its high standards of accountability to the people it serves.

As a natural progression from delivering services through local church networks around the world, Tearfund also runs Connected Church; a project linking UK churches with those in developing countries, in order to encourage UK churches to follow best practice when supporting overseas development projects and also to engage with poverty issues back home.

“It’s time to translate debate about faith and development into active partnership,” said Matthew Frost.

“And it’s time for the church in the West to realise fully its role and potential in tackling poverty at home and overseas.”

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