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
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.
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.
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 email@example.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
In September we ran our second ‘Faithful Conversations’ training evening here at the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre. A group of 13 of us to met to think about how we can have conversations about faith in an informal and non-confrontational way with friends and neighbours.
The evening consisted of a number of activities that involved, amongst other things, people reflecting on their own faith journey, sharing how they celebrate festivals or what impact their faith has on their lives day by day. We also spent time thinking about how we speak and, perhaps more importantly, how we listen. Finally we considered how we cope when we find ourselves in disagreement over faith matters.
The different learning styles were appreciated by the participants who went on to make a number of positive comments about the events.
“The emphasis on simply asking ‘what do you believe’ and taking each person as individuals not representatives of their faith was good.” “It took pressure off me to defend my faith.” “It is more about building a relationship with love than winning an argument” “The variety of activities was very good to get us talking with others about our own faith stories”
The Faithful Conversations course is being run again in Walsall on 29th November. Details are on our events page.
We can also run the course in your area. If you would like to find out more please contact us.
The Birmingham Faith Leaders Group were invited to Sunrise in Sparkhill to lead the crowds in the reading of our faith pledge. Written specially for the event this pledge was inspired by the Olympic aims of ‘Faster, Higher, Stronger’. We wanted to capture the aspirational element of that simple phrase and adapt it for a faith context. Our hope is that the pledge can be read by people of all faiths, and although it refers to faith we trust that people of no faith can also use it.
At Sunrise in Sparkhill people were given a copy of the pledge and 3 candles of different colours red, white and blue and Bishop David Urquhart, Bishop of Birmingham encouraged everyone to light these at home, perhaps when watching the Olympics and to recomit to the words of the faith pledge.
We were also jojned by faith leaders from different parts of the city who took candles and pledges back to their areas to be shared with members of their communities.
The pledge reads: Inspired by the teachings of our faiths, and spurred on by the example of the Olympic athletes may we all seek to be the best we can be. Increasing our compassion, Growing in our generosity, Becoming more hospitable, Practising greater forgiveness, Striving together for the good of our communities, Urging one another on in acts of righteousness So that we may bring hope and joy, friendship and laughter to enrich the lives of every person who lives in Birmingham
Today Andrew was interviewed by The Community Channel for a feature on the event we are planning to mark the Olympic Torch Relay as it passes down the Stratford Road close to the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre.
Called ‘Sunrise in Sparkhill’ The event will be on Sunday 1st July and features breakfast, mini-Olympics, face painting and mendhi along with a full program of events on the bandstand. This will be compered by Nikki Tapper and conclude with the reading of a Faith Pledge led by the Bishop of Birmingham and members of the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group.
Look out for pictures form the event and the wording of the Faith Pledge coming soon.
Across the country people are gathering to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the congregation at St. Christopher’s Church in Springfield are no exception. They worked with friends from the Woodlands Road Mosque to organise a big lunch for the whole community. Springfield is a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham, but the church has built good links with people from all walks of life over the yeras. They benefitted from a small Near Neighbours grant to help them fund the games, decorations and activities that were all pert of the celebrations.
Several hundred people attended the event which was helped by the glorious sunshine throughout the day. Whilst the adults sat and eat and chatted children enjoyed playing on the bouncy castle, making crowns, face painting and tucking into an enormous amount of tasty food.