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.
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
The chance to go on a visit to Amritsar as part of an interfaith pilgrimage is not something that comes along everyday, so when Dr Andrew Smith from the Faithful Neighbourhoods Centre received the invitation he started packing immediately.
The visit gave us a chance to visit some of the most sacred sites Sikhism and to visit them in the company of Sikhs for whom this was a very significant spiritual journey. We had the privilege of being in Amritsar for Diwali and to share in the celebrations of that day. We also visited Sultanpur, the site where Guru Nanak meditated and where in 1496 he stepped into the waters of the river Bein and disappeared. After three days he returned with a divine glow and started his mission to fight hypocrisy, preach the word of God and show people how to live in peace.
The trip also included a visit to Anandpur and the site of the first Amrit ceremony in 1699 and the foundation of the Khalsa.
As well as visiting the sites there was also much chance for discussion around faith and belief, interesting resonances between faiths were explored such as the experience of exile and the way that can lead to growth and the nature and response of a call to live a holy life. As our friendships grew during the week we were also able to discuss issues that we disagree on, including profound questions about where we have come from, where we are going and what we are called to do? Whether one beliefs people are created in the womb or reincarnated or their soul has transmigrated leads to very different understandings of humanity and the human condition. The depth of discussion led to new insights and scope for much deeper discussions in the future.
Our thanks go to the leaders and volunteers from GNNSJ in Birmingham who organised and hosted this fascinating visit.