Tag: Near Neighbours

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

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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.

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

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

Catalyst Team Synergy Video

In early 2013 the Catalyst group were split into three teams and each was challenged to run a Near Neighbours event. Each event was different effective and exciting. One group ran an art event, another trained local leaders in how to apply for Near Neighbours funding and the third, Team Synergy, ran a morning for children from two primary schools, one Catholic and one Sikh. They produced the following video which captures the fun and significance of the morning for the pupils.

 

FAITHFUL PHOTOGRAPHERS NEEDED

Near Neighbours is calling for photographers with a faithful focus to train their lenses on the friendships that have been built across the city between people from different religious traditions.

We are looking for pictures that capture one of three themes:
Friendship
Faith
Community

A selection of the photographs will be displayed in St Philip’s Cathedral from 16-24th  November which coincides with Interfaith Week. The winning entrants will be awarded Adobe software packages to help them develop their images and create more professional pictures.

Judges viewing the pictures will include:
The Dean of Birmingham, the Very Revd Catherine Ogle
Internationally renowned graffiti artist, Mohammed Ali
Professional photographer at Outroslide Photography, Dharmendra Patel
The Bishop’s Director of Interfaith Relations, Dr Andrew Smith.

Birmingham’s Near Neighbours Co-ordinator, Jessica Foster said: “We have funded some 130 projects in the city which aim to turn neighbours into friends and build lasting relationships between people of different faiths.

“We would love to see images of all sorts of relationships and activities that show how people in Birmingham work together, play together, eat together, share together and laugh together, building stronger communities and growing in understanding.”

Photographs should be submitted to Jess@nearneighbours.com and will be displayed on the Near Neighbours Brum Flickr site. A selection will be displayed in Birmingham Cathedral from 14th  til the 23rd November 2013. The competition is open to any amateur photographer based in the West Midlands.

Follow the competition at #nnbrumpics

Graduates plan for the Future

On the 11th May the Catalyst course came to an end. The day finished with a graduation meal at Al-Faisal’s restaurant in Birmingham. About 50 guests attended and heard about what had happened on the course and the impact it had on the group members.

The evening concluded with the members being awarded a certificate and being presented with a personalised Catalyst hoodie. Major Sam Edgar from the Salvation Army and Rabbi Margaret Jacobs were representing the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group and handed out the certificates and hoodies.

During the evening the group explained that they are intended to continue meeting as a younger faith leaders group. Plans are well underway for their first meetings and updates on how to keep up with their progress will be coming soon.

Learning to Lead in the Big City

‘Tomorrow members of the public are coming for a guided tour of London, your task between now and then is to research, plan and then lead a tour for them’.

How would you feel if that was said to you? well that was just one of the challenges the Catalyst group faced on their residential trip to London. They had less than 24 hours to plan a trip in a city few of them new well for people they had never met. It demanded that they drew on all the leadership training they had received through the Catalyst programme so far, and was a real challenge.

The four day trip also included a visit to the House of Lords to discuss being a faith leader in the public and political sphere. They were guided by the Rt Revd Bishop David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham and one of the Lords Spiritual who sits in the House of Lords. He gave a fascinating tour of the house explaining its workings and history and chaired a discussion for them to grapple with how to be a leader of faith in a society where faith isn’t always taken seriously or considered relevant to political or moral debate.

Having the chance to spend time together, socialise and eat together brought the group much closer and led to some really deep and profound conversations on topics such as women in leadership, salvation and gay marriage. Our evening reflections included the opportunity to reflect on pieces of art from different faith traditions, on the final day we visited Tate Modern and looked at art inspired both by a spirituality and by no faith or spirituality at all.

It was a fantastic time which drew us together as a group, challenged us all and developed leadership skills amongst this key group of emerging leaders in Birmingham.

Oh, and how were the guided tours? Brilliant.

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