Tag: Birmingham

Living at Peace in a world of Conflict

The latest series of The Birmingham Conversations focused in the theme of how we live at peace in a super-diverse city like Birmingham, when there is so much tension and conflict in the world that can easily cause animosity between people here.

The conversations explored meanings of peace, situations and issues that disrupt peace and the skills we need to be peace makers.

As always the group was made up of people from a variety of faith backgrounds who committed to being part of the process over a six month period. We also had a young adults stream, led by The Feast,  which worked with people aged 18-25 who looked at the same topics but used discussion activities more sited to their age and experiences.

As always, sharing food was a key part of the conversations which, whilst exploring some controversial topics, led to stronger friendships and sharing of some profoundly personal and moving stories. Listening to how people feel and their experiences of being a victim opened our eyes to the perceptions, experiences, faith and feelings of others that impacted all those who took part.

As a result of this programme a resource has been produced to equip others to lead similar conversations. The full resource along with a pack of pictures for use in the conversation can be downloaded here

Living at Peace final Digital

Living at Peace Images Digital

 

Terror is Not the Only Narrative

Rev Dr Richard Sudworth is Priest-in-Charge at Christchurch Sparkbrook and Tutor in Anglican Theology at Queens Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education. Here he gives his response to recent events and the way Birmingham and communities here are being described and defined. This article first appeared as a letter in the Church Times.   Since the terrorist atrocity in Westminster, and a recently published report on the backgrounds of convicted Islamist-inspired terrorists it seems that my city, Birmingham, is building itself a reputation as “Terror Central”. It has even been described as a “Jihadi Hotbed”. As a parish priest who ministers in inner-city Birmingham, I know that the reality on the ground is far different from the simplistic shorthand that reduces communities to a “type”. Sadly, many in the media are concerned only with the shorthand version. This was brought home to me a few days before the events in Westminster, when I met a tabloid newspaper journalist who wanted to find out what it was like for churches in Muslim-majority parts of the city. He probed away at the decline of Anglican churches in our inner cities, how it must be frightening, how we must feel insecure. Instead, I told him about the hospitality of our Muslim neighbours and the way they refer to the church as “our church” when we gather together for neighbourhood meetings. I told him about the friendships that exist across faiths, the Muslim neighbours that do the shopping for the Christian elderly, the community and mosque leaders caught between their own horror at each terrorist atrocity and the tangible Islamophobia that correspondingly ratchets up. Needless to say, the complexities of our part of the city did not appear in any subsequent newspaper article. To assign a shorthand stories to a place or community colludes with the idea that their destiny is inevitable: that the people themselves are incapable of doing anything to change their lot. These are myths that are as dangerous as the myths of extremists because they lead to separations and divisions in our society. The trouble is, in an increasingly polarised society, these myths gather potency. Terrorist extremism as a “Birmingham problem” discharges us from any responsibility to question, say, Home Counties privilege. Like that other myth of the “deserving and undeserving poor”, the shorthand merely serves to give the privileged a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card from any attention to structural injustice. Other myths abound, like “immigrant” and “white outer estate”, where their very utterance conjures up a picture that names, judges, and assigns a role that deepens our respective separations. It is surely in our job description as churches to be offering a counter-story. These stories should not duck the messy realities of failings within our communities: I am all too aware of the existence of the small minority of Muslims who wish to impose oppressive practices and those that would seek violent means to do so. The alternative to a myth that shorthands whole communities is not denial; but hope. No person or community or place inevitably fails. It is a joy to be minister in a city with such diversity, where my children are growing up delighting in cross-cultural encounters; where talk of faith and prayer is normative. It is humbling to be shown hospitality by Muslim neighbours and to be stretched by the theological challenges that Islam throws at the Christian faith – challenges that require an ever deepening recourse to scripture and the church’s community of tradition. Somehow, this embrace of difference has made me a better Christian. The creaking and spluttering parish system provides one way in which this alternative story can be told. The day-to-day encounters of Christians and Muslims – what the Roman Catholic Church calls the “dialogue of life” – are replayed in Birmingham, Bradford, Blackburn, and across our nation. If you were to come to our parish church on a Thursday, you would witness about 35 women spending several hours together, doing Zumba, making crafts, eating lunch, and telling stories of faith across Christian and Muslim and other faith boundaries. The Near Neighbours programme has been a notable government-funded scheme. It generates small-scale projects that draw people of faith into actions for the common good, and friendships that can withstand the acknowledgement of difference, For our Ladies Day event in Sparkbrook, and the participants in Near Neighbours programmes, Christians and Muslims can no longer be ciphers, but are people with names, families, and stories of their own. Whenever the latest terrorist event hits the news – and these events hit with a depressing regularity that tends to harden collective judgements – one can sense the dismay and anxiety of Muslim neighbours. As part of an alternative story, I would think of the Muslim staff in our church school, who model an openness and generosity in their faith which would make terrorism inconceivable; or the imam who I know and who regularly reminds his congregation of the path of peace, and the good friends that he has in the church. When I hear Birmingham being described as “Terror Central”, I feel a little of the experience of many Muslims who do not recognise the story that is being told. The shorthand myths will just not do, if we are to be present to the breadth of our communities as Christians disposed to hope, and to the possibility of being surprised by grace at every turn. Revd Dr Richard J. Sudworth Diocese of Birmingham and The Queen’s Foundation Author of Encountering Islam: Christian-Muslim Relations in the Public Square (London: SCM, 2017) – just published

Faith in the Public Sphere

The third ‘Birmingham Conversations’ took place recently on the theme of ‘Faith in the Public Sphere’ and explored the issue of how faith communities engage in all areas of public life.

The Conversations were attended by Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Humanists, Muslims and Sikhs as well as people involved in local politics, business and education.

The group met once a month for six months which enabled friendships to grow and for trust to be built up so that difficult or controversial topics could be considered.

Under the heading of ‘Faith in the Public Sphere’ we discussed what it would mean for faith communities, and by extension all communities, to flourish in the public sphere. Can everyone flourish or does the flourishing of one community necessitate the diminishing or restricting of another?

We then went on to consider how what this flourishing might look like at work, in places of education, in political life, in the media and in the street during festivals or demonstrations.

A Policy Report of the findings was written by Dr Andrew Davies from the University of Birmingham which includes specific recommendations and can be downloaded here faith-in-the-public-sphere-policy-recommendations

A Summary of the conversations was produced which includes questions for discussion and is written with members of the public in mind to enable different groups to join in the conversation. A copy of the summary can be downloaded here. map-of-birmingham-conversationland

We invited two local artists, Jake Lever and Mandy Ross, to be artists in residence and reflect on what they heard during the conversations. As well as creatively facilitating conversations they produced artworks at the end as a response to the conversations.

The responses were:
A video of the Conversations which you can view below

A ‘Map of Conversationland’ by Mandy Ross which gives a poetic and artistic response

map-of-conversationland

A painting ‘Dance’ by Jake Lever

Art Work

The painting is 375cm wide and 200cm high and comes in it’s own free standing display system. This is available for groups in the Birmingham area to host at no cost. It can be booked for a minimum of two weeks and comes with 100 copies of ‘A Map of Conversationland’. To enquire about hosting ‘Dance’ e-mail Debbie Browning at debbieb@cofebirmingham.com.

 

The Video in response to the Conversations

The Birmingham Conversations from Birmingham Conversations on Vimeo.

 

 

 

A Visit from Lutheran Pastors from Dresden

In June we were honoured to be visited by a group of twenty Lutheran Church Leaders from Dresden in Germany. They came to Birmingham to learn about interfaith work and the way that Churches relate to people of different faiths and especially Muslims. Dresden has very few people of different faiths living there, but there is fear particularly against a perceived ‘Islamisation’ of Germany. The far right group Pegida was founded in Dresden and holds regular rallies there. The Pastors who came to Birmingham were keen to learn how to help their congregations overcome this fear and offer a genuine welcome to Muslim neighbours.

During their visit we were able to introduce them to a number of innovative ways that the church is reaching out in friendship and gave them the opportunity to visit different places of worship.

On the first day they came to the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre and then walked along the Stratford Road to visit St. John’s Church and the Narthex project. They heard from Rev John Self about the wide range of services that Narthex offers and how the church is seen as part of the community rather than a service provider doing this to people.

Over lunch, from the brilliant Suraj Sweet Centre, they heard from Jessica Foster about the Near Neighbours programme and how it has helped different faith communities meet and work together to improve their local areas.

The afternoon gave them the opportunity to hear from Rev Tom Thomas about St. Christopher’s Church and the Springfield Project. This also gave them an opportunity to reflect on the joys and challenges of being a church leader in a majority Muslim parish. The afternoon concluded with a visit to the Jamatia Islamic Centre where they had a chance to meet some of the committee and to ask the Imam questions about the workings of the Mosque and life as a Muslim in Birmingham.

The second day started with a chance to hear about the work of The Feast and to ask questions about youth work, dialogue and evangelism. Lunch time was spent at the Ramgarhia Gudwara in Birmingham where we had an introduction to Sikhism and fantastic lunch in the Langar Kitchen. The visit concluded with a visit to the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery Faith Gallery where they saw artefacts and exhibits that reflected the breadth of religious life in Birmingham.

They went away with much to reflect on for their own ministry and having had their eyes opened to the potential for Christian ministry in a multi-faith city. They also had opportunity to visit places of worship and meet people of faiths that they hadn’t had chance to meet before.

If you would like to have this kind of experience for a group, it is something that we can offer from time to time. If you would like to talk to someone about this possibility please contact Canon Dr Andrew Smith, Director of Interfaith Relations Andrews@cofebirmingham.com

Dresden 9c

Dresden 2Dresden 3Dresden 9Dresden 1

 

Birmingham Conversation: Faith and The Arts

Can art be a positive influence on interfaith dialogue?
How can art create new spaces for conversations between people of different faiths?
How can an understanding of faith and inter-faith dialogue impact the arts?
How do we talk about art or religion that causes offense to others?

These were just some of the questions discussed by a group of people involved in the arts and members of different faith communities.

Following the successful Birmingham Conversations, a second series of conversations was run in the autumn of 2015 to consider the connection or conflict between faith and art. The aim of the conversations was to explore:

‘How artists and people of different faiths can work together to create the conditions for communities to come together in new ways and share conversations that could not otherwise take place.’
The purpose of these conversations was to:
• build mutual understanding and respect for the opportunities and challenges of contemporary artistic work that relates to themes of faith and spirituality;
• increase confidence amongst participants to engage with arts and faith projects
• build new links between like-minded individuals, groups, networks and initiatives and nurture the community of interest in Birmingham and UK around arts and faith;
• develop ideas for high quality arts projects, happenings and events that bring people together in new ways in the city and make a positive contribution to quality of life and cohesion in Birmingham.

As with the first conversations, we were not looking for complete consensus on issues that are raised, but wanted to provide a space for creative, imaginative conversation around these themes.

The conversations took place over three months and was generously hosted by Anthony Collins Solicitors. A full report of the conversations can be downloaded here: Arts and Faith Conversation 2016

The Birmingham Conversations

The debate over the alleged  ‘Trojan Horse’ plot, along with other local issues and tensions have highlighted the need for people of faith in Birmingham to be able to discuss the way that faith is lived out in Birmingham. This means being willing to tackle contentious issues in a considered and mature way without causing offence or ducking the difficult questions. The aim is not necessarily to find total agreement but to enable issues to be discussed and offer ideas and a model that others can use to continue the conversation.
To this end Bishop David Urquhart has asked a team to set up the Birmingham Conversations on the theme of ‘What does Lived Faith Look like in a 21st Century City?’. The conversations are being facilitated by Mrs Sian Nicholas who has recently completed a studies in Inter-Faith Peacebuilding for Faith-Based Development Organisations  and lectures at Coventry University on Religion, Conflict and Peace
The conversations will be a series of six sessions between October and March to which we are asking twenty four participants from different faiths to commit to all six sessions. The people are not invited as representatives but are participating in their own right. People were invited from Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism.

The conversations are a means of enabling difficult conversations around ‘lived faith’ in Birmingham post ‘Trojan Horse’ and will deliver two distinct outcomes:

Firstly: a model of how people with very different perspectives can be enabled to discuss issues usually seen as too controversial, yet which impact the lives of many people on a daily basis.

Secondly: a record of the conversations including where there were changing attitudes, agreement or disagreement as a way of encouraging others to see how these topics can be discussed.
These outcomes will be disseminated through:
1) An academic report on the nature and conclusions from the conversations produced electronically
2) A lay persons’ summary of number 1 produced in hard copy and electronically
3) An academic analysis of the methodology with recommendations for groups wishing to use this process in the future
4) A day conference in mid. 2015 to announce and discuss the findings with a wider group

The title for the Birmingham Conversations is ‘What Does Lived Faith Look Like in a 21st Century City?’; the aim is to provide a means of enabling difficult conversations around lived faith in Birmingham post ‘Trojan Horse’.

Below are some definitions from the title to unpack what our intentions are:
Enabling Difficult Conversations: facilitating the creation of safe space, whereby participants feel able to freely express the deeply held convictions of those within their faith traditions with each other. Within this safe space participants should feel heard and understood, and feel able to discuss issues and to disagree in a respectful manner. The space should allow participants to be challenged and to be challenging in a constructive way that informs the reality of daily life for participants.
Lived Faith: Religion is often expressed as a series of propositions, belief, practices or assertions that those who adhere to that religion are supposed to hold. Faith is a much more difficult term to define, but often speaks to the individual’s own commitment to those beliefs or practices, or on occasion the way in which the beliefs and practices are expressed within a particular community. By ‘lived faith’ we are looking to move beyond a purely intellectual understanding of religion to see faith as something that not only affects the way each individual member of a religion lives out their faith, but also the way in which that living inevitably interacts with those who live around them.
Lived faith is probably best understood in relation to identity. It is that expression or practice of the faith that is most intimate and personal for each individual. It can be expressed in terms of a relationship, particular values, a series of practices, law or encapsulated in specific words and passages of scripture. To engage with lived faith at this level is to touch that which is most personal for the faithful individual, that which has evolved from childhood, or that which drew a specific person to the faith in the first place. It cannot always be expressed in words, and questions of memory, emotion and embodiment are essential to any expression of lived faith. It is also rarely something that is uniquely individual; a lived faith is shared, lived out within a community of faith, even if the different members of the community may not choose to express their faith in identical forms. The community of the faithful is clearly important, but in practice lived faith also engages with, and may even share values or practices with, those of other faith traditions who live close by creating particular synergies and tensions within the expression of the faith.
Post ‘Trojan Horse’: Whilst the ‘Trojan Horse’ episode has brought the way faith is expressed in schools to the fore, it is our contention that the beliefs and values that led to some of the issues (e.g. gender separation) are not limited to schools or to one community. Furthermore there are other issues that are more relevant to people from other faiths that can also lead to tensions or conflict between people. It is this underlying way that faith is lived that we want to discuss in these conversations rather than ‘Trojan Horse’ per se.

Whilst the process and selection of invitees might not be perfect we hope that it will serve as a useful group to tackle some of these important issues and be a model that can be repeated enabling different people to participate.

 

Mystery Mission Trip Lands at the FNC

For three days in July the FNC became home for 20 young people and leaders from Knowle Parish Church. They eat, worshipped, and even slept at the FNC which they even found to be quite comfortable! However this wasn’t just a luxury city break they were here as part of their church’s annual mission trip for young people. So whilst they were with us they went litter picking with the Balsall Heath Forum, helped out at the Sultan Bahu Trust, Got involved with The Feast, did gardening at The Springfield Centre and helped at the Narthex Food Bank.

As well as all this activity they visited shops on the Stratford Road, had a tour of the Hamza Masjid and were there for Iftar and had a delicious meal at Hajees Restaurant.

Although Sparkhill is only 15 minutes away from Knowle, it’s a different world, one which many of the young people had never visited. However, they got stuck into the work and were enthusiastic and hardworking volunteers.

 

Learning About Love

In May 2014 the local organisation, Connect Justice, released a groundbreaking report called Learning About Love: Developing Interfaith Approaches to Promoting Healthy Relationships.  The Near Neighbour’s funded study carried out by Dr. Laura Zahra McDonald and Zubeda Limbada explored what healthy and unhealthy relationships mean in the context of faith, culture, gender and identity for Christian, Muslim and Sikh participants. Six young males, six young females and a mixed group of six parents were consulted in three-hour workshops in three separate sessions to enable honest views and dialogue to be shared. Each of the three groups had equal representation from the three faith groups. The cultural and ethnic heritage of the participants – reflective of Birmingham as a diverse city – included Somali, Black African, white British, African Caribbean, white American, Pakistani, and Indian.

Rather than focusing on the extremes, the researchers wanted to understand how might we better understand the challenges facing all of us, whether young women, young men, parents, family members or as wider community members? Are there different challenges governed by our diversities, including gender, faith, culture or age? How can we resist the tide, and learn about love? For this study, the question posed was ‘How might we as a society better promote healthy relationships’ which reflected the need for a positive, pro-active response.

You can read a copy of the report here.

The Winners Are Announced

The winners of the Near Neighbours Photography exhibition were announced and awarded their prizes on Saturday 16th November 2013. At a lively and fun evening at Birmingham Cathedral hosted by Nikki Tapper from BBC  RadioWM, the winners were awarded their prizes by The Right Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham. The audience was entertained with drumming from the Christian and Muslim women’s drumming group which had been supported by Near Neighbours.

 

The Winners were:

In the Faith Category 1st Prize Paul Hillcox with ‘Autumn Light’ 2nd Prize Andrew Brazier with ‘In faith we Ying and Yang on land and sky’ 3rd Prize Kirat Singh with ‘Interfaith Friends’

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Friendship Category 1st Mary Simones-Jones with ‘Margaret and her friend’ 2nd Amrick Singh Ubhi with ‘It is an honour and a pleasure to meet you’ 3rd Leina Zaigirdar with ‘Heartfusion’

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Community Category 1st, 2nd & 3rd were won by Ines Elsa Dalal with ‘Muslim Family and a Sikh family collide’ ‘St Paul’s Community Trust 10th  Anniversary Open Day’ ‘Olympic torch relay aftermath’

 

 

 

 

 

 

The overall winner was Paul Hillcox with ‘Faith Reflected’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All the entries can be viewed on the Near Neighbours Flickr site

Competion Winners on Display

The Near Neighbours in Birmingham photo competition was opened with a  private viewing for invited guests to St. Philip’s Cathedral. The 60 guests all spoke very highly of the photos which are being displayed in the Cathedral alongside the Faithful Friends Exhibition. The evening included speeches by The Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham and Mohammed Ali the well known Graffiti artist.

The competition winners will be on display in the Cathedral until the 23rd November and all the entries are available for the public to see when they visit.

The competition invited amateur photographers from Birmingham to submit pictures on the themes of:
Faith
Friendship
Community

There was a winner, runner up and third place in each category plus a selection of ‘Judges’ Favourites’ which did win prizes but which were highly commended by the judging panel.

There was also an overall winner drawn from all the pictures. This was won by Paul Hillcox for a wonderful close up study of an eye with a church window reflected in it. Paul said of his picture:
“The image was an inspired moment after our church service during the summer . I was trying out a new lens and just wanted to try something a little different and was attracted by the light from our church windows reflected in my wife’s eye. My wife, Veronica, has a very deep faith and I was quite moved by the image when I viewed it on my laptop. I have never tried this type of photo before and I am delighted that others find the same deeper meaning in the photograph.”

You can view all of the entries on the Near Neighbours Flickr Site

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