Date: 20 August 2013
You have to approach places of worship as you would approach anyone within your parish - just go and knock on the door, introduce yourself and say 'Tell me about yourself, I want to know'. Show them that you want to know where they are coming from and listen to their joys and their sorrows and their hopes for the future and for the community . I don't think you need to wait for a particular time of day or day of the week, if you see other people wandering in and out just go and introduce yourself. It doesn't matter whether you are a man or woman. Most of the time Muslims and other local faith communities are proud of their buildings and like to show people around them. It is important for us to remember that metaphorically and literally sometimes it is important for us to remove our shoes and show respect because this is hallowed ground for them.
Of course, every community is different and some Muslim communities are more closed than others. I will give a simple example from our local parks day. The faith communities, voluntary organisations and local schools all had stalls and there were performances from children on the stage. We shared a tent with our local Franciscan community and set out a table where children could come in and colour a picture of St Matthew, because the estate was called St Matthew's estate. On the back of this little card, which children and adults were colouring, we had the service times of the church. In a corner we also had some incense going because many Somali's live in the estate and incense is important in their services too. It attracted a number of conversations and the reaction was predominantly positive. But there was one group of young Somali girls that had come into colour and their mother came in and started yelling at them 'What are you doing here?'. They were going to carry on colouring but the Mother was quite upset and got some of them to leave. She came back later in the day quite sheepish because one of the girls had left something behind and she was very apologetic. Inbetween times, one of the members of our congregation told me that she had found it difficult and I said 'Imagine if this tent was a Muslim tent from a Mosque - do you think some of our congregation would have concerns that our children would be converted ?' So there are still a lot of issues relating to trust which need to be worked through but the only way we ca get around these is by meeting each other and spending more time together.