Faith Matters

MLAs must work harder to solve welfare impasse

President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev Brian Anderson

THE new leader of the Methodist Church in Ireland has called on the north's politicians to work harder to solve the welfare reform impasse.

Speaking at his installation service in east Belfast last night, the Rev Brian Anderson said: "We do need our politicians to work harder to find an internal solution to welfare reform because handing it back to London cannot be good for those most in poverty or for the devolved government of Northern Ireland."

The Methodist Church has a strong record of social action and Mr Anderson said it was "wrong that in this 21st century we need food banks operating in our communities".

"Yet they are needs and the Churches are among those providing for the needs of the less well-off in our society," he said.

The Methodist Church has recently entered into a partnership 'covenant' relationship with the Church of Ireland and the service was not only held in a Church of Ireland church building - St Patrick's on Newtownards Road - but involved three bishops: Archbishop of Armagh Dr Richard Clarke, Bishop of Down and Dromore Harold Miller and Bishop of Tuam Patrick Rooke.

Echoing a concern voiced by many other Christian leaders, Mr Anderson spoke of the Christian church being "like an alien in a strange land".

"We are in a very different land now compared to past generations," he said.

"Where once the Christian voice held significant weight it has now lost its majority voice in setting values in a pluralistic society.

"It is now one voice among many."

Mr Anderson picked out two cases which Christians needed to carefully consider.

"How does a Christian business provide a public service to all in a way that they can hold to their Christian beliefs and not break the law?" he asked.

"Or how, in the light of the result of the equal marriage referendum, is the voice of the Church to be heard, and how does it engage in further discussions, particularly around legislation?

"The Christian Church has to bring a different set of responses to a society that sets its standards, ethics and values contrary to that of the Christian Church."

Mr Anderson also called on Methodists to use their church buildings as "springboards and launch pads" for service to the needs of their local communities.

The Irish Methodist Conference, the Church's annual meeting, is this year being hosted by the East Belfast Mission in the Skainos building on the Newtownards Road. It runs until Sunday.

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