Tag: Stories of Encounters

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

 

The Dance Tour Comes to an End

After visiting twenty two venues over 12 months covering 132 miles the artwork Dance has finished it’s tour of Birmingham (and occasionally over the border).

During that time it has been exhibited in:

Fourteen Churches, Three Synagogues, One Mandir, One Islamic Centre, One Cathedral, One FE College and one Art Gallery

It’s travelled from Rubery to Sutton Coldfield, from Smethwick to Acock’s Green and many places in between and been seen by several thousand people.

In all it’s travels Dance has clocked up an amazing 132 miles across Birmingham and the region.

The painting Dance has been supported by the ‘Maps of Conversationland’ which allowed people to engage with the topics of the Birmingham Conversations through pictures, poetry and questions.

The full list of venues Dance was exhibited in is:
Central Synagogue
Singers Hill Synagogue
St Mary’s Acock’s Green
Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery
St Mary’s Moseley
St Andrew’s Handsworth
St Peter’s Hall Green
St Michael’s Hall Green
St Chad’s Rubery
St Peter’s Maney
Holy Cross Bilsley
Walford Road Hindu Temple Tysley
Progressive Synagogue 5 ways
As Sufa Trust Aston
St Barnabas Erdington
All Saints Kings Heath
Holy Trinity Smethwick
Fircroft College
St Nicolas Kings Norton
St Philip’s Cathedral
St Germains Edgbaston
Christchurch Sparkbrook

There is a also a video which explains the process behind the creation of Dance and the Maps of Conversationland

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

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

Dear Birmingham Book Launch

The Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre hosted a book launch for local academic and author Karamt Iqbal. His book, which he describes as a conversation with his hometown, explores the plight of the growing Pakistani community in Birmingham. Karamat presented the book to the guests and explained that it came both from his personal experience of coming to Birmingham from Pakistan as a young boy as well as his many years of working for the city council on diversity issues and his current academic study.

Having told part of his own story and the history of Pakistani’s in Birmingham the book covers a wide range of topics:
Education
Health
Crime
Representation in private and public organisations
Representation in the media

Overall the picture he paints is fairly bleak with Pakistani’s coming out with poor health, low academic standards, over representation in the prisons and under representation in the media. Then in a very hard hitting and challenging section Karat asks what the problem is and looks at the issue of racism across a number of institutions in Birmingham. He argues forcefully that Pakistanis are excluded from a variety of posts either through lack of role models which results in fewer people aspiring for the posts and people being unwilling to promote as the post is only ever on merit. Or the networking culture that means those out of the networks never get a look in. Whilst he acknowledges this happens within the Pakistani community he points out it tends to be for much less well-paid jobs.

He then explores issues of religion, culture and language before making recommendations for the future.

You can read more about Karamt’s work and order a copy of the book at his Forward Partnership website.

 

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

Faithful Friends – Portraits of Friendships

Since September 2011, Near Neighbours has been encouraging people across the city to come together to make new friends, deepen relationships and transform their communities. We now have 92 projects that have been funded by Near Neighbours – initial feedback suggests 3,000 people have met each other through these events.

To celebrate these friendships between people of different faiths and ethnicities we comissioned 15 portraits taken by a professional photographer, Dee from Outroslide, that give the people and their relationship a context.

We shot the pictures and interviewed all the people involved during June, July, August, September and a bit of October, had bespoke display boards made that could fit in a car and be assembled as quickly as possibly (thanks to John at Morse-Brown Design) , hunted around for funding (thanks Transforming Church and Westhill Endowment) and eventually launched the exhibition on November 17th at St Martin’s Church in the Bull Ring.

The events was hosted by the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urquhart working with comedian Barbara Nice and Sajid Khan. Guests browsed the exhibition, heard from some of the participants, danced, laughed and enjoyed afternoon tea.

The exhibition and its launch were featured on Central News – the piece included interviews with people who had been involved with the projects and some of those whose friendships are depicted in the portraits. You can watch the coverage here.

Since then the Exhibition has been seen at the launch of the Christian Muslim report into women’s work, at the national Together In Service event hosted by the Department for Communities and Local Government. It is booked by local primary schools, churches, universities and other places of worship but is available for anyone to borrow.

Booking forms and more details are all on our website – we really want people to see these pictures and think hard about the personal and political importance of friendships that bridge communities, challenge prejudice and broaden our imagination. Have a look at the pictures and stories featured in the exhibition on the Outroslide website.

(All pictures from the launch were taken by Helen Tomblin – thanks.)

 

 

 

 

 

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

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