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April 2009

Church leaders’ summit strikes note of hope in face of recession

On the day the government hosted its highly publicised Jobs Summit, another group gathered to discuss the recession and how it is affecting New Zealanders.

Leaders of five mainline Church leaders met with leaders of the New Zealand Council of Christian Social Services (NZCCSS) to discuss how to best provide support for those affected by the global economic crisis.

Afterwards the Church leaders sent an open letter to Prime Minister John Key called ‘Together We Can’. They say the letter is a message of hope and calls on the government take a social, pragmatic approach to helping those affected by the economic crisis and not a purely economic one.

The NZCCSS is a grouping of faith based communities and social service organisations. It is one of the country’s largest providers of social services and its members share an imperative to support families and communities hurting from the recession.

After the meeting with NZCCSS, Salvation Army Territorial Commander-elect Donald Bell said that the Church leaders decided the message they could best hold out to the people of Aotearoa New Zealand is that together we can look after each other.

Catholic Archbishop John Dew said the meeting with representatives of Christian social services agencies was about "mobilising our ideas and our commitment to ensure that in our approach we do not allow economic doom and gloom to overwhelm the strength that we know exists in our communities".

MCNZ president Jill van de Geer said the church leaders’ concerns are not about funding debates or funding wish-lists. "They are about taking practical actions that fit with the Prime Minister’s call for creative ideas on more flexible laws. We recognise there are many areas of change that don’t require government intervention."

Former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church Pamela Tankersley noted that faith communities are ‘doers’.

"Every day their work is based in the realities of a society where there is already too much systemic hardship and poverty. As a society we cannot afford for things to get worse, when they could in fact be transformed for the better. As Churches we do not want to be known as the poverty sector, we want to be known as the hope sector," Pamela said.

Anglican Archbishop David Moxon described the growing recession as a "rallying call for us to do even more to utilise our comprehensive Church networks across the country, in ways that link with existing community resources, such as schools, and other non government organisations.

"Together we can be more responsible for taking stock of the good work that happens in our parishes and dioceses and promoting that even further," David said.

NZCCSS facilitator Ruby Duncan, of the Baptist Church, said actions raised at the meeting, such as greater coordination of publicity about the availability of services to meet growth in demand, will form a plan of action that will be known as ‘Together We Can’.

Church leaders who gathered with NZCCSS (from left) Catholic Archbishop John Dew, former Moderator Presbyterian Church Pamela Tankersley, Anglican Archbishop David Moxon, Methodist Church President Jill van de Geer, and Territorial Commander-elect of the Salvation Army Donald Bell.

Churches says together we can

• Create a message of hope that says we can look after each other, support families grow strong and happy children, grow healthy communities, and promote a society that values people and families more than it values monetary wealth and material possessions.

• Provide collective leadership to encourage ‘joined up’ Christian social support at local, regional and national levels;

• Use Christian media and NZCCSS publications to promote practical and workable ways of getting the best results for families hurt by the recession communities;

• Meet together at local and regional levels to decide how parishes, Christian social service agencies, businesses and communities can make the biggest contribution to local needs;

• Work together as community, government and Church organisations to provide support for those New Zealanders most affected by the global economic crisis

• Grow a stronger community more able to look after one another - Aroha ttahi ki ttahi.

This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the NZCCSS newsletter Kete Kupu.