Category: Transforming Communities

The 550th Tree

The 12th November 2019 was an important day for Sikhs as it marked the 550th anniversary of Guru Nanak the founder of Sikhism. The Faithful Friends were involved in a tree planting event in Smethwick between Holy Trinity Church and the Guru Nanak Gurdwara. This was  a joint project between the church, EcoSikh and the Canal and River Trust to plant 550 trees in the Smethwick area. The 550th tree was planted at Holy Trinity Church to mark the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak and the friendship between Sikhs and Christians in the area.  

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.

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

Birmingham Conversation Symposium

The Birmingham Conversations came to a conclusion with a Symposium on May 20th at the Saffron Centre in Birmingham.

The conversations had taken place over six months and had explored the theme ‘What does Lived Faith look like in a 21st Century City?’ A group of 24 people from different faiths met once a month for three hours each time to talk through the way faith is lived in Birmingham. The group consisted of Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Jews, Muslims, Ravidassi and Sikhs.

The topics were wide ranging and included issues such as evangelism and conversion, gender issues, young people and education, caste legislation, race and global conflicts. The aim was not, necessarily, to reach consensus but to find a way to talk constructively about these topics. At the conclusion of the conversation three reports were produced to share the methodology and findings from the conversations and to encourage others to use this process in their own contexts.

The methodology report can be read here Designing for Discussion

The findings report can be read here Lived Religion and Difficult Conversations

A lay people’s report summing up the process can be read here Birmingham Conversations Report

Symposium 5 Symposium 4 Symposium 3 Symposium 2  Symposium 1

 

 

 

The Birmingham Conversations

The debate over the alleged  ‘Trojan Horse’ plot, along with other local issues and tensions have highlighted the need for people of faith in Birmingham to be able to discuss the way that faith is lived out in Birmingham. This means being willing to tackle contentious issues in a considered and mature way without causing offence or ducking the difficult questions. The aim is not necessarily to find total agreement but to enable issues to be discussed and offer ideas and a model that others can use to continue the conversation.
To this end Bishop David Urquhart has asked a team to set up the Birmingham Conversations on the theme of ‘What does Lived Faith Look like in a 21st Century City?’. The conversations are being facilitated by Mrs Sian Nicholas who has recently completed a studies in Inter-Faith Peacebuilding for Faith-Based Development Organisations  and lectures at Coventry University on Religion, Conflict and Peace
The conversations will be a series of six sessions between October and March to which we are asking twenty four participants from different faiths to commit to all six sessions. The people are not invited as representatives but are participating in their own right. People were invited from Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Judaism.

The conversations are a means of enabling difficult conversations around ‘lived faith’ in Birmingham post ‘Trojan Horse’ and will deliver two distinct outcomes:

Firstly: a model of how people with very different perspectives can be enabled to discuss issues usually seen as too controversial, yet which impact the lives of many people on a daily basis.

Secondly: a record of the conversations including where there were changing attitudes, agreement or disagreement as a way of encouraging others to see how these topics can be discussed.
These outcomes will be disseminated through:
1) An academic report on the nature and conclusions from the conversations produced electronically
2) A lay persons’ summary of number 1 produced in hard copy and electronically
3) An academic analysis of the methodology with recommendations for groups wishing to use this process in the future
4) A day conference in mid. 2015 to announce and discuss the findings with a wider group

The title for the Birmingham Conversations is ‘What Does Lived Faith Look Like in a 21st Century City?’; the aim is to provide a means of enabling difficult conversations around lived faith in Birmingham post ‘Trojan Horse’.

Below are some definitions from the title to unpack what our intentions are:
Enabling Difficult Conversations: facilitating the creation of safe space, whereby participants feel able to freely express the deeply held convictions of those within their faith traditions with each other. Within this safe space participants should feel heard and understood, and feel able to discuss issues and to disagree in a respectful manner. The space should allow participants to be challenged and to be challenging in a constructive way that informs the reality of daily life for participants.
Lived Faith: Religion is often expressed as a series of propositions, belief, practices or assertions that those who adhere to that religion are supposed to hold. Faith is a much more difficult term to define, but often speaks to the individual’s own commitment to those beliefs or practices, or on occasion the way in which the beliefs and practices are expressed within a particular community. By ‘lived faith’ we are looking to move beyond a purely intellectual understanding of religion to see faith as something that not only affects the way each individual member of a religion lives out their faith, but also the way in which that living inevitably interacts with those who live around them.
Lived faith is probably best understood in relation to identity. It is that expression or practice of the faith that is most intimate and personal for each individual. It can be expressed in terms of a relationship, particular values, a series of practices, law or encapsulated in specific words and passages of scripture. To engage with lived faith at this level is to touch that which is most personal for the faithful individual, that which has evolved from childhood, or that which drew a specific person to the faith in the first place. It cannot always be expressed in words, and questions of memory, emotion and embodiment are essential to any expression of lived faith. It is also rarely something that is uniquely individual; a lived faith is shared, lived out within a community of faith, even if the different members of the community may not choose to express their faith in identical forms. The community of the faithful is clearly important, but in practice lived faith also engages with, and may even share values or practices with, those of other faith traditions who live close by creating particular synergies and tensions within the expression of the faith.
Post ‘Trojan Horse’: Whilst the ‘Trojan Horse’ episode has brought the way faith is expressed in schools to the fore, it is our contention that the beliefs and values that led to some of the issues (e.g. gender separation) are not limited to schools or to one community. Furthermore there are other issues that are more relevant to people from other faiths that can also lead to tensions or conflict between people. It is this underlying way that faith is lived that we want to discuss in these conversations rather than ‘Trojan Horse’ per se.

Whilst the process and selection of invitees might not be perfect we hope that it will serve as a useful group to tackle some of these important issues and be a model that can be repeated enabling different people to participate.

 

Mystery Mission Trip Lands at the FNC

For three days in July the FNC became home for 20 young people and leaders from Knowle Parish Church. They eat, worshipped, and even slept at the FNC which they even found to be quite comfortable! However this wasn’t just a luxury city break they were here as part of their church’s annual mission trip for young people. So whilst they were with us they went litter picking with the Balsall Heath Forum, helped out at the Sultan Bahu Trust, Got involved with The Feast, did gardening at The Springfield Centre and helped at the Narthex Food Bank.

As well as all this activity they visited shops on the Stratford Road, had a tour of the Hamza Masjid and were there for Iftar and had a delicious meal at Hajees Restaurant.

Although Sparkhill is only 15 minutes away from Knowle, it’s a different world, one which many of the young people had never visited. However, they got stuck into the work and were enthusiastic and hardworking volunteers.

 

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.

 

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.

 

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