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.
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.
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Foodbanks across the city have been receiving food collected by people from faith communities who have come together to celebrate harvest festival.
Harvest is traditionally celebrated by churches and is a time when worshippers are asked to bring food to give away to people in need. This year, a new initiative called A Year of Service has encouraged people to come together throughout the year to celebrate one another’s festivals.
This year, several churches have been supported by faith communities to collect food and distribute it – most choosing to give the food to local foodbanks. St Alban’s Church in Highate worked with the local interfaith group to collect food for a foodbank based at Central Mosque. St Paul’s Balsall Heath collaborated with Balsall Heath Forum and two local schools while All Saints Church in Kings Heath worked with ISRA-Feed the poor to gather donations.
The collection organised by All Saints and Isra yielded 235 kgs (almost quarter of a tonne) of groceries. A spokesperson from the Narthex Foodbank in Sparkhill said that the food collected would feed 10 large families for three days and is equivalent to 450 individual meals.Find out more about Narthex Foodbank here.