Category: Christianity

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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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

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.

 

END HUNGER FAST

On Ash Wednesday a group of staff from the FNC joined faith leaders, food bank representatives and community groups to commission the Hunger Hut in the grounds of Birmingham Cathedral.

The Hunger Hut is a focus for End Hunger Fast in Birmingham and will be staffed by volunteers to enable it to open six days a week. Do call in if you are passing  and find out more about the campaign at www.endhungerfast.co.uk.

Following the launch of the Hunger Hut the Bishop of Birmingham wrote the following article for the Birmingham Post:-  the full text is below. It is quite long but definitely worth reading.

Bishop David Urquhart writes:

At a recent gathering of faith leaders a Government Minister joked that a collective of Bishops might be called a ‘correspondence.’ The letter we wrote with other Christian leaders on February 20th about welfare reforms and poverty seems to have struck a chord in the nation and in the fortnight that has followed its publication, poverty has barely been out of the headlines.

Following the focus on food poverty and food banks, the spotlight turned to families as the Government re-launched their draft Child Poverty Strategy.  However its call for better measurements and data was met with a plea for more substantial action to support the poorest people in our nation and break the cycle of deprivation. I believe this is a good opportunity to refresh our Birmingham Child Poverty Strategy.

But while it is easy to agree the poverty needs to end and action needs to be taken the question that is not so easily answered is ‘What do we do?’  The Church has begun to answer that question with its campaign End Hunger Fast which I launched in Birmingham yesterday.

During the next 40 days, the season of Lent, Christians across the country will be fasting and praying as is our tradition. This year there is an added focus of food poverty and  following the example of Jesus we will be finding ways of reaching out to those in need. One practical action we have committed ourselves to is to try and raise enough money to ensure the local charity SIFA Fireside can provide breakfast to the people sleeping rough in our city.  We will also be creating prayer spaces with a hunger focus and visiting food banks and shelters to talk to people there and gather stories of hunger which will be presented to parliament just before Easter.

We hope these stories will help us understand the patterns of poverty in this city region and reveal simple steps that could be taken to help people live without the stark choices of heat or eat, payday loans or no bus-pass to get to work. We expect to hear about low paid work, zero contract hours which mean people do not know if they will be paid from week to week, benefit sanctions and the destitution faced by immigrants who have ‘no recourse to public funds’ and cannot access the usual support networks. We will of course hear stories of bad health, debt, addiction and relationship break-up and among all the stories we will hear of great sacrifice, bravery, determination and fortitude as well as despair, frustration and anger.

Despite the complexity of the issues I think there are steps that the seventh richest nation in the world can take to help redistribute some of our resources and ensure we care for the most marginalised in our communities.
An obvious start would be a higher minimum wage, or the living wage, which has been adopted by many organisations and helps to ensure people do not have to take on several jobs to make ends meet or supplement their income with benefits and food-parcels. In 2013 the living wage for people outside London was calculated to be £7.65 per hour – the national minimum wage is £6.31. According to the Living Wage Foundation, it implementation is not only good for employees but for employers too. 80% of employers believed that the living wage had enhanced the quality of the work of their staff, while absenteeism had fallen by approximately 25%. (http://www.livingwage.org.uk/what-are-benefits)

Alongside a living wage it seems essential that child-care is accessible and affordable so parents can afford to work in the confidence that their children are being well looked after.  We need tailored support to help people overcome barriers to work whether they are educational issues, health-related problems or any other obstacles.

Of course these solutions need to work alongside growing a creative economy that provides as many well-resourced jobs as possible for those who need them including a flourishing social enterprise sector and a commitment to making work accessible, meaningful and rewarding. We have some wonderful examples of social enterprises helping people into work including Devenish Girl bakery in Weoley Castle, Gear Up in Hodge Hill and Urban Cycles in Ward End.

These are inspiring examples of enterprise putting people first – bringing jobs, training and hope to young people but there is much more like this that could be done by people working together with a commitment to shared benefit from business. Partnerships between the public sector and private sector, voluntary groups and faiths communities are going to play an essential role as we realise we share responsibility for the welfare of our city. But equally essential are new kinds of partnerships that are formed when individuals meet each other across divides of wealth, faith or ethnicity and see their shared humanity and responsibility to each other. The Near Neighbours programme in Birmingham has helped us to develop some of these relationships over the last three years, giving away nearly £500,000 to enable faith and community groups to start small projects to bring people together and work to change their communities. I was delighted to be at the recent announcement that the Government is allocating a further £3 million to this programme.

Equally I have heard of food bank volunteers who are changed by the stories they hear and are moved to lobby MPs or press for change in other ways.  I am also excited by other movements such as Places of Welcome which offer hospitality and refreshments in a way which narrows the gap between guest and host and encourages all to participate and contribute. If you’re interested in these ideas I recommend The Stop by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis which tells how a simple food bank in Canada has developed, by encouraging participation rather than dependency,  into an internationally respected Community Food Centre with gardens, kitchens, a greenhouse and farmers’ markets. It centres on the idea of cooking and eating together to encourage healthy eating and mutual interdependency.
In the Christian tradition, our worship centres around a shared meal, instituted by Jesus Christ, which we call Holy Communion where young and old, rich and poor people of all ethnicities and abilities put aside their differences to share a foretaste of the banquet we believe is prepared in heaven. Meals have been very important in the bridging work of Near Neighbours and I believe they represent our shared humanity, our mutuality, our ability to share and our ability to provide for one another. So when the fast of Lent is over I look forward to the occasional feast, perhaps at a Place of Welcome, where all are included and no-one leaves hungry, where all are heard, seen and recognised as a human being who may have needs, failings and shortcomings but who brings their own unique experience, worth and gifts – carrying in them the image of God.

 

The Gift of Giving and Friendship

Today two young men from The Feast project Y4M (Youth for Moseley) visited the Sparkhill food bank for a behind-the-scenes look at what happens to food once it’s donated.

These young men from Moseley School, one Christian and one Muslim, joined forces to make a video encouraging others from their school to take part in a food drive that will start soon.

Not only were these two representing the Y4M after school club, but they were also representing their faith and looking at how they could work together to tackle poverty.

When asked why they were willing to give up a day of their holiday to help out they said:

“It’s important because not only is it written in the Qur’an, but it nourishes your own soul, knowing that you are making a difference. When you give, it removes your own selfishness.” said Bilal.

“I like helping people. I was always taught to respect people and the Bible says to do for others what I’d like them to do for me. It’s part of who I am. Being Tswana (from Botswana) that’s how we’re grounded – you just know someday, someone will need to help you.” Mandla said.

These young men have also become pretty good friends in the short space of time they’ve known each other. Having met in the after-school club (Y4M) just 3 weeks ago, they spent most of the journey to and from the food bank talking about their faith and their beliefs. It was so encouraging to hear them speak so positively about each others faith and to have them both speak so passionately about recent events in the media.

When reflecting on their day, Bilal said: “It’s kinda cool when a non-Muslim defends a Muslim because it shows the brotherhood between them. It touched me when Mandla said he knew that all Muslims aren’t like how the media negatively represents us at times.”

“Bilal called me a friend and a good guy – that’s something I don’t get every day, especially from a Muslim. It made me feel quite good about myself and about how other people from a different religion can still view me an appreciate me.” said Mandla.

Today I thought we were simply going to a food bank to see how food is collected, stored and distributed. What I witnessed, however, was a marvellous gift of friendship, exchanged between two young men of different cultures and different faiths.

The Feast join the team at the FNC

We’re delighted that at the start of May the local charity The Feast moved into the FNC. The Feast is a local Christian charity that works to build relationships between Christian and Muslim teenagers.

The Feast is all about…
•Exploring faith: young people are encouraged and equipped to discuss their faith in ways which draw out both the similarities and differences between them.

•Creating friendships: by bringing together young people in a positive and fun environment we provide the opportunities for them to get to know one another, work on projects together and build on-going friendship built on trust and respect.

•Changing lives: having been to events run by The Feast the young people are challenged and enabled to live out the lessons they have learnt in their everyday lives amongst their friends, family and the wider community.

Their work fits with the three strands of work that we undertake here at the FNC namely: Tackling Poverty, Engaging with Other Faiths and  Transforming Communities.

Do look out for news of what The Feast are up to or visit their website and facebook page for regular updates.

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

Curry and Chips – how a panto built a triangle of friendships between a church, a temple and a theatre company

On Sunday February 9th members of St Edmund’s Church in Tyseley and the Shree Hindu Community Centre came together to perform a pantomime called Curry and Chips. Pravin Sangani, a key organiser an motivator of the event writes about how it came about:

During the summer of last year Vicar of St Edmund’s Church Tyseley (Church), Committee members of Shree Hindu Community Centre (Temple) and office bearers of Near Neighbours (NN) met at the temple with a view to foster better relationship between Christian and Hindu communities. As such there were no issues to resolve but there was very limited interaction between these two communities in Tyseley.  After usual introductions and other  formalities, all present thought of planning the activities to bring two communities closer.  At coffee break, I suggested to Jessica Foster mainly in jest that we should have pantomime at Christmas and ‘clowns’ from both faiths can deliver the message which could be more effective than having serious theological discussions. Somehow, Jessica took the joke more seriously than I thought. Both of us being interested in the theatre soon saw the potential of the proposal.

Fortunately, Jessica knew about the activities and the ability of Women and Theatre who specialise in the community theatre. Church, Temple and Theatre deliberated on the proposal and its practicalities and put a funding proposal to NN which was duly approved. It soon transpired that pantomime was not a very practical idea and by the time the funding was approved, mounting a successful project at Christmas 2012 would have been very risky. Women & Theatre came up with the idea of writing a script bottom up, where both Christian and Hindu participants brain storm the issues that will make a good drama. Everybody agreed around a realistic plot where a young Hindu student from India stays as paying guest with not so young land lady in Tyseley and the religious, social and cultural challenges it creates for both and their relations.

Women & Theatre coached all the participants to think of the scenes and situations to support the above stated plot. This proved very interesting indeed, all the barriers started disappearing and the participants blended as a team. One of the major catalyst was when the ladies from both faiths were practicing for a Hindu stick dance and where all the ladies had to wear Indian costumes. The enthusiasm and dedication of Therese Collins and Liam Walsh from Women & Theatre was undiminishing particularly at the testing time when we had to reschedule the original date of performance due to heavy snow fall on and around 20 Jan 2013. There were other practical issues like unavailability of all cast at very few practices planned. Women & Theatre always had plan B in their locker.

The rescheduled date of Sunday 10 Feb 2013 arrived with the fear of snow. This time prayers from both Church and Temple were answered and all the star cast and an audience in excess of 100 could remain present. Right from the beginning, the audience was very responsive and the whole play went flawless. There was a planned audience participation situation which went well. At the refreshment time, there was an inquiry from another Hindu organisation if we could do a repeat performance.

Without doubt, a lot of acquaintances struck and friendship established between the members of both the faiths. Revd. Steve Simcox has invited all present to visit the Church and the Temple has asked everybody to walk in as and when but particularly at the official ceremony of the new floor project within next 3 months. My tip for further successful events is that there is a lot of creative energy within groups and all the ideas deserve research. It is amazing how they can be successfully implemented with dedication and enthusiasm.

 

Pravin Sangani

Youth Work Students Visit the FNC

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

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

 

Visiting the Shree Hindu Centre

 

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

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

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

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