Wednesday, 10 December 2014

National P&E Coordinator reflects on the job so far

 Image result for Kat Brealey

Kat Brealey took up the role of Presence and Engagement National Programme Coordinator at the end of August. Here she reflects on her first few months in the job and looks to the new year.
Three months in seems like a good time to take stock and share some of my initial thoughts on what I’ve seen and heard since I arrived.  The post is 2.5 days a week, which I currently combine with my role at the University of Bristol Multifaith Chaplaincy. As Chaplaincy Assistant, I create opportunities for students to explore both their own faith and that of others, and to encounter the range of faith traditions found within the university community. Something you quickly learn is how to work within the distinctive environment of the University, and I was attracted to Presence and Engagement by its recognition of the importance of context. Mission and ministry in multifaith areas is not addressed by a ‘one size fits all’ model, but rather is about equipping Christians with the resources to discover for themselves what faithful witness looks like in their locality. I hope to explore over the coming months new ways that Presence and Engagement can empower both clergy and congregations for this task.

To this end, I have spent the past few months visiting different parts of the country to hear from those already involved in interfaith engagement about the opportunities and challenges this presents. In my hometown Bristol, as well as in Bradford, Birmingham and London I met clergy in Presence and Engagement parishes, to see the range of ways they are engaging with their local communities. I’ve also been visiting those who encourage and resource this work, spending time at each of the four Presence and Engagement centres to gain an insight into their differing approaches.

On my travels, I’ve heard so many positive example of engagement whether at parish, diocesan or regional level; however these often aren’t widely circulated. It would be great to begin to share stories and ideas more widely, and I hope that the Presence and Engagement website might become a place where this can happen. We have some things already lined up to share with you, but over the coming months I’ll be appealing for submissions too, so that this site can be a regularly updated source of encouragement and inspiration. At our gathering of Diocesan Interfaith Officers in February we’ll also be launching a Twitter account, where we’ll be sharing news and updates as well as articles and resources relating to interfaith engagement.

Looking to the future, we are pleased to welcome Rev. Mark Poulson as National Adviser for Inter Religious Affairs from January 2015. Mark is currently vicar of St John’s, Southall, and brings significant experience of parish ministry in religiously and culturally diverse settings. 2015 will also mark ten years since the original Presence and Engagement report was published. Together Mark and I, along with the other members of the Inter Religious Affairs team, will be exploring how we take Presence and Engagement forward in a way that is both relevant and sustainable for the decade to come. We want this to be a two-way conversation, and so I look forward to meeting more of you in the coming weeks and months, and hearing how Presence and Engagement can better serve you in your ministry and service in multifaith areas.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Are We Reflections of Jesus and Muhammad, or Distortions?

A guest blog from Julian Bond, Director of the Christian Muslim Forum introducing an upcoming event......
Abrar House, Crawford Place, off Edgware Road, Central London, 16 June 2014
Some times people imagine what might happen if great figures from the past met each other. Would they get on, would it be a great creative encounter or a bad idea? Our event on 16 June opens by asking – what might happen if Jesus and Muhammad met? For some this might be a quasi-blasphemous suggestion. But if our ‘founders’ are never going to meet, except on the Last Day perhaps, their followers certainly do.
Scripturally-based inter faith asks – What Would Jesus Do? (see my article Inter Faith for the Cautious) – convinced that in encountering people who are different we are not actually trying to do anything that is new or strange. We hope our opening speakers will grapple with texts and use theologically informed imagination to offer insights old and new, taking us through the questions arising from how Jesus and Muhammad might interact. I hope that alone will be enough to whet your appetite and that you will join us at Abrar House.
If that isn’t enough, we will also be focusing on the big question, are we reflecting or distorting the image of Jesus and Muhammad - good reflections, or poor ones? Are we following a path of engagement and challenges, or maintaining our purity and keeping separate, or do we feel that we have no path to follow in post-Christian, postmodern, secular, multi-religious Britain?
The event is themed into two sections, under ‘Distortions’ we will be looking at tendencies to segregate and isolate, as well as how minorities are treated in society as a whole, and by the security services, in the UK, France, Iraq, Egypt and Syria. Under ‘Reflections’ we will reflect together on harmony, peace and welcoming the stranger. Do ancient prophetic messages tell us how to build an inclusive society and how to relate to those who are different? Members of the London Peace Network (an inter faith coalition) and PEN’s Susanne Mitchell will share their outlooks on taking the radical road to reconciliation.
Join us if you can for a free event, with lunch included. Who said there’s no such thing as a free lunch? We’re very pleased to share details of this event as Greater London PEN is one of our partners.
Times and Booking  here

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Practical Inter Faith Course - a student eye view

Susan Cooper shares her experience of the London Inter Faith Centre's latest course in this guest

Described as a new one-day-a-month ecumenical course for lay people and clergy to help equip them for Inter Faith engagement in their own environment in and around London. The course has been arranged by Rev’d Maggie Hindley and the Rev’d Laurence Hillel at the London Interfaith Centre at St Andrew’s and St Anne’s Church, Brondesbury. This was an area that I knew over fifty years ago when I went to school nearby.
We meet, monthly in different locations, as an interfaith group of twelve people, including Jewish, Muslim and Hindu participants as well as Christians from a range of denominations and one who is exploring faith. 
We were invited for prayers by the Shia Muslim Al Khoei Foundation in its mosque – which had been a synagogue when I was at school.  Brondesbury & Kilburn High School for Girls – that I attended - now houses the Al-Sadiq and Al-Zahra schools and the Al-Ghadeer Nursery.  Across the road in the old Kilburn Grammar building is the Islamia Primary School started by Yusuf Islam (former pop star, Cat Stevens).

A trip to Welwyn Garden City took us to the home of its Hebrew Congregation – an Orthodox Synagogue, the Quaker meeting house, and the Focolare centre where we were briefed on the activities of the Welwyn Garden City interfaith group.

A visit to Luton brought us in contact with the challenges of interfaith living in an urban situation. The work there has concentrated on social projects that different faiths have been able to tackle together, such as the Faith Woodlands Path in Dallow Downs and Runley Wood.  The faiths groups have supported each when there have been potential flash points in the community.
I missed the visit to Southall and the one to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir (Neasden Temple), although I hope to visit the latter through the good offices of a group member who volunteers there.
Our most recent visit was to the St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace in Bishopsgate in the City of London.  We met in the Tent, made of Goat’s hair, providing, in the round, a safe environment for encounter and discussion across divides such as different faiths or misunderstandings. For this session we were joined by others experienced in dialoguing to show us the advantage of using dialogue to get to know other individuals from different backgrounds.

In addition to our visits and the experiences arising from them, we have undertaken items of study.  An introduction to interfaith dialogue was given by the Rev’d John Parry.  We looked at papers relating to Jewish Christian dialogue – Dabru Emet from the Jewish community and Nostate Aetate from Pope Paul VI in 1965. We were introduced to scriptural reasoning by a Rabbi and a Christian minister and a Muslim. It was particularly interesting hearing the Rabbi’s contribution as she was able to share the Jewish interpretation given in the Midrash for a passage she chose from the book of Genesis.
Members of the group share their own researches, including a study of churches that have become places of worship for other religions and a paper on whether the Christian assertion of the uniqueness would be a hindrance to interfaith dialogue – sadly, I missed that discussion. In addition we have been encouraged to work on our own projects within our own communities.

I have found the meetings enriching as I developed new friendships and seen new horizons. There are only three more opportunities to meet and learn together, I trust that more will appear over those horizons after the course closes in July.


Friday, 11 April 2014

Reflecting on "Rev"

The latest series of Rev began with an episode called "Present and Engaged" - and it has provoked a flurry of debate and reflection on Christian ministry in multi-faith contexts.  In a blog for Fulcrum, Angus Ritchie (the Director of the Contextual Theology Centre) looks back over the various articles and letters in the Evening Standard, and argues that there are some important theological issues at stake.  You can read his article here; it also contains details of some research PEN is carrying out into church growth in multi-faith contexts, and PEN's event on 17 June with Bishop Stephen Cottrell, called What kind of growth?

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Holistic Health

One of the first stories added to the PEN website was about health preachers in Waltham Forest - a group of faith leaders who had been trained together to promote key health messages in their respective congregations.

Two stories just in illustrate faith communities still have a role to play in promoting better health ..............

London is now the Tuberculosis capital of Europe and health services are again turning to faith groups to raise awareness and promote information about services. Monday 24th March is World TB day and there will be an event at Regent Hall, 275 Oxford Street, W1C 2DJ detailing how religious communities might take the lead in piloting new ways of working with health professionals in preventing the spread of TB and ensuring early detection. For details and registration sese the London Bourghs Faiths Network blog here

Meanwhile in Shoreditch a Christian run GP practice is developing it's work in 'whole person care'. Helen Moules blog on the Contextual Theology Centre website invites you to find out more at a breakfast meeting on  Thursday 20th March, 8.30am. This project is scalable and replicable -  in other words could happen in your area too.

Food, Fasting and Faith

Just as Lent was beginning and Christians were being called to fast, the Danish Government issued a ban on ritual slaughter, citing animal rights.

Jewish and Muslim lobby groups cried fowl and  the Agriculture Minister then apologised for not having consulted faith groups before the ban!

In the UK the president-elect of the British Veterinary Association, John Blackwell, was interviewed on Radio 4 re his challenge to ritual slaughter on the grounds of animal welfare.

The Joseph Interfaith Foundation issued a statement in response to his comments and a week later The Tablet carried an article on the subject which neatly summed up the debate; can faith groups who established a humane ways of securing a meat supply centuries ahead of society at large be encouraged to look again at their practice in the light of research which suggests further improvements are necessary to ensure the animal welfare.

Given that practices in meat production are flawed, becoming a vegetarian for Lent( if not permanently) seems like a good option.

Download a briefing paper with links here

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Present without a Presence ..........some thoughts

A guest blog by Rev’d Craig Barber – Chaplain London Met University.

One of the great joys of University chaplaincy is the incredible diversity of activity that one finds oneself engaged in.
he pressures upon students, staff and related stakeholders in the wider community arising from ongoing periods of change experienced by Higher and other sectors of Education create something of a maelstrom. Being at the centre of this is part of the University the chaplain's role. More specific to London Met, the ever revolving door of students from many nationalities and faiths flowing in and out from semester to semester and the demands they bring in terms of advice, wellbeing, academic retention, employability demands and general life and faith support create an incredible pressure for any chaplaincy team (ie myself and a part-time colleague who himself has the pressure of being URC chaplain ‘at large’ across London) to carry. It is a joyful ministry – working with younger people always is but it is also an intense one encountering individuals at their most vulnerable, away from home or country, family and cultural/faith norms and in a fast moving and steady paced environment. 
That is something of the context in which I find myself fulfilling the call to be attentive to the presence of God. Attentiveness is vital in the role of university chaplaincy. Being able to read the various situations one finds oneself in and often having to contribute to decision making that falls way outside what one would consider the Priestly task is all about viewing the world of the University through a different lens – ensuring that the whole development of the student is a life building and changing experience rooted in the self as whole. Naturally like those engaged in other forms of ministry and support the demands are too varied and often just too much! Individual student and staff contact, management team meetings, policy development and research all eat away at that precious attentive task. I suppose it’s rather Benedictine to suggest that although at times these tasks are tiresome, they are of themselves prayer and presence. Somehow infiltrating the institutional structures in a slightly subversive manner to do your bit to ensure the care and development of the individual spiritually, academically and socially. All this is often undertaken out of sight of most people both within the University and The Diocese. It is a ministry of shadows – offering an ever presence without always being able to be physically present. (This is particularly true at London Metropolitan University with several campus sites to cover and 17,000 students or so with all students living off-site). It is a ministry of self-realisation – reading the context in all its complexity and realising that it isn’t possible to effect or affect as one may desire. A humbling Ministry as one struggles to create a legitimacy for chaplaincies existence both inward and to the wider Church. A ministry that relies upon a deep seated prayer life and daily sacramental encounter be that through The sacraments or in touching the lives of fellow humankind.

Fr Craig – Lead Chaplain