Cornwall Faith Forum Conference

‘Sharing and Shaping’

Doing inter-faith in a rural setting – Challenges and opportunities

Thursday 21st November 2013, Bodmin Cornwall

Interfaith Week 2013 was special in Cornwall as the county’s Faith Forum hosted the first interfaith conference west of the Tamar River. Made possible by sponsorship from the Big Lottery (Awards for All) and Cornwall Council we welcomed speakers from Plymouth, Bradford and Bristol who joined delegates from across Cornwall to share a day of exploration and learning. Called ‘Sharing and Shaping’ the event shared:
• how seven faith groups – Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Pagan – have come to work together in Cornwall through developing practical interfaith relations in a unique rural environment
• how the project to build an interfaith centre in the heart of Cornwall, called ‘Dor Kemmyn’ (Cornish for ‘Common Ground’) is breaking new ground in terms of both architecture and concept
• experiences of interfaith work from other places and perspectives, learning from similarities and differences

Presenters included:
Revd Dr Barbara Glasson, a Methodist Minister, who described the journey towards a deep and meaningful sharing between people from different faiths (Muslim, Christian and others) as well as cultures (English and Pakistani) in Bradford. The Touchstone project supports people to listen, while engaging in weaving as part of their common Yorkshire heritage. Touchstone enables people ‘of different faith backgrounds to understand each other’ and ‘Take time to listen to the struggles and experiences people have’.

Jonathon Marshall MBE, Director of the Plymouth Centre for Faiths and Cultural Diversity, told the story of the project there and shared the importance of being honest and open in interfaith work. This means actively promoting acceptance of each other as a route towards peace, every person being active to make the change happen. A delegate’s feedback clearly paraphrases another essential part of Jonathon’s message:
‘Inter-faith isn’t about mingling a bunch of religions and trying to make something innocuous we can all believe in happily together, which was a relief! Inter-faith is about finding the common ground between diverse and colourful faiths (and people of no faith), and working together in the similarities, while celebrating the diversity.’

Farzana Saker shared her experiences as a Development Worker with Bristol and Wiltshire Multifaith Forums, their differences and challenges.

From a Cornish perspective Dr Rita Stephens, Inter-Faith Development Worker, documented the how the ‘Dor Kemmyn’ project was growing, our experiences with primary and secondary schools and plans for the future, while Matt Robinson, Architect, told of his vision for building to inspire and communicate profound wonder, mystery and humility.

A Cornish pasty lunch was followed by workshops on a wide range of topics:

• The Interfaith Centre – the building – the way forward – Matt Robinson
• Keeping your integrity when working alongside other faiths—Jonathan Marshall
• Practicing your faith in an isolated area – Farzana Saker
• A practical demonstration of RE for schools—Dhirasanta Das
• How to develop education for colleges and adults —Rita Stephen
• Faith issues in the workplace – Mubeen Azam
• Faith hate crime – Colin Gameson
• Preparing acts of worship together – Andrew Yates

Feedback from the workshops, as well as delegate evaluations on the day, and results from a follow up questionnaire will all contribute to shaping the next steps of community and educational engagement, recognising cross cutting themes which promote inclusion, and a vision of an interfaith future – in our workplaces, leisure and educational activities, communities and faith groups.

A very special day ended with everyone sharing a wonderful selection of cakes prepared by members of all seven communities, followed by a final gathering when a representative from each faith lit a candle, after which we all recited the Universal Peace Prayer together. It was a fitting end to a very special occasion.

Some delegate responses and commitments to do something differently as a result of attending the conference:

• I would like to be able to learn more about different faiths and their beliefs/rituals etc.
• To offer more information about different religions, their beliefs, rituals etc.
• Be useful to understand the different religions better
• For me its looking at how the care sector can start to incorporate beliefs into the day of care. On a personal level as a Christian it was fascinating to see all the faiths come together and I’ve learnt so much about all of them
• Be more open about my faith and multi-faith issues
• Talk about faith more
• To be more open minded and avoid being judgmental. Have preconceived ideas about others and their faith
• I didn’t know what to expect from the day as I hadn’t been to an event like this before. I found the speakers inspirational and they highlighted some of the barriers they face on a day to day basis

Learning to take forward:

• Look at how we can be proactive in supporting staff with different religions and beliefs
• Try to raise awareness of diversity
• Raise awareness, inspire people
• Raise awareness of Dor Kemmyn
• Try to create more awareness of other faith communities
• Ensure my workplace has reference materials and resources to enable us to best support our families
• There was an array of stands providing really useful information which I found particularly helpful to be able to understand the different faiths and religions and I found it useful to be able to talk to people from different faiths and religions.

Documents relating to the day:

Cornwall Faith Forum Conference – Speaker information
Cornwall Faith Forum Conference – Programme