Review of a year with Interfaith Scotland Part 2

Last week I looked back onto the first half of my internship with Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Glasgow. Today I’m looking back on the second half.

January 2018:

After a well deserved Christmas break I came back to Glasgow in the beginning of January. In this month the main event for me and Interfaith Scotland was Holocaust Memorial Day. I participated in a couple of planning meetings, helped to build the exhibition about German massacres in Glasgow’s twin city of Rostov-on-Don, met the International guests at a welcome dinner and was responsible for registration (with some of my colleagues)  and the running of several powerpoint presentations/videos at the event. How impressive this work with the remembering of the Holocaust was for me, can be read in several blog articles I wrote in this time. In January I also travelled to Dundee to witness the re-establishment process of Dundee Inter Faith Association.

With Interfaith Glasgow I was part of a group of Weekend Club volunteers, who met volunteers from the Edinburgh Weekend Club for an exchange of thoughts and ideas about our practise. I helped at a Faith-to-Faith event at St Mungo Museum about Glasgow’s history as a welcoming city (connected with the story of St Mungo) and with the Weekend Club we celebrated a Burn’s afternoon for refugees and asylum seekers.

I also visited Glasgow’s reform synagogue for their Holocaust Memorial Service and the blog article about this experience was one of those with the most positive reactions during my whole year.

February 2018:

The big highlight in February was one with Interfaith Glasgow. We participated in World Interfaith Harmony Week with a series of three events: A Weekend Club team meeting with a lot of reflection about the value of interfaith cooperation, a Scriptural Reasoning Dialogue about why Christians, Muslims and Jews are engaging in Interfaith Dialogue and a Community Meal event to built better Friendship between people of different religious backgrounds. We documented all this with a lot of photos, videos and reports, which we sent in at the end of the month and in April Interfaith Glasgow received the third prize in the competition. Additional to this World Interfaith Harmony Week programme I also attended the next Faith-to-Faith event about “Faith and Activism” and helped to deliver it.

But also Interfaith Scotland did not become lazy after the two major events of every year (Scottish Interfaith Week and Holocaust Memorial Day). We continued to plan the youth conference in St Andrews and we organised our AGM with an interesting talk about Gender Equality in the different faith traditions. The next advisory group meeting for youth engagement with the Inter Faith Network for the UK took place, but this time I stayed in Scotland and attended it via skype. Anyway I did travel south this month, because I attended the first Focus Group meeting in Birmingham. At those meetings members of the advisory group were meeting young people from the local area to talk with them about their interfaith experiences and which kind of supporting material they would like to have for their interfaith engagement. In February I also started to visit local interfaith groups again and travelled to Inverness and Stirling (Central Scotland Interfaith Group). Those were still not my only journeys, because I also went to Oban with a group of interfaith volunteers to deliver workshops at the local High School. On behalf of Interfaith Scotland I also attended an Interfaith New Years Dinner hosted by the Ahmadiya community in Glasgow and attended a reception organised by the Moderator of the Church of Scotland at the Scottish Parliament.

March 2018:

The march started with the “Beast from the East”, but as soon as it was possible to travel I was on the road again. Together with Frances I attended the first planning meeting for the Launch of Scottish Interfaith Week 2018, which will be held in Aberdeen. We met people from the local interfaith group, local authorities and faith communities and visited some possible venues for the launch event. I also travelled to London again for the next meeting of the youth engagement advisory group. The work with young people was a general important theme for me this spring, because besides continue to plan and advertise the youth conference I also organised (together with some colleagues from Interfaith Scotland and the Inter Faith network for the UK) a Focus group meeting in Glasgow, so that also the voices of young Scots could be heard in the UK project. I also travelled to Dundee again to join a dialogue meeting there, which also should help the local interfaith group to become re-established again. Shortly before Easter I visited the Moray interfaith group in Elgin, before I had a nice Easter holiday on Iona.

For Interfaith Glasgow I functioned as the Christian speaker at a Faith-to-Faith event about the Feminine in God.

April 2018:

The major event in April and the last real big event that I helped to plan and facilitate was the National Interfaith Youth Conference in St Andrews, where about 80 young people from all over Scotland and very interesting speakers talked about “Radicalisation and Reconcilitation” from different perspectives- definitely one of many highlights during the year. Otherwise the month was rather calm, compared with others. I visited the Renfrewshire interfaith group and attended a training about “Tackling Hatespeech in youth work” (a result of the two Erasmus+ projects Interfaith Scotland is involved with at the moment). At the end of April I visited the Ayrshire Interfaith group in Kilmarnock.

With Interfaith Glasgow I helped at the Faith-to-Faith event which was part of the celebration about 25 years of St Mungo Museum with a lot of interesting stories from the history of Interfaith in Glasgow and Scotland. I also joined the Weekend Club for my last event with them, which was held at the beautiful “Hidden Gardens” on the southside of Glasgow.

I also joined the Jewish community in Glasgow for their YomHaShoa event.

In April I also preached in a Sunday service at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Glasgow and was interviewed about my interfaith experience at a Forum afterwards.

May 2018:

In May there weren’t any big projects to plan or facilitate for me, but a lot of nice smaller events. I gave a speech at the German Speaking congregation in Edinburgh, I attended a meeting of the Religious Leaders (as notetaker), I met the planning committee of the youth conference in St Andrews for an evaluation meeting, I went to Aberdeen for another planning meeting for Launch of SIFW 2018, I visited the Fife interfaith group another time and told them about my experience in Scotland, I attended a meeting for the prevention of Genocide and a conference of Scottish Faiths in Action for Refugees and I visited the Skye interfaith group and joined the Quaker community on Skye for one of their meetings.

I missed the Interfaith Glasgow event “One Big Picnic” due to a private journey, as well as the May Faith-to-Faith event, but I functioned as the Christian speaker at a really nice Scriptural Reasoning dialogue event about Joseph/Yusuf.

June 2018:

June has only started a week ago, but I already have travelled to Shetland to visit the local interfaith group there and also joined the local Baha’i community for a devotional. On Shetland I also delivered school workshops to students at the secondary school on Whalsay and at Lunnasting Primary School.

Yesterday I celebrated my farewell from my colleagues from Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Glasgow.

Later today I will shortly be interviewed at the General Synod of the Scottish Episcopal Church. I am going to tell them about the amazing interfaith work which is going on in Scotland and the great time I had here and try to encourage them to get involved in interfaith – if they not already are. A live stream of the synod is available on facebook, the time will be in the afternoon, probably some time between 3 and 5 pm.

On Sunday I’m going to be the official facilitator at my last Faith-to-Faith event. The theme will be “Heaven and Hell” and curators from Glasgow Museums will talk about ideas of Heaven and Hell in Islam and Christianity with the help of pictures of different museum objects. If you want to join the event, come along at 2pm to St Mungo Museum.

On Monday I then will travel back to Germany for good and on the 1st of July a new exciting chapter begins when I’m starting my ministry in the village of Eschollbrücken, near Darmstadt (where I grew up), about 30 kilometers (about 18.6 miles for everyone who is not familiar with the metric system) south of Frankfurt.

I want to thank everyone who I met during the year and all my journeys across Scotland and the UK! It was a very special time for me and I hope that Interfaith continues to flourish in Glasgow, Scotland, the UK and the rest of the world – it’s so important and enriching!

everyone 2

If anyone would like to have similar experiences as I had during my time here or if you want to know more about the work of Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Glasgow feel free to contact them and to ask for volunteering or internship opportunities!

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Interfaith Youth Conference in St Andrews

Last Saturday was definitely one of the highlights of my time in Scotland. It was the day of the National Interfaith Youth Conference we were planning since last September. The conference had been planned and hold in cooperation of Interfaith Scotland with the student run Coexistence Initiative at the University of St Andrews. The theme of the conference was “Radicalisation and Reconciliation” and about 80 young people from different regions of Scotland came. In total eight speakers had been invited to the conference in advance and, a bit surprisingly for our planning committee, agreed to come. So we had a very full programme with very interesting talks. After each of the talks there was time for questions and answers and some kind of discussion. Some of the speakers also asked questions to the crowd, while others were mainly giving their presentations.

Here are my personal experiences and thoughts about the speeches:

  1. Dr Leah Robinson

33 - Leah Robinson

After the official welcome to the conference through representatives of Interfaith Scotland, the Coexistence Initiative and the university chaplaincy Leah Robinson, lecturer in Practical Theology at Edinburgh University was speaking. Her talk gave a very good frame for the following day and provoked thoughts I had in mind when listening to the talks of the other speakers. I mainly remember that she stressed that real reconciliation “is much more than drinking tea together” and itself a very radical act. People that in the popular mind are icons of reconciliation, such as Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela were actual very radical in their positions themselves and have only been “domesticated” by the popular mind to quote givers for Social Media posts. Her speech was a strong pledge to reclaim the word “radical”, so that it does not describe terrorist but those who are campaigning and fighting for more justice and love in the world.

  1. Imam Usama Hasan

33 - Quilliam

The next speaker was Imam Usama Hasan, Head of Islamic Studies at Quilliam International, a counter-extremist organisation. Having been a “foreign fighter” against Communist forces in Afghanistan in the beginning of the 1990s he could tell about his own radicalisation process. I found it in particular impressive to hear how the experience of racism when growing up in London “radicalised” him and how he while still studying in Cambridge in his holidays could go to Afghanistan and fight the “Jihad”. From my point of view it was important at a conference with this theme to hear someone with his own story of “radicalisation”, who went through this process in a time, when he was about the age of most of the participants at the conference.

  1. Mahrukh Shaukat and Gigha Lennox

33 - Rwanda

Before the lunch break we heard the story of two young Scottish women, who participated in the Interfaith youth exchange programme with Rwanda last year. I had heard presentations about this programme before, but in my opinion it was special to hear them in this setting at the youth conference. Besides facts about the exchange programme and the Rwanda genocide especially the stories about how they met survivors and perpetrators and how both groups are working together in the process of reconciliation was highly impressive.

During the lunch break people were mingling with each other, so this was not only time for food and drinks, but also for informal dialogue and networking.

  1. Jane Bentley

The session following the lunch break was a very special one. It was not mainly a talk, even if there was some input about what dialogue is, but a music session where everyone at the conference participated. Putting such a session into the programme of an otherwise relatively academic conference was a kind of a risk but it worked out really well and the people enjoyed it very much (according to my impression at the conference and the feedback they gave afterwards). It shows that dialogue is not only happening through thinking and talking (even if those are my two favourites of doing it), but also through creating something together.

A short impression of the session can be found here.

  1. Mike Jervis

33 - Miek Jervis

The following speaker works with an organisation called the “Active Change Foundation”. They work with radicalised people to reintegrate them into society, as well as with their families and with perpetrators and victims of gang violence. Their approach is a very practical one but they also advise a lot of governments. He described very clear and powerful how the process of radicalisation/recruiting (whether for gangs or for terrorist organisations) is going on and gave insight into some of the cases his organisation has worked with. The insight into this praxis was really helpful to understand a bit better how (young) people from privileged backgrounds are seduced to join those kind of groups.

  1. Ameed Versace

33 - Ameed Versace

This talk was one of the biggest surprise for me. Ameed, who grew up in Glasgow and is part of the Shia community here, talked about how his father was killed in a hate crime many years ago and how he is dealing with this without hating himself and so letting the hate win.

  1. Andrew Marin

33 - Andrew Marrin

Andrew is a former advisor of President Obama and a current advisor of the United Nations in Iraq and on the same time a lecturer at the University of St Andrews. Having started his carrier with social work in Chicago, he talked about his experiences with the process of reconciliation. From my point of view fitting very well together with the talk of Leah Robinson in the beginning of the conference he said thought provoking sentences such as “we don’t have to agree in order to love” or that victims and perpetrators need to work together for sustainable social change, even if they maybe can’t forgive each other. Especially for the often very harmony seeking people in the field of interfaith religions in my opinion it was important to stress this point that cooperation is possible, even without the ability to forgive and that reconciliation is a process.

  1. Stewart Weaver

33 - place for hope

As the last speaker of the conference the project “Place for Hope” was presented shortly. They do important work of facilitating reconciliation processes between individuals and/or faith communities.

 

For me this conference was a really positive experience because of three causes:

  1. The speakers were in all their different approaches very thought provoking. Having left university three years ago myself it was great to hear challenging speeches and to re-think some ideas.
  2. The conference was organised by young people (the Coexistence Initiative) for young people and therefor it were the questions and ideas the young people were interested in, that were the theme of the conference. It showed again very well, that young people know very well what they are interested in and that those are often the more “radical” themes than those maybe the older generation would suggest for a conference like this one.
  3. Personally it was very good for me to have one important project during my time here, where I’m involved in all the planning, then experiencing the actual event and even the evaluation of the event.

Thank you very much for everyone, who was involved in making the conference a success!

How political should interfaith engagement be?

This week I witnessed two short (very uncontroversial) discussions about the political element in interfaith dialogue. One was about Holocaust Memorial Day, which will be next week, and one about the engagement of faith communities and interfaith organisations against climate change. Having this in mind I want to reflect today about how political interfaith engagement can/should be. I thereby reflect only about the situation in Western democracies. The situation in other kind of states might differ in several points and is to complex to reflect it here.

Interfaith Engagement is always political

The word “political” comes from a time when there existed a lot of different City States (polis) in Ancient Greece. “Political” in its basic meaning is therefore something, that regards the “affairs of the cities” or of the community/society in a specific area.

Interfaith engagement how I experience it here in Scotland has always the aspect of serving the community: It is always about building peace and and a deeper understanding between different religious groups and that is in the end a way of serving the whole community. The Scottish government has realized this and is therefore funding the work of Interfaith Scotland, what I consider as a great example, that other governments in the world (Hello Germany!) should follow!

Furthermore have all the different faith traditions a tradition of political engagement. Be it in the way of building religious dominated states in history or presence or important contacts between representatives of religion and state. That’s completely logical, because the religions claim to be important for the whole live of their believers – and the social/political life is a part of this.

When is political engagement dangerous for interfaith dialogue?

Not every political engagement of partners in interfaith dialogue is good. Should a particular religious group have to close political connections to a political party it might damage their credibility. If religions want to be political in the above meaning – and from my point of view they have to – they should fight (peacefully in a democratical system) for their goals in society, whether they rather fit with the agenda of the government or the opposition.

Of course for an interfaith organisation like Interfaith Scotland that is even more difficult. What if two or more members or dialogue partners follow different political agendas? Well in this cases it is not possible that Interfaith Scotland supports one of the two agendas. It could only make a statement that shows the differences between its members. In general it would be dangerous, if political statements could be made with a simple majority in a vote, for example between the members of Interfaith Scotland or its board. It would be recognized if for example the faith communities in Scotland would all together criticise the government and therefore such statements need a large majority or better a unity behind them. How can you find such a majority or unity? Well I would say dialogue is the answer!

It would also be dangerous for Interfaith Scotland, if it depended to much on one political party. If for example the Scottish government tries to influence the religious groups too much via Interfaith Scotland and would threaten to cut the funding, when they are not successful in that, it would not be possible to provide a neutral platform for interfaith dialogue.

Why and when is it good, that Interfaith dialogue is political?

Interfaith dialogue is political in a good way, when it brings people together for improving the society – and is successful. One example is Interfaith Glasgow’s Weekend Club where an interfaith group of volunteers organizes activities around cultural and religious themes for refugees and asylum seekers. The engagement for refugees and asylum seekers is definitely political in the meaning I mentioned above. It has definitely an impact on the society when refugees and asylum seekers feel welcomed in Scotland and if they have the chance to learn about Scottish culture. It has also an impact on the volunteers, who have the opportunity to learn from each other and the participants at the events. Through projects like the “New Scots strategy” or media coverage around One Big Picnic or the Family Fun Day Interfaith Glasgow raises the voice for refugees, asylum seekers and more justice in our society and that is definitely a good result of interfaith engagement.

Other examples where interfaith engagement has an impact on the society is Scottish Interfaith Week. Not every theme in every year is in the same way political, but for example “Care for the environment” in 2015 or “Religion and the Media” in 2016 or “Connecting Generations”, which might become the theme for 2018 have been and are political in a good way.

2018: Year of young people

Hello and happy New Year everyone! After the Christmas break my weekly blogging here continues.

The big theme for Interfaith Scotland in 2018 is going to be the “year of young people”. Already in my last blog I mentioned that the Scottish government made 2018 the official year of young people and that Interfaith Scotland as well as the UK Interfaith Network are thinking about how to more engage young people for interfaith work this year. When I visit local interfaith groups the question I am asked most often is “how can we get more people involved? Especially young people?”.

Here are some personal thoughts about this theme:

Who is a “young” person?

This question is not as easy to answer, as it seems to be. Here two examples from my praxis as a minister (in training). When I visit people in carehomes for elderly people the “young” persons are the under 80s or maybe even under 90s. When I give confirmation lesson for the about 14 year old confirmands, I as a nearly 30 year old, am an “old” person for them.

For the work in the UK Interfaith project I’m involved in we decided to draw the line at the age of 25. People younger than 25 are considered as “young” for us.

Is it a specific interfaith problem that there are “not enough young people involved”?

No, it’s definitely not. Nearly all faith communities, but also other institutions like sport clubs etc. in Western countries have this problem. One cause is that today less children are born, than for example in the 1950s. Furthermore “old” people stay longer, because of better health conditions. This gives people the feeling that there are a lot of old people everywhere and very little young people. And if there are less (in percentage) young people involved in the activities of faith communities, how can they come to interfaith work?

I don’t believe young people are less interested in religious themes in general. And my experience when I meet young people here in Scotland is, that they consider interfaith work as important, as soon as they know about it.

Why should young people join local interfaith groups?

Local interfaith groups work well for certain groups of people. From my point of view and the experiences I made when visiting some of them they are a good thing for people, who are settled at one place. Their members are often (not always!) in average older than 50 years. I think the youngest persons I met there, who might have been in their 30s (?), where there in an official position, representing either a certain faith community or a local council. Most of the members of the groups, who are not representing a faith community or a council are retired. I think it’s great that people in this age are putting time and effort in interfaith work! But I can understand, if young people don’t have a feeling that such a group is the “place to be” for them. Honestly I don’t know, if I myself would join such a group on a regular basis in my spare time… I think the “younger group” that maybe local interfaith groups should try to reach as new members are people from maybe their mid-30s, early 40s onwards. In this age, after building a family people often orientate themselves back to faith communities they belonged to in younger years or start looking for new orientation in life. In this age people often get also more interested in a more continuous stable voluntary work in one place, which seems to fit with the concept of a continuous group.

Do we need special interfaith-activities/groups/projects for young people, if we want to reach them?

Yes, definitely! And from my experience this should be rather project-based than very long-term orientated. It’s always hard to generalize, but as far as I can see young people should not have the feeling, that they have to be committed in a project for the rest of their life, if they join a activity. That just doesn’t fit their life situation. It doesn’t mean that young people don’t like to be committed with certain work, but the time frame for the commitment should be clear for the beginning. For example the young people who joined the Rwanada exchange programme last summer committed themselves to join certain activities afterwards, for example telling people about their experience at certain occasions. But this commitment was clear and if some of them don’t want to be involved in interfaith work anymore, they have an easy exist from this. Hopefully they will continue promoting interfaith, but it’s only fair if they are free to choose and don’t feel any pressure. The Rwanda exchange is a good example for successful interfaith engagement of young people, not only because of the clear time frame, but also because it was an “unusual” event. The participants could make experiences they couldn’t easily have had in another way and that makes the project very attractive. So interfaith projects must give young people attractive opportunities – and probably meeting retired persons to talk about the constitution of a group or about religious themes might not be the most attractive thing.

Attractive activities involve spending time with people from about the same age group, but maybe a different religious or national or cultural background. The activities should be fun! The activities should be interesting, that means the questions, which are important for the participants should be discussed/present. The activities should be somehow “special”, not like everyday life. The young people must have the feeling, that the activity is really for and about them.

How can (young) people be reached?

It is important to reach potentially interested people where they are, to make them excited for interfaith. From my point of view the solution should not be to set up a lot new groups for young people but rather providing a platform where young people, who already belong to a certain faith tradition meet young people from another faith tradition. This could be at specially organised interfaith trips or just two youth groups visiting each other for an evening or a special activity where two or more youth groups come together for.

The point for bringing together people, who are already involved in their faith community is important for elder people too. And for this it is important that the bringing-people-together project give the participants an additional benefit, so the project must be “more” than what is already happening in the different faith communities.

Conclusion

Young people can become interested in interfaith and the best way seems to be special projects like journeys, where they can meet other young people. It is rather important to provide a platform for the young people, than setting up special youth interfaith groups.

 

Of course all this thoughts are my personal and are not representative for Interfaith Scotland or the UK Interfaith Network. If someone has other opinions I would be very interested to hear them, especially if they are from “young people” themselves, so it’s not only talking about them, but also to them!

List of wishes

December is a month when many people are thinking about wishes. Children might write letters to Santa Claus with their wishes for Christmas and adults might think about what they wish for the new year.

The following is my personal list of seven wishes for the interfaith work in 2018.

  1. No religious violence anymore.

No person should suffer from violence and religions should in no way support people suffering. Politics, society, religious leaders and every believer all over the world should do everything possible to support the peaceful streams in the different religions.

  1. More dialogue

The dialogue that is happening here in Scotland is very good, but there can always be more. And in other places in the world there is less or no dialogue between different religions.

  1. More young people in dialogue

When I visit local interfaith groups this is the wish I hear most often. 2018 will be the official “year of young people” in Scotland. For Interfaith Scotland the work with young people will be one of the most important parts of its work this year, for example by organising a national youth conference in St Andrews in April. Even the UK Interfaith Network is putting much effort in the work with young people (I can tell you more about this another time).

  1. More funding for interfaith work

As everything successful interfaith work depends on funding. Not everything can be done by volunteers and staff needs to be paid, as well as travel expanses and food at events. So hopefully governments as well as private funders and donators will increase the amount of money they give for interfaith work.

  1. More publicity for successful interfaith dialogue

The media seems to talk about religion mainly if there are things going wrong. I would like to see a greater awareness of the benefits of interfaith work in local, national and international media.

  1. More “professional” interfaith work

In Scotland I can experience the benefits of a very good organised interfaith work, run by special interfaith charities like Interfaith Scotland, Interfaith Glasgow, Edinburgh Interfaith Association and the UK Interfaith Network. I wish that many more countries would organize (and fund!) interfaith work in a similar way – not least my homecountry Germany.

  1. More “theological” dialogue

Something popping up in my blog articles from time to time. From my point of view an interfaith dialogue is only complete, if the theological questions are included. That doesn’t mean every single dialogue event needs to deal with those questions. There is definitely a huge benefit in “just” bringing people together and letting them learn more about each other – but from my personal theological point of view the different religions can (and must) also learn from each other in theological questions, but there seem to be very little opportunities for this kind of dialogue.