Thursday, 27 January 2011

Holocaust Memorial Day: January 27th

Last Sunday I was leading worship at Thatcham Methodist Church; one of the lectionary readings I used was Luke 4:14-21. This is an account of when Jesus was invited to read from one of the scrolls during the Sabbath service in the synagogue at Nazareth.  The passage he read was from Isaiah 61which, describing the message of the promise Messiah, stated that he would: 'bring good news to the poor, to heal the broken hearted, to announce release to captives and freedom to those in prison'.  These words have been used in many countries, particularly Latin America, to develop what is often referred to as 'Liberation Theology'.

Reflecting on the Bible reading, I compared the contrasting response of Christians as illustrated in story of the Jewish refugees who were given support and cared for by Christians in Mousehole - see the Inter Faith Relations home page - and the experience of Rabbi Hugo Gryn (1930-1996) recounted in his autobiography Chasing Shadows.  During the service at Thatcham I read the following passages from Hugo Gryn's book:

'Although Jews were involved in the [Berehovo] community over such a long time and although, particularly in the Czech period, they really had full legal equality ... the fact is that while Jews and non-Jews depended on each other for many of the essentials in life, and we lived in the same society, we were not really part of the same community.  There was hardly any visiting, sharing or gossiping.

I realise now that of Berehovo's three big and beautiful churches, I had never been inside any of them, and the chances are that none of the Christians had ever set foot in any of our synagogues.  And when the chips were down, I do not know of a single instance of a Jew [from Berehovo] being saved or hidden by a non-Jew...........

But there are still so many prisons. Of poverty and of ignorance, of loneliness and being abandoned, of political tyrannies and religious fanaticism, bars around people made of racism, wounds inflicted by the barbs of intolerance and bigotry - all of them betrayals of humanity.  Human rights are either the rights of all people or else they become a meaningless facade for a bankrupt conscience.  Civil liberties are an empty slogan unless they guarantee every citizen freedom of opportunity to work where their talents best suit them, to live where they may choose and to enjoy an equal partnership in the brotherhood of humanity.'

The challenge for each one of us is: to what extent do we 'visit, share and gossip' with members of different faiths or are we living parallel lives as in Berehovo?  Do we engage with people of different faiths?  Are we sensitive to the needs of those around us who are lonely or feeling abandoned?  Which of the two church responses is closer to that of the local church of which were are of member: Mousehole or Berehovo?  Which of the two church responses reflects the life and teachings of Jesus?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Christian Muslim relations in the Gambia

The Rt Rev Prof Peter Stephens, bishop of Gambia, in his regular 'Reflections' in the Methodist Recorder discusses Muslim Christian relations in this weeks edition.

The Gambia has a population that is 90% Muslim and less than 5% Christian, however, he records that all major gatherings begin with both Muslim and Christian prayers.  Bishop Stephens writes that good relations depend on, and are helped by, 'knowing Muslims personally, by seeing them and their faith at their best, not their worst, and by discovering the similarities and differences'.  He also reflects that 'besides sharing with Muslims we can also learn from them.  They can help us to discover what we have lost in many churches.  Through contact with them we may recover a sense of the sovereignty of God, the rhythm of a life punctuated by prayer and the reality of his concern for the whole life of our society (political, social and economic) and not just our personal life'.

It is not my usual practice to quote extensively as I have above, but what Bishop Stephens wrote seemed to be what each of us need to hear.

CCJ visit to Israel and Palestine

In November I had the opportunity, courtesy of sponsorship by the Council of Christians and Jews [] to participate in a twelve day study visit to Israel and Palestine.  The group consisted of members of different Christian denominations, the majority of whom were Anglicans. 

Father Revd David Cloake, one of the group, maintained a blog during the trip.  You can read it at

It was an enormous priviledge to part of the group, and I am deeply grateful to CCJ both for inviting me and organising the necessary sponsorship.  I found the visit very challenging and am still processing what I saw and heard. 

If anyone is interested in visiting Israel and Palestine, both CCJ and Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine [] - whose Director Dr Jane Clements was leader of the study trip - organise them. 

Monday, 19 July 2010

District Inter Faith Relations Conference: Day 2

District Inter Faith Relations Conference: 14-15th July 2010

I was really looking forward to our first visitor of the day Philip Lewis, as I had heard him speak before at the AGM of the Building Bridges. He was good then and even better this time, as before it was to a huge group of about a hundred people, here we were a small intimate group of about ten; what a privilege!
I was not disappointed. The only thing I regret is that I now suffer from senior moments so I was unable to retain all that he said and I cannot do shorthand. He is very much an academic, but one who is grounded in reality. He is gifted in giving the context from all sorts of perspectives. I would recommend his books (he has a number for reading).
The question he posed was ` How we live well together`. Although I have worked in Burnley for eight years, he gave me lots of new insights:-
a. Context of Islam – their history born to power and dominance, yet here in Britain they have to adapt to living in a democracy as a minority.
b. `Can one be equal as a minority within the Society`?
c. Both Islam and Christianity are mission faiths, how do we live well with our differences?
d. No - one is naturally a Muslim, just as no-one is naturally a Christian. All are individuals with diversity running through them; it reminded me of a stick of rock.
We then went on a circular tour of Bradford on the Free Bus. Barbara Glasson, Director of Touchstone Centre, had told us not to sit near each other but to use our ears and eyes to get an understanding of the different people in Bradford. What an array of people we saw, yet all had in common that they were going about their business of living. Inter faith relations needs to build on what we have in common not what is different. One thing which made me smile was that the age old courtesy of standing for your elders to sit down is alive and well in Bradford with all cultures and ages.
Time was running out on us now for some of our group as they had to get connecting trains. Some of them had travelled as far as Cornwall and Wales. They deserve a medal!
Our last three speakers, Ushna Dominic, Shabana Kauser (pictured above) and Awais Dominic (previously pictured with Barbara Glasson talking to Philip Lewis) told us their stories.  It emphasised again the key role that women play in inter faith work. We heard about home, education and religion. They themselves felt that women were bringing about community change in a man’s world. Of course I agreed with this, but then as a woman I may be biased!

So what can I say in conclusion? A big thank you to all who shared this part of my journey with me. The one thing I am sure of is that the journey it is not yet over, and I am looking forward with hope, after hearing and seeing interfaith in action at Touchstone and wider Bradford.

My prayer for us all is what Awais shared with us. John Wesley’s rule for Christian Living:-
“Do all the good you can, by all the means you can,
In all the ways you can, in all the places you can,
At all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever YOU CAN.”

Yours in his sonshine
Bea Foster

I am grateful to Bea for her reflections on the Conference. 
Photographs: Joy Barrow
If you want further details of the opportunities for dialogue available at the Touchstone Centre see
Joy Barrow, Inter Faith Relations Officer, Methodist Church in Britain.

District Inter Faith Relations Conference Day 1: afternoon

District Inter Faith Relations Conference: 14-15th July 2010
After lunch the programme said ` Theological Perspectives on Inter faith Experience: Where is God in the middle of this? ` Oh dear, I thought when I read it, although I am a local preacher, there is no way I am going to open my mouth in the company of all these ministers. How wrong I was! The Conference title for the two days was `You just can`t get the stereotypes these days……..` I got my stereotypes wrong with this session in a big way. First – the word theological / then that the ministers would be all knowing.
The Revd Dr Dominic Moghal, who is a Community Outreach priest with a wicked sense of humour, shared the passages Genesis 16 and Luke 9.51. He then posed the question` What is God saying about inter faith relations`. Wow! What a session! The first passage is about the story of Ishmael being born to Hagar and the reactions of others players in the story. The second passage from Luke is again about the differing reactions of Jesus and James and John.

My learning was all about God`s ways are not our ways, but have we the courage to follow and trust with our actions what he is saying. Again the journey (for me) is all about the telling of our own stories in shared open and respectful spaces. You could read the two Bible passages yourself and think about what they mean for you.
We then visited the Doha mosque, getting wet through on the walk there. We had a wonderful welcome. It was here where I found out how people on the outside of Methodism watch what we do. The man who showed us around congratulated us on the brave stance we had taken at Conference about the boycotting of goods from occupied lands in Israel / Palestine. This is a complicated situation and the Inter Faith Relations Officer, Joy Barrow, has been having conversations with leaders of the Jewish community regarding the contents of the Report and its recommendations. Why I ask, do we in the pews never get to hear of these things and particular the decisions which we are supposed to support?

Then we moved onto, at breath neck speed to our next visitor. Rajinder Singh Panesar, whom I fell in love with at first sight, gave us a power point presentation. What a lovely, down to earth man who spoke my language. My knowledge of Sikhism has been much enhanced by his openness and honesty about the issues facing his community. Did you know they have a bedroom for their Holy Book? It made me question how we treat the Bible. There is a debate to be had here for us Christians.

We were then shown to our accommodation, which we were told was basic student digs in one of the Bradford University halls of residence nearby. Actually it was luxury compared to what I had in my student days. We then finished our evening in where else, but a Curry House, then back to digs for coffee and fellowship; it made me remember my student days all over again. The perfect end to an incredible day!

Bea Foster
Photographs: Joy Barrow

District Inter Faith Relations Conference: Day 1 morning

District Interfaith Conference at Touchstone Centre, Bradford.

14-15th July 2010
I arrived at Touchstone Centre in Bradford on Wednesday at 10.45a.m. wondering what it was that I had let myself in for. I had high expectations for the Conference. As a person who had been involved in interfaith activities in the Burnley Circuit for a number of years, and in the last year having been elected to sit on the Building Bridges Committee in Burnley as a representative of the Methodist Church in Burnley, I wanted to try to find out how all of this fit within the structures of the Methodist Church. I did not know at this point what a tangled web I would get involved in.

I was greeted by a whole host of people, whose names I forgot in all of the very warm welcome. I later learned them again when we talked one to one. A lesson to be learnt within our journey on the Interfaith journey, the importance of relationship building.  We very soon went into our first session of introductions and opening devotions, as always with these new situations I found myself very nervous. I felt even more nervous, when I realised that I was the only one who was not steeped in the Methodist tradition, and apart from one other person who was off to Fiji as a missionary partner.

One of the topics we touched on over the two days was ` Who is the stranger amongst us`? There were times when that is how I felt. This was no fault of anyone who was there; it was just that our experiences were different – not any better, not any worse, just different. Another lesson for me to learn on the journey, how what I was experiencing was mirrored in the complex nature of interfaith relationships. The acknowledgement of, and how, we value the diverse experiences we have within any group of people.

Bea Foster
Photograph: Joy Barrow

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Methodist Conference fringe event

On the Monday evening of Methodist Conference their was an Inter Faith Relations event.  The title of the event - which was based on an extract from the 1999 Conference statement 'Called to Love and Praise' - was 'Personal and theological reflections on the spiritual journey: 'evangelism, social action and engaging with people of differing cultures and religious faiths'.

Christine Elliott, Strategic Leader for External Relations
who chaired the event and Barbara Glasson

About twenty people gathered in the Lord Mayor's Banqueting Hall of  Portsmouth Guildhall where, after an excellent vegetarian buffet supper, we listened to the reflections of Barbara Glasson, Director of the Touchstone Centre in Bradford and Imran Malik, who was brought up in Pakistan and has recently completed his studies at Cliff College in preparation for becoming a Methodist presbyter.  There was then a time of conversation where those present shared with others insights that they had gained from the two speakers and reflected on their own spiritual journeys. 

Imran Malik with Trevor Durston and Steve Pearce

More participants who attended the fringe event