Inter-faith Picnic Holland House 2nd July 2017

Images and words from people attending the annual inter-faith picnic hosted by Holland House and organised by Rev’d Ian Spencer, the warden. Video created by Rev’d Doug Chaplin

2017 Interfaith Picnic from Diocese of Worcester on Vimeo.

In the words of Canon Owain Bell, Chair of WIFF:
“What a wonderful, wonderful afternoon!
We have received lovely tributes. Apparently the children from Clifton Road Mosque had such a marvellous time they are already asking when they can come again!!

Isn’t that something to gladden the heart?

As I wrote earlier to Ian, I don’t think I shall forget the sound of Klezmer in the garden, the sight of saffron robed figures drifting under the cedar trees, the food of course and the delight of children putting together the word…” FRIENDSHIP”. And seeing friendship growing among us.”


News Release – London Bridge Attack

4 June 2017

Statement from the Co-Chairs of the Inter Faith Network for the UK and Moderators of the IFN Faith Communities Forum following the London Bridge Attack

We hold in our thoughts and prayers those who have lost their lives or been injured in the attacks at London Bridge, and also their families and friends.

We give thanks for the bravery and commitment of all who went to their assistance.

This was a further brutal attempt to undermine the stability of British society and to sow suspicion and fear – one that must be met by continuing to stand resolutely together as people of all faiths and none to uphold the values of an open democratic society.

We must continue to work together for a respectful and positive society where people feel valued and included and safe and where all can flourish free from fear.

Attacks such as these can bring scapegoating and acts of hatred in their wake. Let us work to try and prevent that and respond together to assist whenever necessary.

We know that, just as following the recent attack in Manchester, inter faith organisations in London will be playing an important role in the days and weeks to come. They are also in our thoughts at this time.

Two weekends from now the anniversary of the murder of the late Jo Cox MP by an extremist of a different kind will be marked by the Great Get Together. People around the UK will be coming together in their communities in a spirit of neighbourliness to highlight and celebrate what unites. Let us seize that moment to strengthen our bonds of friendship and create new relationships and to remember and affirm that we have, in her words, “far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.

IFN Co Chairs and Moderators of the IFN Faith Communities Forum

Multi Faith Covenant

On Monday 7th February 2017 Worcestershire Acute Trust Spiritual & Pastoral Care services gathered to sign a new Multi-faith covenant. Rev’d David Ryan, Chaplain at Alexandra Hospital and Caragh Merrick, chair of Worcester Acute Hospitals NHS Trust welcomed representatives from the local faith communities, healthcare staff and volunteers in the ceremonial signing of the covenant.

Signatories. David Camberlain (Lay Buddhist), Rabbi Margaret Jacobi, Cllr Jabba Riaz (Muslim) and Rev’d Canon Owain Bell formally witnessed the acceptance of the covenant as a guiding document for an inter-faith approach within the Hospital Trust. Each gave a short speech affirming the value of diversity within the wider community and the importance of faiths working together to ensure that patients receive the best care possible, and that staff are supported pastorally and spiritually, recognising the wonderful work that they do.

Rev’d Guy Hewlett, Chaplain at the Royal and Kidderminster Treatment Centre lead the reading of the “Act of Commitment”. He began:

In a world scarred by the evils of war,
racism, injustice and poverty,
we offer this joint Act of Commitment as we
look to our shared future.

Those gathered recited with Guy:
We commit ourselves,
as people of many faiths,
to work together
for the common good,
uniting to build a better society,
grounded in values and ideals we share:

personal integrity
a sense of right and wrong
learning, wisdom and love of truth
care and compassion
justice and peace
respect for one another
for the earth and its creatures.

We commit ourselves,
in a spirit of friendship and co-operation,
to work together
alongside all who share our values and ideals,
to help bring about a better world
now and for generations to come.

Concluding and closing words were given by Mrs Tricia Bradbury, Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire and Rev’d Dr David Southall, Team Leader of Spiritual & Pastoral Care.

The full text of the covenant can be read here

Visit My Mosque

On Sunday 5th February 2017, Rev’d Mary Austin and Canon Owain Bell the Clifton Road Mosque in Birmingham.

muslim-compressed-580x395Mary writes: Owain and I went to represent the Worcestershire Interfaith Forum at the “Visit My Mosque day” hosted at The Clifton Road Mosque in Balsall. We could not have anticipated the amazing warmth of the welcome we received as we entered. The place was packed with people from all sorts of walks of life and different faiths. During the time we were there we bumped into Margaret Jacobi from the Birmingham Progressive Synagogue, Winnie Gordon from the Unitarian church and a number of Anglican and Methodist colleagues.

Various speakers talked about the mosque and the Muslim faith and there was an interesting question and answer session chaired by one of the women where we heard from two of the scholars from the Mosque, one of whom was Shaykh Amin who came to our Faith and Criminal Justice Day last February at Holland House. In response to questions about the Islamic faith we heard of love and community work and seeking for peace. How I wished this event could have been on the news – giving a completely different image to the one normally peddled by the media!

It was a joy to meet up again with Nasrin Shah with whom I had had an interesting conversation at Holland House in November and also to meet with some amazing women. I got the impression the role of the woman at that mosque is very strong – they are involved in a number of community projects and we hope to keep in touch with some of them. Again contrary to the image we often have of Islam those women were of equal status with the men.

There was a wonderful spread of food, lots of activities for children and families. I could have been taught how to put a hijab on and we both came away with cards with our names in Arabic calligraphy on them as well as the singles roses we were given when we arrived.

It was a truly wonderful afternoon. A leaflet we were given entitled Shia Islam in a Nutshell had the heading “God’s Love – The piece of string that ties us all together”

That really says it all. That love was present and tangible in the friendship and welcome we received and in the promise of building stronger relationships.

The First Bromsgrove Mitzvah Day

Mitzvah Day is a Jewish-led day of social action that brings thousands of people together, worldwide of all faiths and none, to give their time, not their money, to make a difference to the community around them.

Cllr Malcolm Glass & Revd Owain Bell at Bromsgrove Mitzvah Day 2016.JPGOn Sunday 27th November, Melanie Mann and Yvonne Stollard organised a fantastic team from the local Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities, to come together to offer free cakes and hot drinks to the patients, their visitors and the staff at the Princess of Wales Hospital, Bromsgrove. Not only was this a good way to serve the community, it was also a great opportunity to demonstrate that people of different faiths can, and do, work together in friendship.

Malcolm Glass, Vice-Chair of Bromsgrove Council, was invited to attend. He said, “The event was a wonderful experience. It was lovely to see friendship, co-operation between three faiths, which in reality have very few differences. It was a delight to be helping with something so community-minded.

Revd. Owain Bell, Chair of Worcestershire Interfaith Forum, who also came to support the event, commented, “It was a wonderful and joyous occasion where people of different faiths came together in mutual respect and friendship to work on a social action project.

The Rt Hon Sajid Javid, MP for Bromsgrove and Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, was hoping to come to the event but was unfortunately unable to attend after all. He wrote in the Jewish Chronicle last week,

On behalf of everyone in government, I want to thank each and every one of the countless Jewish volunteers who will be giving freely of their time this weekend. You will be helping those in need. But you will also be building friendships across ethnic and religious divides. And, ultimately, that is how we will triumph over fear and intolerance. Not by building ever-higher walls to hide behind. But by having the courage to break down the barriers between us”.

United in Friendship

On Sunday the 20th November, members of WIFF and supporters from local faith groups stood outside the St. Andrews Methodist Church in central Worcester to hand out recently printed postcards promoting friendship between faith communities. It wasn’t a warm day but there was a warm spirit between the team of people who handed out cards and spoke to passers by and shoppers.

Thanks to Rev’d Helen Caine for hosting and providing equipment, to (in the photograph, from left to right) Pam Cuthbert (Bahá’í), Adam, Rev’d’s Satyavani and Kaspalita (Pure Land Buddhists), Rev’d Mary Austin and Canon Owain Bell. Others also supporting the event: Jen, Rev’d Jnanamati and Lorraine.


Faith and Criminal Justice


Faith and Criminal Justice
On Wednesday the 16th November, I attended the inter-faith seminar at Holland House, a partnership initiative between Worcestershire Interfaith Forum (WIFF) and Worcester Criminal Justice Affairs Group (CJAG). David Hope, a member of the Amida Mandala Buddhist Temple congregation and (soon to be) Amida shu member accompanied me. The WIFF is a group of made up of faith leaders from the Worcestershire area. All of the main faith traditions are represented in this group. For the last year or so Satyavani has been Amida’s representative and will step down & handover this role to me after the upcoming AGM at the beginning of next year.

After the introductory welcome message from Rev’d Ian Spencer, Warden of Holland House, Rev’d Doug Chaplin from the diocese of Worcester gave a brief address voicing the challenges that faced faith communities with respect to the relationship with the criminal justice system and the opportunities being provided for constructive dialogue on matters related to community responsibilities, crime, and the law.

Canon Owain Bell, chair of the Worcester Interfaith Forum chaired the morning session which concentrated on the approach and understanding of criminal justice and associated issues from the perspective of six different faith traditions, Baha’I, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish (reform), Sunni Muslem, Shia Muslim, Quaker and Sikh. Each faith leader had ten minutes in which to say something about their faith traditions perspective on criminal justice. The invitation was to reflect on the subject of crime and justice from the point of view of the victim, the offender and the community as a whole.

Neil Souter, the Jewish representative, quipped that if you ask two Jews a question you will get three different answers. I think this chimed with us all and to this extent there was an acknowledgement by all that none of us could speak for the full range of positions within our faith tradition.

Peter Hulme, the Baha’i speaker talked about the principle of ‘unity in diversity’, a fundamental principle that governs the approach in the Baha’i faith. He also emphaised the place of compassion in response to crime and responses to the perpetrator. This encourages an emphasis on restitution and rehabilitation rather than revenge and vengeance. Peter felt that the adversarial system of the law was somewhat at odds with Baha’i values and questioned whether this was the best approach to ensure that justice is done.

Jnañamati Williams, Pure Land Buddhist, started with a quote from David Loy, “If we are serious in our desire for a judicial system that truly heals we must find a way to shift focus from punishing guilt to reforming intention”. This Jnanamati felt was a good general statement about the Buddhist approach which doesn’t place justice, law or rights as central to its system of belief. What is fundamental is the diagnosis of the universal nature of our suffering and within this context crime is ultimately the result of a delusory attempt to flee from what cannot be escaped. So Buddhism:

  • encourages personal insight
  • aims to create conditions in which acts of harm are no longer committed either by prohibition or rehabilitation
  • encourage true contrition for acts that have caused harm rather than guilt
  • believes that all people have potential to change since all being human are born with the potential to become enlightened
  • maintains the dignity of the perpetrator
  • focuses on reform rather than punishment

Jnanamati also spoke about karma and the Buddhist practitioners relationship to its universal commentary on the natural law of cause and effect. Victims of crime in Buddhism includes animals as their murder to meet human needs is considered an act of harm and unnecessary.

The five Buddhist Precepts or Virtues (pañcasīlāni) are: to not kill, to not take what is not given, to not engage in sexual misconduct, to not use wrong speech and to not take intoxicants

Mary Austin, a member of WIFF, spoke about her work as a counselor and Christian faith leader and how she worked within the framework of a doctrine of forgiveness. This she said does not mean there is no responsibility and that forgiveness must be seen within the context of the perpetrator facing up realistically to their crime.

Neil Souter, the Jewish speaker (non-Orthodox) spoke candidly about the history of Judaism and its relationship to the foundations of the Western legal system. He referred to the golden rule that has its roots in the Talmud “Don’t do unto others what you would not want do to you – that is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary” (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbos 31a). The Jewish faith has a strong juridical tradition but underlying all of this is a broader sense of kindness enshrined in the golden rule. This Neil connects with the tradition of caring for the stranger – an empathy that comes directly from the cultural experience of the Jewish people, of exile and being strangers in a foreign land. There is the law he said but then there is the implementation and process. What in the past made the Jewish approach distinct is how it challenged liability for wrong doing to the family of the perpetrator. It effectively dismantled the idea of vicarious justice.

Neil said that from a contemporary Jewish perspective embedded in a particular history and understanding of justice what he was concerned about amongst other things was the current erosion, as he called it, of civil rights, which included:

  • internment without trial
  • the reduction of trial by jury
  • double jeopardy
  • reduction in legal aid
  • challenges to the right to silence

Shazu Miah, Sunni Muslim spoke from the perspective of Islam and placed the fear of God as central to the relationship between the Muslim faith and justice. Shazu, a barrister, said that he got involved in inter-faith work himself after the 9/11 attacks, seeing the need to address the fears of people living in his local community. In Islam Sharia Law is the ultimate law over and above the law of the state and thus there is a difference in the seriousness accorded to the breach of the former and of the latter, the law of God. Shazu made a distinction between theory and practice in the context of the example of theft being punishable in Sharia law by cutting off a the perpetrators hand. He said that one had to consider the longer process that leads to such forms of justice, the cutting off of an offenders hand being an action taken only after other measures have been applied. Islam has a strong tradition of restorative justice. Capital punishment is cultural rather than universal (to all Muslim communities). Forgiveness & mercy, Shazu said, is praised by God and respect is given to the perpetrator whilst justice is in line with what the victim wants.

Shayk Muhammed Evans, Shi’a Muslim, also emphasised restorative justice as being at the heart of Islam. Law is a mercy he said. Referring to the Shi’a ”school” Shayk Muhammed said that secular law and its rulings if considered just are taken into Islamic law. He considered that Sharia Law is not a judge but aimed at the goal of encouraging a perpetrator to repent. This emphasis supports the reform and reduction of sentences for those who have committed wrong.

Trisha Bradbury, Quaker, is a chaplain who has been very involved in the criminal justice system. She referred to an important fundamental approach in the Quaker movement, in terms of its advocacy of peace, namely to “let your life speak”, making reference to the words of Elizabeth Fry, the inspirational nineteenth century prison reformer who was a Quaker and Christian. Project established in the modern Quaker movement that represent the way Quakers approach justice are initiatives such as the “Circles of Support” system for sex offenders, Crime and Community Justice Group and the Quaker Prison Ministry Group. Such projects are aimed at providing connection and friendship guided by the principle of restorative justice, and a faith that a perpetrator can reform and that punitive forms of justice are not only anti-humanitarian but also counter-productive.

Finally, Gopinder Kaur Sagoo, Sikh, spoke poetically about the Sikh way which encourages us to see the bigger picture that spiritual faith gives us as humans. Gopinder said “Moon and moonlight fills the courtyard of the mind, it helps you to see the bigger perspective, and faith is our ally. The fundamental approach of the Sikh faith is a universal one, namely to respond to the question: “how do you bring the good (of God) to all”, and for the wider benefit of humanity. Gopinder said that the faith communities should bring the thinking of the spiritual perspective to questions of crime and Sikhism is trans-national in its compassionate and universal aims.

Afternoon session

1. Edd Williams (Chief Inspector Sth Worcs. West Mercia Police) and Kevin Purcell (Superintendent also West Mercia Police) led an interactive session and gave information about hate crime, its aetiology, impact on the community, individuals and the role of the constabulary.

The basis of hate crime and its definition in a broader sense relates to the targeting of people based on difference or that makes a person stand out. Edd explained how all reported incidents of hate crime are “run by” & noted by the Hate Incident Partnership Board. This is made up of voluntary members & the police to monitor trends in hate crime and act as an advisory board. There is also a specific IAG that looks at BME matters and allows for a forum in which the police can evaluate their approach.

Kevin referred to the Safer Places Scheme – this is a scheme that identifies shops and other public places that are “safe”, identified by a sticker in the window, where someone who is being targeted can seek refuge and report a hate related incident.

2a). Dr. Andrew Todd (Dept. for Chaplaincy Studies, Cardiff) presented findings from his research into chaplaincy provision in prisons. One thing that stands out when considering the care of prisoners is the vocational aspect of the pastoral care provided by chaplains that is vital in contrast to the role of a prison officer. In terms of the latter it is necessary to keep certain boundaries in order maintain the safe management of the prison environment, that can as we know be volatile. This can be summed up in Dr. Todds words that “Chaplains are the ears as opposed to (the PO’s) gaze. In this sense chaplains are “counter-cultural” in the prison context, provide a safe place, are multi-faith, monitors of extremism and a resource for fostering “restorative justice”.

From the prison service point of view the practicing of faith has to be considered legally as a fundamental human right. Dr. Todd said that one thing he found striking was the extent of co-operation between chaplaincy and the prison services, but where there were tensions this was to do with the imbalance in resources, the former lacking in comparison to the latter.

2b) Imam Mohammed Ifzal & Rev’d Charmian Manship from the perspective of being inter-faith chaplains at HMP Hewell. Ifzal explained how the first Muslim chaplain came into the prison services back in 2001. Muslims he said made up 12% of the prison population. The mandate, to put prison chaplaincy into context, is the Prison Act 1952 which states that “there will be an Anglican chaplain in all prisons”. This is now considered a de facto statement of statutory obligation for prisons to have chaplaincy services that reflect the different faiths of the prison population. In practice Izfal said “you wouldn’t have a prison without a multi-faith chaplaincy team now”. Ifzal and Charmain talked candidly about their work giving examples of people they have worked with. The duties of prison chaplains fall into three basic areas:

  • faith based duties
  • statutory (i.e. governed by the Prison service and Prison Act)
  • pastoral

By far the most significant aspect of the role is the generic pastoral one. Faith is not the focus in the interaction with individual prisoners for the most part but rather faith supports the practitioner. This requires a perspective of respect for and, welcoming of, “otherness” on the part of the individual chaplains who make up the team.

The day wrapped up with a short presentation from Rt Rev’d Graham Usher, the Bishop of Dudley who introduced us to a criminal justice related volunteering website. This was developed in collaboration between the diocese of Worcester CJ group and the University.

Rev’d Jnañamati Williams, OAB

Interfaith week 13th – 20th Nov 2016

Inter faith understanding and cooperation are a vital part of living well together in our increasingly diverse United Kingdom. Inter Faith Week is an excellent time to highlight this and to widen involvement in joint social action projects, dialogue and learning. We are heartened by the number of bodies – from workplaces to faith groups, sports bodies, schools, colleges, public agencies and many others – who are planning events for this year. We hope even more will join them.

Trustees of the Interfaith Network