More than 400 people join Interfaith Friendship Walk

Faith groups working towards a more sensitive and tolerant society

Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford recently hosted a conference on Religion and Belief in British Public Life arising out of the the report of the same name from the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, convened by the Woolf Institute and chaired by Baroness Butler-Sloss. Hugh Boulter reports.

The conference was organised by the South East England Faiths Forum and supported by the Oxford Diocesan Committee for Inter-faith Relations. The two lead speakers were the Dean of Christ Church, The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, and Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, Assistant Secretary of the Muslim Council of Great Britain and himself an imam from Leicester. Respondents included Rabbi Norman Solomon who was a member of the Butler-Sloss commission, Fakhera Rehman who spoke of her inter-faith work in Kirklees and Jeremy Rodell of the British Humanist Association.

All speakers referred to the changing religious scene within Britain with the arrival of significant numbers of Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs over recent decades and the decline in Christian observance reflected in the increasing numbers of those who claim to have no religious affiliation at all. In his opening address, Martyn Percy outlined a number of social trends in British society which affected all communities. He mentioned consumerism, an emphasis on the right to choose, and a questioning attitude. He felt that we were also a more caring and tolerant society, especially in relation to diversity. This raised challenges for religious communities where people felt that they could choose where they worshipped and did not have to agree with everything they were told by the religious leaders.

In encouragement he suggested that in all different religious traditions we should be ‘the salt of the earth’ throwing light on the dark places of society in relation to justice, peace and reconciliation. A small number of activists can make an important difference. Shaykh Mogra spoke as a Muslim who feels deeply English and sees the religious diversity in the UK as enriching. He has a vision of a society at ease with itself, in which all groups want to contribute to the general flourishing. To achieve this we need to enter into dialogue and develop “religious literacy.” He and his wife speak Gujarati to their children but they always reply in English. He quoted the Qura’n where it says: “None can be a believer if your neighbour is not free from harm of hand or tongue.” There is no place in Islam for so-called ‘honour killings’ or ‘forced marriages.’ Such practices are cultural and not religious and are abhorrent.

He is a member of a group called Imams Against Domestic Violence. He pointed out the power of the tongue to hurt the heart and whilst accepting the ideal of free speech, said that the discourse of derision has been encouraged by the recent referendum debates and the social media leading, to an increase in hate crime. In relation to Britishness he mentioned that the Muslim Council of Great Britain supports the Church of England as being the established church with Bishops in the House of Lords and the Queen as Head of the Church.
In the discussions three related themes emerged: religious literacy, the need for dialogue and the responsibility of the media and politicians. There was general agreement that both students and older people need to be aware of the teachings, practices and sensitivities of other religions.

But religious literacy is more than just this. We need to create situations where people can explain their understanding of their own faith or none, and where they can be listened to with respect. This is particularly important in schools and colleges. Fakhera Rehman gave examples of her work in Kirklees and explained how she gained acceptance by a male-dominated mosque. For Jeremy Rodell as a humanist the ability for people to explain their lack of faith is also important, whilst respecting those who do have beliefs.

This programme of engagement will also need resources and the support of politicians and the media who I hope can also become part of the process.

Dr Hugh Boulter is Secretary to Oxford Diocesan Committee for Interfaith Concerns (ODCIC).

Around the Deaneries – Burnham and Slough


The Revd Rod Cosh in his study in Slough.

THE Burnham and Slough Deanery lies towards the South East of Buckinghamshire. It is an ethnically diverse area with plenty going on.
It is unusual in that it has a full-time Area Dean. The Revd Rod Cosh (pictured right in the study of his vicarage) does not have a parish but works across the whole deanery. “After many years in parish ministry and as a hospital chaplain I really felt God was calling me to this. It is a very different job from other area deans who have their own parishes too,” says Rod, who moved to his vicarage in Slough from Staines, in Surrey, where he was the vicar of three churches.

“It frees me up to support other clergy, church wardens and parishes. It means I can hopefully put quality time in if anyone needs support so at one level it is a pastoral role. It is also about trying to draw a very varied area together.”

Rod, who moved to Slough with his wife Pam, likens the deanery, which he says is unique, to a doughnut. Slough, in the centre has large areas of urban deprivation and poverty, and as the circle draws out, the area becomes more and more rural and, in some parts, wealthy. Slough grew out of the growth of the railways, at first with a large influx of Welsh and Irish people building the Great Western Railway. This was followed by people from all over the world and most recently the town now has one of the biggest Polish populations proportionately in the country.
Rod said: “One of the lovely things about Slough is how all of the faith groups work very well together and when the English Defence League came I preached at Friday prayers at the Mosque and one of the Imams came to a town centre church.

“We were showing that we were not going to be unsettled by this racist group. It’s not about fudging the issue and trying to claim we are all the same but about acknowledging we have very different theological perspectives but that we are not fearful of them.” Burnham is the historic centre of the area, with St Peter’s, Burnham having close links with Burnham Abbey. “The abbey is important and provides a focus of quiet prayerfulness for the whole deanery” says Rod.

“There’s a bit of everything in the deanery but it’s a very exciting place to work and what I’m humbled by is the sheer amount of energy and enthusiasm that the clergy put into their work and roles. Some of them are in really challenging situations. On a day-to-day basis it means I have the time to devote entirely to helping people and parishes, not only pastorally but in growing mission.”
Rod says he enjoys worshipping in a wide variety of different churches and traditions on Sundays. “My role is not to prescribe how that worship should go, but to support it.

“My vision is that we work as a genuinely collaborative deanery with transparent boundaries so that we can draw on each others’ strengths and talents and grow the Kingdom of God in Burnham and Slough.” Burnham and Slough struggled for many years to pay its parish share, mainly as a result of the range of wealth levels within it. In 2014 it became a recovering deanery and over the last 12 months it has been able to finally pay the amount in full.

“This is thanks to the commitment and mutual support of every parish in the deanery and by some generous financial backing from our neighbour, the Amersham Deanery.
Over the last year every parish in the deanery has been focusing on and developing its own Mission Action Plan. In order to support these developments the deanery is offering a variety of courses primarily for laity. These include courses on preaching, worship and pastoral skills. “We may even look at a CPAS growing leaders course. What we need to have is a positive plan for growth and renewal.”

Beautiful Gate

orphanagephotoI AM Jenny Dobson from St Peter’s, Slough. In 2007 I first visited Lesotho with a mission team and visited the Beautiful Gate, an orphanage and care centre for children aged 0 to five.
Lesotho is in South Africa and has just under two million inhabitants of which there are an estimated 360,000 orphans, mainly due to HIV/Aids. Beautiful Gate was the vision of two missionaries.

Ray and Sue Haakonsen. One day Sue went to the hospital and saw three naked babies lying uncared for in the corner. She was told they were HIV positive and were being left to die, so she took them home and from their spare room Beautiful Gate was born. Since then over 400 children’s lives have been saved in a happy place full of hope and love. It is run by missionaries and staffed by locals, hence bringing much needed employment.

It is the only orphanage in Lesotho with its own social worker working to help children be adopted. I am a music teacher and I consider myself very fortunate that I am able to take unpaid leave to come here regularly to try and make a difference both in Beautiful Gate and the nearby school. I have brought three different teams here now. This current team are spending time sorting out IT issues, and doing building work. Other teams I have brought have spent time working in the playgroup and in the houses where the children live with their housemothers in large family units. They rely on volunteers to help them to survive.

See or get in touch with me at

The Anniversary of Freedom

A CELEBRATORY tapestry is being created and a band put together in Wraysbury for the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta.

The village is one of the sites believed to be the place where the Magna Carta was sealed in 1215 by King John (pictured right). At the time St Andrew’s Church would have already existed as a place of worship for the community.  The vicar, the Revd Colin Gibson, said teams from the church had joined with the wider village to plan a range of events to celebrate the anniversary. A Magna Carta themed flower festival will take place from Friday 5 June through to Sunday 7 June, at St Andrew’s. On Saturday 13 June the congregation will be participating in the Wraysbury Village Fair, which is on a medieval theme. On Sunday 14th a quarter peal of the bells will be rung at 3.00pm, followed by a LiberTea – a themed picnic at 4pm in the grounds of the Grange, a large private property adjacent to the church. At 5.30pm there will be Songs of Praise from the Grange, with a guest speaker from the Baptist church,” says Colin.

“The Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, Stephen Langton, played a major role in drafting the Magna Carta following a long stand-off between King John and the papacy. The medieval document is about giving the population of England liberty and freedom. Colin said: “Freedom in Christ is a very significant Bible theme.” He quoted John 8:32: “Know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”

“It’s a very important theme for us. We are hoping the High Sheriff of Berkshire will join us to unveil the wall hanging and we are putting a band together for the Songs of Praise. It should be a very inspiring event.”

For more on the Magna Carta celebrations nationally see  For more on Wraysbury see

Peace at the centre of the St Frideswide service

, , ,

THE Bishop of Oxford the Rt Revd John Pritchard joined Imam Monowar Hussein and Penny Faust from the Jewish community to light a candle for peace.

Bishop John lights a candle with Imam Monawar Hussein and Penny Faust.

Bishop John lights a candle with Imam Monawar Hussein and Penny Faust.from the Jewish community to light a candle as an act of peace.

The act brought together Christians, Muslim and Jewish leaders in the annual St Frideswide Civic Service, which is welcome to people of all faiths and none. Frideswide means Strong Peace and in Old English and that was the theme of the service.

Four schools, King Alfred’s Academy, Beckley cofe Primary, Wootton St Peter’s cofe  Primary and Radley College performed a mixture of music, poetry and produced illustrations for a service sheet.

The Christ Church Cathedral Choir on song at the Frideswide service.

The Christ Church Cathedral Choir on song at the Frideswide service.

Interfaith efforts in Slough


CHRISTIANS and Muslims have joined together in solidarity in Slough.

The faith groups got together following an English Defence League march through the culturally diverse town in February. The Revd Rod Cosh, Area Dean for Burnham and Slough, said: “When we heard that this was their intention, Slough Interfaith Partnership, a group of representatives of all the Faiths met and decided that the important thing was to show our mutual support for each other.”

On the day before the march, Rod, along with George Howard a priest working in the parish in which the Mosque is situated, went to Friday Prayers.

Rod was invited to address the worshippers. “I told them that, although there are great differences in our faiths we do have a common word found in both the Gospels and the Quran – to love God and our neighbour and because of this it was important that we should stand together and at the same time ignore the EDL,” said Rod. On the day of the march, Christians of many denominations gathered at Kingsway URC church in the centre of the town, which was open as a place of prayer and safety.

On the Sunday, representatives of the Muslim community, along with the MP, Fiona MacTaggart, the Mayor, Balvinder S. Bains and representatives of the Police attended the Candlemas Eucharist at St Mary’s Slough. At the end of the Service, Mr Ten Ikram spoke on behalf of the Muslim community.



Nothing Found

Sorry, no posts matched your criteria