Our Near Neighbours Co-ordinator, Revd Tim Clapton blogs about why Inter Faith week makes a difference…
A couple of weeks ago I found myself wandering around Burgess Park in Southwark in cold and damp weather trying to find a bunch of kids and their parents. These were youngsters from St Peter’s church, Liverpool Grove and similar children from the Old Kent Road Mosque who have been meeting each other for play, crafts and storytelling. The church and mosque had utilised a Near Neighbours grant to help establish and co-ordinate this work.
I found the group near the new lake where they had set out a banner proclaiming they were Christian and Muslim children working for peace. The kids themselves were making colourful badges which read ‘Salam – Peace’ and eating biscuits at the same time. The priests and Imams were chatting and laughing over to one side, while the adults, mainly women, talked about what their children will and will not eat and the worries they have for their children in a sad world. It was difficult to know which were the Muslim women and which were the Christians. Just as the cold was beginning to bite we held the banner high and made a pledge to nurture peace and wellbeing between Christians and Muslims which then qualified us to wear the badges.
By the time inter faith week came around, the ‘Salam-Peace’ badges were going viral around that part of Southwark, everyone seems to want one (I have given away three from my own jacket lapel). Some folk were wearing them at an event last week, organised by a group of mainly Christian and Muslim women in the area who have been meeting together for some years, making bread and sharing life. The event was hosted in the church of St Matthew at the Elephant. There were children and teenagers, young men and women, grannies and granddads. A good turn out from the congregation of St Matthew ensured there was a party atmosphere – it was a fantastic atmosphere. The Muslim women from the Rockingham estate had made the most delicious Bengali food a Christian soul is ever going to taste, and the children served it. We were then led into ‘Conversations for the Soul’ a simple method of purposeful conversation.
CTC is not an ‘inter faith centre’ and we don’t do interfaith work. We do, of course, co-ordinate Near Neighbours and the Presence and Engagement Network from our offices – but we don’t initiate inter-religious programmes. We do, however, support churches in their engagement with their local community through community organising and that will mean relating and working alongside people of different faith. If we find ourselves living and ministering in an area of great religious diversity, it strikes me that inter-religious engagement or co-operation is not really an option. The question for me is how can we get started and what can I learn from the Burgess park children and the Rockingham women?
Here are my top five observations and tips:
1. Local churches do undertake great little projects with people and institutions of other faiths and they do it best when they keep it simple.
2. But the ‘simple’ will need some careful planning and thinking; menus, prayer times, wording, safeguarding, who is saying what is all very important.
3. Ordinary Muslims and Christians know how to organise these things, relate and get on with it – but the faith leaders will need to show support leadership. Children catch onto inter faith matters a lot quicker than adults so it’s an idea to listen to what they are saying.
4. Food is always a winner and a heavy programme is a turn-off, but check out ‘Conversations for the Soul’ for fantastic purposeful conversation – it’s a great way of getting to know people.