BLOG FROM IFN EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HARRIET CRABTREE
Inter Faith Week is an extraordinary time to be working at the Inter Faith Network. It is a privilege to take part. The Week has become such an important platform for widening involvement in inter faith learning, dialogue and social action.
Each year, many people come for the first time to events where they meet and talk with those of other faiths and beliefs or work with them on projects to help their local community. And each year, new organisations get involved and develop partnerships to help them increase their confidence and ability to work well on a multi faith basis.
Months of gathering in information, encouraging participation and helping with advice and support at the event planning stage suddenly gives way to the bright reality of event after event: thousands of people coming together in hundreds of events: News of new events pings in daily and all staff members join in the race to keep up with entering the latest ones on the website, responding to media queries and joining in some of the events.
This year’s Inter Faith Week began on Remembrance Sunday and the Week encouraged people to remember together. At the invitation of the Jewish News, I wrote a blog for publication on the first day of the Week about ‘Serving Together’ which reflected on service in war and on service in daily life: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/inter-faith-week-2016-serving-together/
The first event of the Week that I attended was a moving gathering remembering those killed in war – from the Somme to Syria – through music, song and spoken word by people of all faiths and none. It was at St Barnabas’ Church, Walthamstow and had been arranged by it with the Waltham Forest Faith Communities Forum. It included an address from the Mayor of Waltham Forest and a number of specially chosen performances in including newly commissioned music.
The longstanding Scottish Interfaith Week also launched this year on 13 November and colleagues there were very much in mind on Sunday. IFN’s Inter Faith Development Officer went up to represent IFN this year.
On Monday I attended an event held by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Faith and Social Action with FaithAction. Its focus was the ‘faith covenant’ which the APPG is encouraging local authorities and faith communities to tailor and sign as part of their commitment to working well in partnership. Communities Secretary Sajid Javid MP reflected on the significance of faith as a factor in people’s lives and there were presentations from local authorities as well as the APPG Chair, Stephen Timms MP, and the CEO of FaithAction, Daniel Singleton. Partnership working between faith groups and public agencies is very important and it was welcome that there was an event in Inter Faith Week focusing on this, as it was to receive the following Inter Faith Week message from Stephen Timms: “With more and more collaborative community action involving different faith groups across the country, the potential of these partnerships is becoming increasingly clear. Inter Faith Week gives us a welcome chance to highlight and celebrate them.”
Tuesday evening saw a special session for Parliamentarians held by the All Party Parliamentary Interfaith Group with the Inter Faith Network for the UK, hosted by Sir Peter Bottomley. It was about local inter faith engagement – the great importance of this and also some of the challenges. The evening was opened by the APPG’s Co-Chair, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, and with some words from IFN Co-Chair Jatinder Singh Birdi, who is also Chair of the Warwick District Faith Forum.
There were excellent presentations from Lynnda Wardle and Mohamed Omar of Interfaith Glasgow; Rabbi Warren Elf and the Revd Andy Williams of Faith Network for Manchester; and Jacquie Grieve and Vinaya Sharma of Redbridge Faith Forum. Topics ranged from faith trails, open door days, acting as a consultative sounding board for local authorities, partnership working with other local bodies, to working in areas such as support of refugees, school visits and programmes, and dementia care. Challenges identified included the need for more resources and engaging the different faith communities within groups’ areas. The importance of involvement of young people was underlined.
That morning, I had attended the funeral of the Revd Andrew Wakefield in Merton. It was fitting that it took place in Inter Faith Week and that it is mentioned here. Andrew was a big hearted, larger than life man who had advanced with tenacity the engagement of faith communities with each other and with their local community for many years, including through work with the local faith forum and as chair of his local chamber of commerce. His remarkable web of friendships was reflected in the queue out into the street of people of many faiths and from different sectors of life in Merton – police, commerce, voluntary bodies and schools - whom the packed church was not big enough to hold. As I came home that evening from the APPG event about local inter faith engagement, I reflected that it is often the passion and commitment of individuals such as Andrew – and others like him of all faiths and beliefs - that can make the seemingly impossible possible and that can create relationship and common cause in the most unlikely circumstances.
Wednesday brought the chance to hear the reflections of a distinguished array of panellists at an event marking the publication a year before of the report of the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life. The event was opened by the Commission’s Chair, Baroness Butler-Sloss and introduced and moderated by Dr Ed Kessler MBE, Director of the Woolf Institute, which initiated and supported the Commission. The members of the panel had been asked to reflect on the Report’s impact and hear from leading public figures about the role that their faith plays in their lives. The report made many important recommendations and it was clear from the presentations and discussion that they continue significantly to influence thinking in the areas they addressed.
Thursday afternoon brought the 3FF Interfaith Summit. As last year, this was a high energy and significant event with hundreds of young people involved. 3FF’s young ParliaMentors had played a key role in its development and it was good to talk subsequently with Cllr Hashim Bhatti, a ParliaMentors alumnus and now Alumni Board member, who had played an active role in planning the Summit along with the 3FF team. The event started with an inspiring double act from Amelia Viney and Darren Keenan from the Advocacy Academy, which aims to empower young people to make a difference in the world. Programmes such as ParliaMentors are also springboards for future advocates and leaders.
I went on to attend, on Thursday evening, the new ‘Hate Crime Awards’ which have been initiated by Tell MAMA and Faith Matters with the Community Security Trust, GALOP, Stonewall, the 'No To Hate' campaign, and Stop Hate UK..IFN has focused at a number of points across the last year on hate crime, especially post-Brexit when there was a sharp rise in some areas. It is an important area for all faith groups. The Awards included talks, including from Communities Minister Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth; testimonies; and a reminder of the need for all to stand up against acts of hate. It was good to see there Northampton Inter Faith Forum member Nisha Mejer. She was present with colleagues on behalf of Northampton City Council which won an award. In Northampton they have forged strong links between communities to tackle hate crime and between faith communities and public agencies.
On Friday morning, it was time to head up to Coventry for a United Religions Initiative event at City College with participants from City College, Eden Girls School and Coventry University called ‘Words Matter’. This was all about the damage that ill-chosen or bullying language can inflict and also about how to deal with hate incidents. URI and City College organised this. It was good to have the chance to talk with a number of the very impressive students and also with people from Coventry City Council and the Coventry Multi Faith Forum.
On Saturday, it was off to the Zoroastrian Centre in Harrow for the afternoon session of a World War I Centenary Commemoration event held by the Zoroastrian Trust Funds of Europe with the Golden Tours Foundation, remembering the contribution and sacrifice made by countless Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic volunteers from the countries that later became those of the Commonwealth. It featured a number of moving and impressive presentations from a wide range of presenters, including from the Indian Army. A tube journey back into town gave the opportunity for a conversation with Selina Carty who founded, and for the last few years has run as a volunteer, the project to promote a BlackPoppyRose as a symbol to remember the efforts and sacrifices of African/Black People in World War One.
On Saturday evening, I was asked to speak at the London Buddhist Vihara, alongside a number of speakers from different faith communities. We talked about the importance of communities engaging well with each other and the important contribution that they make to our shared society. The challenges faced, including the impacts of international events and extremist voices, were not minimised but the strength of communities to rise to these was affirmed. The evening also included presentations from the Vihara’s young Dharma School students, beautiful dancing, and the warmest of hospitality from the Venerable Seelawimala, his fellow monks and the community.
Sunday morning was a talk in the service at St George and All Saints, Tufnell Park in London. There was also a presentation by the Revd Pauline Nashashibi about Sisters’ Voices – an initiative in the Islington area where women from various mosques and churches have been coming together. A theme throughout the service was how we reach out to engage well with each other and respond effectively to ignorance and hate – particularly in the context of the rise in hate crime in some areas following the European Referendum. A strongly felt reflection from a member of the congregation was that racism as various levels has been present for many decades; it has never gone away and continues to affect the long established African Caribbean community. The need to stand up and confront that continues.
On Sunday afternoon, I home. I scanned Twitter, Facebook and the internet to look at what Inter Faith Week events and activities were being reported on. Still more events. More buzz. More connections. A tremendous Week.
Today we have put out the press release about the Week and published a special new resource: ‘Inter Faith Learning, Dialogue and Cooperation: Next Steps’. It draws on learning from Inter Faith Week and from the full range of the work of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, which leads on the Week. It has been created with the help of our member bodies, and with the support of the Department for Communities and Local Government whose support of IFN’s work, alongside that of others, also helps make Inter Faith Week possible.
Inter Faith Week is often the first step on a journey towards greater inter faith understanding and cooperation The booklet is designed to help people who may have come to an Inter Faith Week to an inter faith event, or got interested through some other route, and want to find out more.
If you too were involved Inter Faith Week, I hope that you had a great one and that you will take part again and encourage others to do so!