Author: Kat Brealey
Date: 13 February 2017
Relationships are at the heart of community cohesion in this post Brexit/Trump world was the message to clergy and church leaders across the Diocese of Leeds at a conference to explore better interfaith relations and tackle hate and religiously motivated crime. Put the kettle on, encouraged Vicky Ledwidge who spoke movingly about her work at St Augustine’s Centre, Halifax which has been welcoming those from other countries and other faiths for the last 50 years. Celebrate the white working class challenged the Bishop of Birmingham’s Director of Interfaith, Dr Andrew Smith. Tom Wilson, the Director of the St Philip’s Centre in Leicester, advised to get people from different backgrounds, faiths, cultures and beliefs together and allow them to have their voice.
The conference, Crossing Thresholds, held at Blackley Baptist Church in Elland, was organized by Faithful Neighbours, the Diocese of Leeds’ Presence and Engagement network to promote good practice and support for mission and ministry in religiously diverse contexts. It was attended by over 80 members of the clergy across the Diocese, and led by the Bishop of Huddersfield, the Rt Revd Jonathan Gibbs and the Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Toby Howarth. Its Chief Executive, Richard Bennett said: "This conference has been several months in planning, with input from various local clergy in helping to shape the programme. Alongside the high quality content from our speakers, it was good to see people actively contributing and making connections. As the mist rose from the valley outside, I hope any fog and complexity around community integration was lifted for those inside. I'm sure many people left with a fresh determination to cross thresholds in their context, whether we imagine "putting the kettle on" for Asylum Seekers and Refugees; actively listening to our disenfranchised white estates to make interfaith work "less male, less middle class, less elderly"; or both. And working with partners like our hosts at the Blackley Centre, Faithful Neighbours will be on hand to help develop all of the ideas and energy from this day into new programmes, strengthening all parts of our communities and parishes."
Bishop Jonathan Gibbs opened the event by saying:
“We live in interesting, challenging times, that is all too clear from the turmoil of last six months..Brexit, Trump. These events have sent ripples all around the world sharpening and focusing key issues for all of us.We have to examine the relationships in our communities and we need to be honest and put our hands up and face our challenges and responsibilities. We have dropped the ball at times, now is to time to pick up that ball and run with it and run with it together.”
Bishop Toby led the first session and warned the room that the dangerous narrative that had emerged through Trump’s campaign and grown since, directly affected us here in West Yorkshire. “I believe it is wrong and it is rubbish; but it is an idea that is gaining political traction and we walk into this at our peril,” he said “This should be a warning to us here in this little corner of Yorkshire, we are not immune to this,” he added. He cited the murder of Jo Cox and the shooting in the Mosque in Quebec as examples of that narrative taking hold. “While we have plenty of different faiths across our communities, these issues are sharp in this part of the world.” When Bishop Toby asked the audience gathered there to describe how they felt about the future – most expressed fear, fear of uncertainty for the future and concern about racism in their communities and how to deal with it. Bishop Toby explained about creating local hubs shaped by local context and local need as a vehicle through which the Govt-funded Near Neighbours projects could work. And he asked people to think about how such a hub could help them and how together they could evolve a structure that could relate to them where they were. “How do we make sure we stay present in areas where there is pressure to leave, “ he asked. “When we think about Crossing Thresholds, think about engaging with racism or fear, we have to ask how are we resourced. How do the Gospels resource us as we think about this work?” Bishop Toby used the story of Matthew 8:35 when Jesus suggests to his disciples that they go across to the other side – from the safe part of Galilee. And when he shows up on the other side, he is met by a man with demons. “There are demons here too. And the key is we have to hold together the relationships, the ordinariness of being faithful neighbours, of loving our neighbour, but at same time realise there are demons here. And when we engage with this world, we have to realise that we are engaging with something much much bigger, with far bigger implications. It is much harder to talk about racism, to talk about faith, the implications of the Casey report, for example. So what we are doing today is tough and we need to careful, but also extremely wonderful. “
Dr Andrew Smith – Director of Interfaith Relations for the Bishop of Birmingham, the Rt Revd David Urqhuart.
Dr Andrew Smith was challenging. He asked the audience if they ever celebrated the traditional white working class because he believed that was where we needed to build confidence and relationships. He said we needed to build friendships with those who had a different narrative and read a different news source to ourselves. And he drew up a list of the problems those working in interfaith face and why:
- It's too middle class
- It's too left wing
- It ducks too many difficult issues
- It's too deferential
- It's too focussed on Christian Muslim encounters
- It needs to grapple with gender engagement
- It needs to be younger
You can read more on this here in this blog.
Tom Wilson is the Director of St Philip’s Centre in Leicester, one of four Presence and Engagement Centres across England. A former parish priest in Gloucester, Tom is at the cutting edge of interfaith dialogue and community cohesion and works in counter terrorism.
St Philip’s Centre is a Christian charity set up for study and engagement in a multi-faith context. In particular, the Centre equips Christians to be confident and fully engaged in service and witness in this diverse world. St Philip’s Centre also supports the wider community in developing understanding, fostering peace, dialogue and community cohesion. The Archbishop of Canterbury – The Most Revd Justin Welby, is its Patron. Tom talked about the difficulty and misunderstanding language can create – how things are not always thought through – especially messages coming from the Government and how the best way forward was getting people together to talk, and have a voice. In his work he has brought together a group of young disenfranchised Muslim men with a member of the US Embassy.
Vicky Ledwidge from St Augustine’s Centre painted a stark picture of the sheer numbers of displaced people across the world right now- estimated at 24 people a minute - and said: “People don’t come here because our streets are paved with gold, they come because theirs are paved with blood.” She said we were living parallel lives even though we lived beside each other. We had to get to know each other better, we had to build deeper relationships of trust and even deeper levels of association to work together positively. She said: “What can we do to get away from the numbers, from the headlines, from putting people in pigeon holes and being fearful that refugees and asylum seekers are just here to take my house or my job? What we do here is we put the kettle on and just do life. I know it’s hard, but these are real people with real stories.”
Denise Poole and Wahida Shaffi of Near Neighbours and the Catalyst young leaders scheme, talked about some of the fantastic projects across Bradford, Dewsbury and Leeds including the Anchor Project, the Eat Well for Less project which brought together eleven women including Asian, Nigerian and Eritrean – and how each has seen deeper relationships build. These include a gardening project in Ravensthorpe and a project around Bradford City Football Club which tackled racism and Islamaphobia called the Bangla Bantams Football Club and saw more women now supporting Bradford City!
WORKSHOPS: Afternoon workshops tackled post Brexit Britain; evangelism; education, developing multi-ethnic churches and the legacy of Jo Cox and Near Neighbours.
Evangelism – report by the Revd Simon Crook, Assistant Curate at Huddersfield Parish Church
We were first asked to imagine our feelings if it became known that six people (including a PCC member and other significant members) from our church had converted to Islam. This demonstrates that both interfaith and evangelism are very personally emotive issues. They raised many questions in many people. Yet at the same time we want to share the joyful good news of the Gospel. Do we want it to happen the other way round? Do we want six people from the Mosque to convert to Christianity? If they did would we have any responsibility to the welfare of those still in the mosque and coming to terms with the conversion of those members? Remembering that the clergy have the cure of the souls of the parish – including all faiths and all faith communities. These issues are relevant for evangelism for people of all faiths and none. Yet you may believe that your own faith is the route to salvation – many faiths believe this. For many Muslims the issue is not taking up Christianity but leaving Islam. The issue is leaving. Becoming apostate. This is basically considered as treason. Muslims and Christians logically would mostly say you have the right to convert. But our heart response is entirely different and it becomes much more painful personal and emotive. The family’s protest and interference of a convert is often just seen as a problem. Yet what do we owe them? A conversion is more than just a joyful occasion – there is a lot else going on that we cannot ignore. In evangelism, hold very tight to the golden rule. Would I like evangelism done that way to me or my children or my family? Is there a place – sooner or later – friendships built- to be more overtly intentional? We need to be unafraid in what we believe. We can talk freely about what we believe. The Gospel / Jesus are persuasive in themselves. We do not need to be aggressively persuasive. We cannot simply be told how to evangelise. Things very much depend on the context – sensitivity.
You can read more here:
Developing Multi-Ethnic Congregations – by Richard Bennett, chief executive of Faithful Neighbours.
Churches need to work together to coordinate our welcome to people from different cultures and different faith backgrounds. There are many Farsi speaking people coming to churches, with high numbers from Iran, but also from other countries where believers face persecution. The challenge for church leaders is to share resources and information which will help to integrate people from different ethnic or different religious backgrounds into existing congregations. Knowing when to use English and when to use Farsi is one challenge. Having an appropriate process for Baptism and Confirmation is another. And crucially how we can tap into support from partner organisations and existing projects like St Augustine’s Centre and Migration Yorkshire.
Faithful Neighbours will continue to facilitate inter-church coordination in this area. www.faithfulneighbours.org.uk
Jo Cox legacy ‘More in Common’ – by Revd Maggie McLean, vicar of Christ the King, Battyeford, Mirfield.
The politically motivated murder of Jo Cox left in its wake a community heartbroken and confused but also one that was not going to be defined by this horrific tragedy. In a conversational way Paul Knight, Mark Humpleby, Martin Naylor and Wahidda Shaffi offered their own personal reflections and those of the communities which they served. There was a ‘faith led’ response as mosques and churches opened their doors; as people gathered in market places; as young and old of all faiths and none walked for peace; as a community choir sang in defiance. Brought together by their personal sense of loss but united as one in their grief. From the community faith leaders emerged to respond and to hold the pain of a community in a global media spotlight.The legacy of Jo Cox developed out of the way she lived her life for others and the genuineness of her relationships and concern for those in her constituency. ‘More in common’ was Jo’s catch phrase as she contributed to building a community which recognised and celebrated diversity. And this is the legacy the faith communities want to take forward across Batley and Spen. An opening of churches and mosques as places of peace and sanctuary; places of conversation and hope; places where community life can be loved and cherished. There was a commitment from those who contributed in this workshop to take forward Jo’s work and legacy of building relationships founded on genuine warmth and friendship and wanting the best for the other. More in Common.
The Vicar of Birstall, the Revd Paul Knight circulated guidance for churches "In Case of Tragedy" suggesting that churches kept a box at the ready with resources for vigils etc.
Brexit workshop - report by Revd Charlene Smith, Assistant Curate, Christ the King, Meltham.
Divided communities, divided families, divided vote. In the words of The Clash “Should I stay or should I go.” As the Brexit debate still rages on in the news and in our communities how do we the Church respond to the divided opinion and the passions that lie behind the vote. This very issue amongst many was discussed at length at the “Crossing Thresholds – Church & Religious Diversity” day. It became apparent that many of us who attended were ministering to Northern towns that felt challenged and disorientated throughout the whole of the process of the referendum. Many of our parishes can still see the evidence of the fierce debates that took place; “Vote Leave” vs “Vote Remain” signs still remain tied to lampposts and notice boards. Not to mention the racism felt in some communities causing cultural divides and attacks. We as the local church try to hold in tension the intense emotions and differing opinions, looking for opportunities to provide safe spaces for honest conversation that enables positive engagement. From the discussion it was clear that many people on both sides of the referendum have felt trapped with no voice, in places of both polite and volatile conversation, some felt marginalised, some building barriers out of fear. It was clear from our shared conversations the language we use has a powerful effect; in some towns there has been both a geographical and cultural divide which has led to a “them and us” attitude. We are increasingly challenged with a real issue of belonging, with questions like “who are we?” “Where do we fit in? “Who speaks for us?” “Who holds the power?” Confronted with the agenda of power not just “them and us” but the “powerful vs the powerless”. Not easy questions! As a church we are here to listen to those who want to share their stories, be heard and acknowledge the importance of their voice. We are here to be agents of the Gospel of reconciliation and to love without limit, for those communities which have suffered and been wounded, replacing fear with love.
Education Workshop – Tom Wilson, Director of St Philips Centre, Leicester
We had an informal conversation around multi-faith engagement with schools. We began with a discussion of how best to explain the Trinity to a primary school audience of diverse faiths and then moved on to discuss visits to and engagement with places of worship, how best to enable pupils to encounter lived faith, the function of chaplaincy in a school and FE context, how to best engage with parents and some of the challenges in the education sector at the moment.