Author: Andrew

My Special Place

How can we use places to encourage and inform friendship, understand and discussion between people of different faiths?

The Faithful Friends: On Tour project has done just that; by choosing places of special meaning and visiting them together the group grew in their friendship and discovered new ways of talking about how their faith has been shaped and formed.

My Special Place is a new resource designed to help groups run their own programme of trips to places of special meaning. It gives you the background thinking and lots of practical tips on topics such as:

  • How to get started
  • Choosing places
  • Organising the trips
  • How to have good discussions

You can download My Special Place for free and use it to start planning visits to your special places.

Faithful Friends – Together for Hope

The Faithful Friends: On Tour project has been recognised by Coventry Cathedral and has become their first Together for Hope Community.

Together for Hope is a relational network facilitated by Coventry Cathedral’s reconciliation team.

We are a network of partners who are secular or faith-based organisations.

We are drawn together by the story of Coventry Cathedral, and its partners have an on-going relationship with the Cathedral.

We share a common commitment to work for peace justice and reconciliation. We nurture this among our network through mutual support, fellowship and occasional joint action.

The partnership was formalised at a ceremony at Coventry Cathedral in the morning followed by a civic reception at West Bromwhich Town Hall in the afternoon.

Speeches were given by Rt Revd David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham, Rt Revd John Stroyan,The Bishop of Warwick, Canon Sarah Hills, Cllr Ahmadul Haque M.B.E, Councillor Linda Horton, Deputy Leader of Sandwell Council: Cllr Syeda Katun

The ceremony also included songs by pupils from Crocketts Community School Smethwick, Devonshire Junior Academy Smethwick and Hargate Primary School West Bromwich

 

A commemorative booklet of the day can be downloaded here WB Booklet Final

 

 

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

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.

Chua Tu Dam Vietnamese Vihara 2

Chua Tu Dam Vietnamese Vihara, Birmingham

 

Faith in the Public Sphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

map-of-conversationland

A painting ‘Dance’ by Jake Lever

Art Work

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

 

The Video in response to the Conversations

The Birmingham Conversations from Birmingham Conversations on Vimeo.

 

 

 

A Visit from Lutheran Pastors from Dresden

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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