Last week in the parish which we have entitled ‘Food for Thought’ had its second event. The formula for this is quite simple – we meet for a simple supper at 7.00 pm, followed by a talk – with a sort break for a hot drink followed by an hour’s conversation and home by 9.00 pm. Everyone is welcome but there is condition attached – that a parishioner should bring someone who is not connected with the church.
If I went into some of the complications of this formula and how people have responded this blog would be many hundreds of words long! I have to say I have been rather surprised by the strength of the response and indeed by those parishioners who seem to wish to believe that they are an exception….. While attempting to exercise some gentle understanding I clearly have a long way to go to demonstrate the importance out-reach and mission! Let’s leave it at that for the time being….
Well last Tuesday, after my visit to Sheffield, I got back just in time to welcome Toby Howarth, the Bishop of Birmingham’s Interfaith adviser to Temple Balsall. He spoke about his life and work as a Christian, and a Christian priest engaging with the world and culture and communities of Islam. He told a number of stories from his life narrative. These included his engagement with Muslims as a student in this country and abroad and then his work in Springfield Church which stands alongside the Mosque. Toby has exercised a pioneering ministry of standing alongside his Muslim neighbours in living together differently. He made a passionate plea for us to be confident about our faith and to offer friendship and hospitality. He also challenged those of us living here in Solihull about the on-going difficulties in relation to the building of a Mosque in this area – and asked up think about how we share our faith with other people.
The conversation that followed was fascinating. Parishioners shared their stories of encounters with neighbours and friends. We reflected on the nature of Birmingham and how cohesive it was given the sheer range of cultures that it houses. We reflected about the relative truth claims of Islam and Christianity. We acknowledged the grip that extremists have on all religion and accepted that both Christianity and Islam contain within them a great deal of difference and diversity.
It was an enlivening and enriching conversation n and a conversation that must continue to develop in what ever way we can manage. I was delighted to be able to hand over to Toby nearly £200 for the work of the Springfield nursery amongst the children there and hope that the link might strengthen itself in the days ahead.
So, our warmest best wishes, admiration and support for Toby and his work.