Practical inter faith course: a student's eye view

Author: Andy Walton

Date: 17 April 2014

In a guest blog, Susan Cooper shares her experiences of the London Inter Faith Centre's latest course...

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.