Tag: Church involvement

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

Christian- Buddhist Relations – Lessons from Myanmar

Andrew Smith (the Director of Interfaith Relations for the Bishop of Birmingham) was invited to attend a consultation on Anglican – Lutheran – Buddhist Relations. Held in Yangon, Myanmar from 16th -20th January 2017

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The consultation was organised by The Anglican Communion (NIFCON), The Lutheran World Federation, The World Council of Churches and the Diocese of Yangon, Myanmar, and was generously hosted by the Church of the Province of Myanmar under the leadership of Archbishop Stephen Than Myint Oo

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The consultation was attended by some seventy men and women from Myanmar, South East Asia and across the world who came together with a number of aims including:
• To listen to positive stories of engagement of Anglicans, Lutherans and other Christians with Buddhists
• To experience and listen to Buddhist Scholars about their expectations and perspectives for a better relationship
• To reflect together on topics of mutual importance including a) action together b) living together c) prayer and meditation
• To discuss and develop strategies for future relationship between Anglicans, Lutherans and Buddhists around the world

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The Shwedegon Pagoda
Much of the conference was given over to listening and learning from the experiences, beliefs and practices of Christians and Buddhists in Myanmar. This included academic papers, personal experiences, discussions and a visit to meet with staff and monks from the International Therevada Buddhist Missionary University, which has formal links with the Birmingham Buddist Vihara.

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The consultation engaged with a variety of topics, including accounts of tensions between Christians and Buddhists that are on-going in some parts of the country. The presence of Buddhists at the consultation encouraged an honesty and graciousness in the way personal experiences were discussed and historical matters considered.

Speakers from a variety of countries and disciplines helped to set a wider context for the conversations and to bring insights to bear on what was shared. This international and cross discipline approach allowed for a deeper engagement with complex and controversial topics.

Final Statement of the consultation was produced which, it is hoped, will inspire others to develop further engagement between Buddhists and Christians.

Alongside the consultation Andrew preached at two churches in Yangon and delivered a lecture at the Myanmar Institute of Theology, as well as having chance to visit Yangon and to discover what a multifaith city it is. Whilst the overwhelming majority of the population are Buddhist the city also has a number of Hindu Mandirs, Churches of different denominations (including Anglican, Baptist, Roman Catholic and Orthodox), Shia and Sunni Mosques and a Synagogue.

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Wudu are at Sunni Mosque

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Students at the Myanmar Institute of Theology

 

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The Synagogue in Mynamar

Birmingham is home to a diverse Buddhist community, it is hoped that initiatives like this will enable us to build stronger links between Buddhists and Christians in Birmingham.

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Chua Tu Dam Vietnamese Vihara, Birmingham

 

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

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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.

 

Welcoming the Stranger – Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter 2013

January 19th 2013 saw churches open their doors to homeless people and offer a bed to those who need it. Building on last year’s pilot, this year 6 hosts churches; 4 Church of England churches and 2 Baptist churches, offered shelter and hospitality for 6 weeks in January and February. The project was a collaboration of so many churches, projects and individuals. It included over 300 volunteers from a range of churches and traditions staffing the shelter; providing food, sleeping overnight and generally making guests feel at home. Guests were referred to the shelter by SIFA Fireside and also by outreach teams from Reach Out Network and Grace Bible Fellowship, who, as well as referring rough sleepers into the shelter, also met them at the pickup point and chaperoned them to the venues helping them to settle in.  Transport was provided by church projects and Shencare Community Transport along with volunteer drivers for each night, and at each venue there was a volunteer coordinator who managed the shift and food rotas. To date the project has provided shelter to 31 guests, and offered a warm place to sleep during what has been, at times, a bitterly cold couple of months.  Wonderfully, during their time with us, some of our guests have been able to find work and accommodation, and we have also been able to work with Midland Heart Homeless Services team to help guests access any support available to them.  One of our guests who had been homeless for 4 years, with the support from an experienced volunteer, was helped to make a successful homeless application which resulted in him being given accommodation. Thank you to all those who have given their time, resources, prayer, money and support to make this project such a great success in providing shelter, hospitality, friendship and support to those who have used the shelter this winter. It has been such a blessing to many guests and volunteers alike. However in terms of tackling homelessness it is only really scratching the surface in helping to address the issues that are faced by those sleeping rough. There is a strong desire from The Birmingham Christian Homeless Forum, Housing Justice and Thrive Together Birmingham to engage and help to mobilise churches and Christians who are passionate and committed to supporting homeless people. We are trying to do this by developing this and other projects, and to work with other voluntary and statutory organisations to be part of addressing the needs of homeless people face. For more information about how you can support this and other homeless projects please contact e.neill@HousingJustice.org.uk  or info@thrivetogetherbham.org

Youth Work Students Visit the FNC

For three days in October we hosted students from the Midlands Centre for Youth Ministry. Their visit was part of their diversity module and was an opportunity for the to meet, experience and learn about the some of the different faiths and cultures here in Birmingham. Alongside lectures and discussions they experienced the fun of shopping on the Stratford Road and visited the Shree Laxmi Nayan Mandir and the Masjid Hamza.

The module is an important element of their course as it equips Christian youth and children’s workers to understand different faiths and cultures, as well as giving them an opportunity to reflect on how they might work with young people from different faith backgrounds and disciple Christian young people living in a multi-faith society.

 

Visiting the Shree Hindu Centre

 

Health Ministry in Local Neighbourhoods – Parish Nursing Event in Balsall Heath

Last year Thrive Together Birmingham hosted a ‘Tackling Poverty’ event, offering resources and tools to churches wanting to address issues of poverty in their local neighbourhoods. One of the exhibitors was Parish Nursing UK, a Christian charity which helps local churches appoint nurses to support people and communities towards what they call “whole person healthcare”, which they describe as care for “body, mind and spirit”.
Their work is essentially about enabling registered nurses to combine their nursing skills with their faith and work with their local church to address some of the health needs of the local community. Thrive were keen to get them to Birmingham to inspire nurses to explore possibilities in their neighbourhoods, and on Saturday 22nd September we held an event at Balsall Heath Church Centre. Those attending who were already parish nurses shared their experience and told stories of churches hosting health drop-in’s, where people had their blood pressure checked over a cup of tea and chat, and where time to share and be listened to was prioritised, as well signposting and supporting people to access other health care services. Community breakfasts and lunches focused around highlighting particular health issues.  Cycling projects aimed at developing fitness, encouraging weight loss and encouraging self-esteem. Stories of relationships being built and friendships developing with frail and elderly people who had previously been reluctant to trust others; and of support and reassurance offered to frightened patients and families following difficult diagnoses. The event also offered opportunities for nurses and others attending to ask questions of members of the parish nursing UK team, church leaders and existing parish nurses.

If you are interested in exploring possibilities for using nursing skills in your local neighbourhood and would like more information contact Jennie Fytche at pnmukjenniefytche@btinternet.com

Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter 2013

Following the success of last years pilot churches winter night shelter in Birmingham, church leaders, outreach workers and others met at the Faithful Neighbourhood Centre to discuss a churches night shelter for this winter.

Last winter Churches from across Birmingham came together to provide shelter and hospitality to homeless people in Birmingham. Using the ‘roving shelter’ model devised by the Christian charity Housing Justice, the Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter was hosted by 5 churches on different nights of the week and provided a hot meal, friendship and hospitality, a bed for the night and breakfast.
Guests were offered a place at the shelter through a referral system which was coordinated by St Martin’s in the Bullring Help Desk with support from Reach Out Network, a Christian outreach team who also provided transport for guests to get to the shelter. This project was a great example of the Body of Christ working together in Birmingham to help those who really need it. The volunteers who staffed the shelter came not only from the host churches but from a wide variety of denominations and church traditions.
Those who used the shelter were so grateful that churches were offering them food and a bed for the night, but were equally grateful that volunteers took time to get to know them and made them feel comfortable and welcome, one guest said “it was nice to be given time to talk, it’s very rare you can sit down for a proper meal when you’re homeless”.
This winter there are plans for a 4 – 6 week shelter to start mid-January, and church hosts, volunteers, resources, and funding are now being sought.  For a copy of the  Pilot Winter Shelter Report 2012_more information contact Thrive Together Birmingham at info@thrivetogetherbham.org or

Asian Awareness

Over the past five weeks a people have come to the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre to deepen their understanding of Islam, Sikhism and Hinduism. The course was aimed at Christians who wanted to learn more about these faiths and South Asian culture as well as to think through how they might share their faith with people from a different faith background.

The titles of the 5 weeks were:

Towards understanding Islam
Towards understanding Sikhism
Towards understanding honour and shame culture
Towards understanding Hinduism
Towards understanding South Asian children and young people.

Each week was led by contributors with an in depth knowledge of the different faith and culture, and the course included times for questions, reflection, sharing resources and prayer.

The course was run with Pall Singh from East West Trust, Pall has lived and worked in Birmingham for many years and has run this course successfully in a variety of locations across the city.

It is hoped that we can run this with Pall again in 2013. Details will be on our events page when they are confirmed.

 

 

 

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