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!

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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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Faith and Activism

This week my colleague Frances and I visited Dundee. Dundee had been one of the longest running local interfaith groups, but in the last years the group has been less active. Since last year engaged people from Dundee are reviving the group. One step for this was the launch of Scottish Interfaith Week. In January Frances and I went to Dundee for a first meeting about the future of the group and Maureen, our Director, gave a talk about Interfaith. In the beginning of march Frances was organising a women’s dialogue event. For the meeting this week people from the group had suggested to have dialogue about poverty and we had an interesting discussion about the roots of poverty in our todays society (in Dundee) and the results of poverty (in Dundee).

This meeting was one of a couple of meetings I had in the last weeks were the social aspect of faith and social activism of believers was important. In February the monthly Faith-to-Faith event in Glasgow was about “Faith and Activism” and people talked about the connection of their faith and social activism, for example by engaging in Glasgow’s Interfaith Food Justice Network. Here people of different are providing food for those who can’t afford it themselves, because they for example are living on the streets. In the work with young people and about the question how to increase interfaith engagement of young people one feedback we often got in the last weeks, was that young people are rather keen to get active together in interfaith contexts, than “just” having a formal dialogue.

For someone like me, who has an academic background and enjoys having (theoretical) theological dialogue it is important to get reminded of this element of the different faith traditions. So why is the activism part of religion (in interfaith contexts) so attractive?

  1. Commonality

The element of practical care for those who need it, is something that is shared in all major and most minor faith traditions. Besides all other theological differences: to care for the poor, the old, the sick, the lonely ones, refugees and asylum seekers … for every one who is vulnerable is something all Holy Scriptures, all prophets and founders of religion and most believers agree is important. The way the different religious groups and individuals practise this care might differ, but in general it’s a shared element of faith. Therefor it is a good starting point for joint interfaith activities.

  1. Everyone can do it

You don’t need a degree in theology to help others. Being active for others in our society can look very different and so everyone is able to do something. Someone can visit people, that are lonely, someone can donate money or food or other essential and bring it to people who need it or to a charity/organisation that cares for others. Someone can set up and sign petitions for the good of minorities and vulnerable people. Someone can change their way of life, so others or the environment benefits from it, for example by doing less flight journeys or volunteering with a charity.

  1. You see practical results

When you give food to someone or clean a park from rubbish in your community together you see immediately results. This can give you better feeling than having just a “dry” discussion about a theme, because you directly see the impact of your doing.

  1. You can choose what to do

There are so many different possibilities to get active, that there is something to do for everyone. No one must do something they don’t like, but everyone can do something that has an impact.

  1. It strengthens religion in society

We live in a more and more secular world. In a lot of Western countries religions is becoming a less natural part of society. But even the strongest anti-religious people usually recognize the social aspect of religious activism, which cares for those no one else cares for. So if religious people are getting active in social matters and because of their faith and believes they show the importance religion has for every state, society and community.

The value of travelling

“The train now leaving platform four is the 10.45 service to Edinburgh.” This and similar announcements have I heard very often since I came to Glasgow last July. Travelling is a large part of my work with Interfaith Scotland. I travel, when I visit the different local interfaith groups all over Scotland, between Dumfries and Shetland and between Skye and Fife. I travel also when I attend meetings of the youth engagement advisory group in London and I travel when I attend dialogue events or networking meeting with other charities or institutions. I had to travel to come to Scotland in the first place as well. Travelling is nice, because it gives me the opportunity to see a lot of different places and meet interesting people. Today we have very easy travel opportunities and even if a train is delayed or a flight cancelled, we (at least the privileged people with a passport, which opens most countries for us) can be pretty sure, that we can reach nearly every place in the world in relatively short time.

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Most of the people I work with at Interfaith Scotland and Interfaith Glasgow have been travelling a lot. Frances grew up in Northern Ireland and has spend time in India, Else has a Malaysian-Chinese background, Maureen is from the Highlands, but has lived in Samoa and the USA and is exploring interfaith connections in New Zealand the next weeks. At Interfaith Glasgow Rose is from England, Magdalen from Northern Ireland and Lynnda from South Africa. In a lot of the local interfaith groups there are people who are not born in Scotland or have lived in another country for some time of their life.

On the one hand this mixture of travel experienced people in interfaith context is a result of our modern globalized world, but on the other hand it also shows that travelling has a value in increasing interfaith and intercultural awareness. If I never had met people from other cultural or faith backgrounds than my own I probably would not be that interested in interfaith dialogue. I probably would never have thought about the question what my faith and believe means for the relationship to people of other faith. And I’m sure a lot of people involved in interfaith work and activities share this opinion.

Of course there are different kind of travelling and journeys where people of different backgrounds directly meet each other might be more fruitful for raising interfaith awareness than holidays where people spend there whole time at the beach and the only “strangers” they meet are those, who clean the dishes at the hotel buffet. But the first step is anyway to start moving being open to meeting others.

For some people it is easier to travel than for others. Therefore Interfaith Scotland offers schools the opportunity to bring volunteers from different faith backgrounds to them, so that students, especially outside the large and diverse cities can meet people of different faith backgrounds. Two weeks ago I joined a group of volunteers and delivered a day of school workshops in Oban, where it is not that easy for the students to meet Muslims, Hindus or Baha’i. It was really interesting to hear the interested questions the young people asked and I wish more schools would organise days like this (even if it were difficult for Interfaith Scotland, because of the small staff team we have…).

One idea, which has been discussed in the last years, that I really liked was to provide every young person in the European Union with a free Interrail ticket. It’s really a pity that in case this project comes into reality the young people in Scotland and the other parts of the UK can’t benefit of this! I think this would be a great opportunity especially for young people to meet people from different backgrounds and raise their awareness of the value of diversity. Maybe the Scottish government or the UK government should think about supporting/founding similar projects or at least organise/support more projects where people can travel in Scotland to meet people of different backgrounds (be it from the Southside of Glasgow to the East End of Glasgow, or from the rural areas of the country to the more diverse ones), like Interfaith Scotland does with it’s school workshops. Hopefully more people can have similar interesting travel experiences, as I do at the moment!

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.