All Saints, Friern Barnet - “Three faiths on one site”

Author: Andy Walton

Date: 26 August 2014

By Beth Green, in association with Fr. Gregory Platten

All Saints is an Anglo-Catholic parish, serving a diverse part of North London, which has a prominent Jewish presence and more recently growing numbers of Muslims and Hindus. The church has been a longstanding witness to this changing parish, and in recent years the building has become very much a community hub, hosting many activities centred around the arts in particular.

With three religions worshipping in close proximity (the Jewish Reform synagogue are the closest neighbours, using what was All Saints’ Church School, and a local Muslim group conduct their Friday prayers in the church hall), All Saints’ is facing up to the challenge of religious pluralism in very real ways.

When asked what it means to be ‘present and engaged’ in a local, context, Fr Gregory Platten’s answer was, ultimately, friendship. While an asset of the parish system is that each church is by nature ‘present’, there is a challenge, nevertheless to not only be passively present, but also actively engaged. This engagement demands honesty; the fruit is a foundation built on friendship and mutuality rather than debate about dogmatic difference. Fr Gregory recalled the response Bishop Kenneth Cragg was supposed to have made to the question, “How do I engage with my Muslim neighbour?” which was: “Have you tried saying ‘Good Morning’?”

Fr Gregory has been warmly received in the area in the year since he came to All Saints’ Church, and has made solid steps towards engagement with local Jewish and Muslim groups. One event stands out in his mind, and has had profound ramifications in his own understanding of what it means to be ‘present and engaged’.

Mitzvah inter faith Day in November 2013 saw Jewish, Christian and Muslim residents come together to collect food outside the Whetstone Waitrose for several local homelessness and hospice charities. Fr. Gregory reflects that the common denominator that day was not scriptural reasoning or doctrinal debate (as valuable as they can be) but something very close to the hearts of each faith group: serving the poor. In helping people together, he says, you find commonality. You forget your self, and any differences that might exist between you. In uniting the faiths, he suggests, they are pointed away from themselves. A project, such as the food-drive of Mitzvah Day, makes engagement less self-conscious, as it is practical, and goal-oriented.

Fr Gregory’s hope for the future is that his own congregation will be able to further discern the importance of ‘presence and engagement’ – something that is often driven by the Vicar alone – based on the example of Jesus. To those who want more inter faith engagement, he suggests that this can only happen with mutual agreement. To those who don’t want any of it: if you cannot model ways of living together with integrity, the risk is fragmentation and, further down the line, conflict.

The site where three faiths worship is soon to undergo redevelopment, and the hope is to see a continual deepening of relationships. This vision will be a driving factor in the redevelopment of the site, a site that hopes to become a place where each group can worship with integrity and live alongside each other with joy.