Tag: friendship

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

 

Oh we do like to be beside the seaside…

As part of the Faithful Friends: On Tour pilgrimage the Revd David Gould took the group to his special place – Polzeath in Cornwall. Here he reflects on returning to a place of special meaning with friends of different faiths…

 

Background Story for our Cornwall Visit
I went to Cornwall in 1973 with Covenanters who ran camps at the time and youth groups in mainly Free Evangelical churches. I had been going to church for a couple of years and a children’s group before that.

I was 14 and a half when I went to the camp. We slept eight to a bell tent with an adult assigned to each tent. The system was quite rigid with morning inspections, competition for best tent etc each day and shared helping with washing up and serving at tables.

Morning and evening talks by the Padre, Ian Knox. Meals together, about 80 boys and 20 adults with a Commandant in charge. I remember each tent being a boat on the wall of the marquee and we were awarded points each day…naming and shaming….My tent won the competition! I also learned and enjoyed volleyball there.
Three of us travelled by train from Stafford and were collected in a Land Rover from Bodmin. We stayed ten days I think. I remember it being very hot, lots of calamine lotion and time on the beach with a plywood surfboard. One huge thunderstorm and we were all hauled out of our tents in the night because it was thought safer out than in!


The key bit for me was the call each night by Ian, for us to come to Jesus. One night I wanted to but couldn’t find the courage so went to Ian’s tent the following morning and so began my concious Christian journey – I had been baptised as a baby as most were then. Ian’s invitation was to take the hand of Jesus and walk with him through life, never alone and that has been true for me ever since. I have often used that way of looking at faith in sermons etc.
In 1984 Ian and I worked together during the Mission:England project when he was part of the team of evangelists. Years later we were in touch again and he invited me to join his team doing town – wide missions in Dundee, Malvern and Suffolk. Ian has been faithful to me as has the friend he enabled for me in Jesus. Very special. Ian is now ordained and serving in Northumbria and continues to preach there and in Africa.


Reflections for our visit to Cornwall
In Christian teaching the Incarnation is very central for me. God becoming human and taking that lived experience back into God, the creator changed forever…….The hand and the promise….Jesus never lets go, is always there, through all and promises to always be there.
Time and Place…..Christianity is for me located, tangible, made real in time and space. Jesus on a road, a cross, a mountain at a time in history. Likewise for me I identified my Christian journey in time and place which is what makes Polzeath so special for me as are the other places since where God has been signally real
Unique …..I cannot say faiths are the same but neither will I put down another or someone of no faith. Jesus is for me the unique expression of God to us as humans and back in to God and yes I do want all to know him as I do and yes that is a major driver for me in ministry. It’s the way I have come and it’s what shapes my ministry as a vicar in Smethwick and my personal faith. However, I hope I never force that experience of faith on anyone but rather I am ready to give account when called to. New life in Jesus is not about a new life after death, re-incarnated, but a new life in God that starts in this life, shapes this life and enables this life through all the messes we make and all the mess which we don’t make but live through. This new life includes our physical death and the life beyond.

Faithful Friends: On Tour in Worcester

As part of the Faithful Friends: On Tour pilgrimage the Revd Nick Ross took the group to his special place – the old Worcester Royal Infirmary in Worcester. Here he reflects on returning to a place of special meaning with friends of different faiths…

I haven’t been back to what was Worcester Royal Infirmary since the mid 80’s. It was my place of work…I was a nurse on one of the surgical wards. It is also where our older son spent months as a newborn with meningitis, and where both our children were christened. Although I might not have identified it at the time, in retrospect, I can see that it is also the place where I started to move back towards active Christian faith, as a result of my interaction with the hospital chaplain: an Anglican priest who presented a care for the spiritual needs of those of all faiths and none. It was this breadth of ministry and absence of any sense of some being inside and others outside God’s ‘camp’, that has shaped my faith and now shapes my ministry.


Going back to Worcester was quite strange in some ways. The infirmary is now the City Campus of the University of Worcester and Wheeley Lea Ward, where I worked, is now a set of classrooms. So much had changed and yet so much was still recognisable. I could identify where the nursing station used to be: the window where a confused patient had tried to jump out in the middle of the night: where particularly memorable patients had lain…and in some cases died. And I remembered how the chaplain would come to the ward once a week to conduct a service of prayer. Some came and sat to listen…some lay quietly in their beds…some did their best to ignore the chaplain’s presence and a few made it quite clear that they would much rather he wasn’t there.
It was a huge privilege to visit with friends of various faiths. In the act of remembering how things used to be, I was constantly reminded about how far the world…and I…had moved in the last thirty years. It was good to share this place with them and talk about how, in my case at least, spiritual life is shaped not by single well defined incidents, but by passages of time in which, often only when looking back, we can discern a shift of direction. I was reminded of ‘the butterfly effect’: the idea from chaos theory that whether or not a storm builds may be determined by the ephemeral movement of air created by a butterfly flying on one direction or another. Our faith journeys may, at times at least, make more sense in retrospect than they do while lived, and in our faith leadership we may never know when a word or a holding silence may be a turning point in someone else’s faith journey.
I’ve heard from that hospital chaplain since our visit to Worcester. He remembers my son fighting for his life on the children’s ward: he remembers christening my children and conducting an Old Testament funeral service for my father, a very secular Jew, who had had no contact with a synagogue since arriving in this country as a refugee from Nazi Germany. What took him completely by surprise, was that his actions…both in the particular and in his general ministry on the ward, had eventually guided me back to ordination.

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

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

 

The Importance of Prayer in Islam and Christianity

In April 2016 we held a meeting of Christians and Muslims to reflect on our prayer lives, to look at the similarities and differences in how, when and why we pray. The meeting, which took place at The Institute for Leadership and Community Development,  had four speakers two Christian and two Muslim and about 40 people of both faiths were there to listen but particularly to discuss what prayer meant to them. The speakers came from different traditions within Christianity and Islam and presented their own perspective around the questions of how they pray, why do they pray and what happens when they pray? Much of the evening was spent with small groups of Christians and Muslims talking together about those questions?
What came out during the evening was, perhaps not surprisingly, that there was much similarity between our attitudes towards prayer. I found it particularly interesting to see how much passion there was when people talked about their own prayer lives. The sense was that there was something very deep and profound happening for both Christians and Muslims when they pray;  this is not just ritual, not just out ‘going through the motions’ or performing a task, this was a deep spiritual connection.
Shaykha Safia Shahid spoke about the five daily times of prayer for Muslims, something that non-Muslims can often see, and perhaps dismiss, as mere ritual yet when she spoke there was such passion about what that meant for her daily life. She explained how it constantly reconnected her with Allah, how through those prayer times she was aware of his presence in her life day by day it was a very moving and powerful speech. Nicky Tapper spoke from her Pentecostal tradition and talked about her prayer life again with passion, hers was a much more informal expression of prayer one that can bubble over into all of her life. There was no set rhythm or patterns, no particular prayer books, and yet just as deeply felt compassion that is the more ritualised prayer that we heard about from Safia. In the groups we found this similar passion, this same deep yearning for a spiritual life that came through the pattern and ritual of prayer, but also the informal crying out to God our heartfelt needs.
The second two speakers again came from different traditions within Islam and Christianity. Shaykh Muhammad Yaseen spoke about the informal prayer within Islam from his more Sufi tradition; he talked about the yearnings and the praying to Allah and what that meant for him in those more informal times. Rev Larry Wright shared his ritual of prayer, how he prays at least four times a day at set times of morning, noon late afternoon and last thing at night. He explained that he draws upon the spiritual tradition of scripture and prayer books, how he looks to the Saints as an inspiration for his prayer life. Through all these discussions and talks there was this real sense that prayer was something very deep and profound for both Christians and Muslims. This was not just shouting at the sky or empty words but something really deep, a passionate crying out from our spirit.
Interestingly, perhaps, some of the differences that came up were within the faith traditions rather than between them, there was significant difference between a Pentecostal and catholic pattern of prayer, whereas there was real similarity between the way Larry and Safia described their daily patterns of prayer.  Yet there were also differences on how we talked about God praying through Jesus Christ for the Christians, being submissive before Allah for Muslims. One of the interesting differences came up with a question was asked about how do we pray and make sense of all the bad stuff going on in the world? Do we blame God or do we see God as being somehow apart from the sufferings that we see going on in the world? Nicky, wanted to make it very clear that she did not in any way blame God, that she saw that this was people’s own choices which she linked back to the story of Adam and Eve and how they made the choice to disobey and that actually God grieves suffering in the world, but as humans we have to bear our responsibility. Shaykh Yaseen, however, saw it as God permitting things but not delighting in suffering or evil, he explained that  he believes that nothing happens outside the will of Allah and yet he is not pleased with what people do but neither can we just say he is apart from it.
Perhaps, once again, the most significant part evening were the discussions, where people had chance to talk to another person about their own personal prayer life. Rarely do we get the opportunity to talk to someone from another faith about our own prayer life in an atmosphere where it’s acknowledged as a good thing, where people are eager to understand and share deeply about their own struggles and joys with prayer. We asked groups to consider how they cope when God doesn’t answer prayer, or doesn’t answer as we want.  Many people said that was a very important part of the evening,  to get to some of those difficult challenges of prayer and hear how other people actually grapple with that rather than just hearing the right answer or the theory.
Talking about prayer is perhaps something that in Britain we haven’t got used to doing in public, we might feel a bit embarrassed I will be laughed at or ridiculed? Yet in the right environment it can be one of the most interesting, and profound discussions to have, one that doesn’t just stay at the point of prayer but leads on to other interesting insightful and useful conversations. Where we don’t just learn another faith, but have opportunity to share deeply with new found friends.

You can watch a video of the event here https://vimeo.com/164685440

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.

 

Doing Interfaith in the Countryside

The Catalyst young leaders group held their weekend away in February and were able to get away from it all with a trip to beautiful Derbyshire. Apart from great food, a wonderful location and lots of laughter there were also significant discussions on leadership, reincarnation, sexuality and discrimination. The weekend started with a lively game about aims and objectives that involved eating quite a lot of chocolate.

The group also worked on a social action project that they will be rolling out in Birmingham in the coming months. Coming from their desire to help those who are struggling with food poverty and to provide a sustainable, regular supply of fresh food they are working on an innovative and exciting project.

We were also challenged to think through our attitudes to sexuality and how we understand the experiences and stories of those from the LGBT community who are also members of faith communities.

As with all the Catalyst events it was a real mix of friendship building and deep conversations that make the whole course such a worthwhile endeavour.

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

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