Interfaith Autumn News 2021
Since the last news sheet, at the start of the year, the success of the Covid19 vaccination programme in reducing hospitalisations and deaths from Covid has surely been a source of hope. However, we should not forget the huge number of deaths from Covid, and the heartache and stress that many have experienced, and continue to experience. We should also reflect humbly on the inequalities that have been revealed within our own society, and worldwide, where in poorer nations the rates of vaccination are still very low.
An unexpected benefit of the pandemic has been that on-line meetings have taken place between faith leaders, leaders from local authority and from the health sector, facilitated by the Lancashire Forum of Faiths (LFoF). Common concerns have been identified as inequalities and mental health. These meetings have also allowed us to explain to secular partners how faith groups engage in social action, promote community cohesion, and provide spiritual support and guidance – building ‘social confidence’. A recent report is will worth reading on this: Faith-led social action during the Covid-19 pandemic – exploring a new framework of social confidence https://tinyurl.com/482cjf97
Social action The response to the pandemic has been a great example of different sectors, including faith groups, working together in partnership. For example, the crypt at Blackburn cathedral has been one of the mass vaccination centres, bringing many people into a sacred building for the first time; mobile vaccination units parked at mosques have proved very effective at getting local uptake of the vaccine; and churches and other places of worship are among those being used as Covid testing centres. Meanwhile churches, mosques and gurdwaras continue to act as locations for foodbanks, such as the Nelson churches, and the Noor mosque (Preston).
Community cohesion Often the tension between different ethnic groups, and outbreaks of racist abuse has its roots in a lack of understanding of other traditions and cultures. It’s very welcome that the contract for the Near Neighbours Lancashire hub has been given to the inter faith grouping Building Bridges Burnley; a full-time coordinator, who is being line-managed by the Methodist district Inter Faith officer, is already bringing different groups together to share, explore and learn about the customs, cultural norms and traditions of the diverse communities of east Lancashire.
Helping refugees and asylum seekers to integrate in Lancashire is another area of work; most of them have a strong personal faith, but often find it difficult to ‘fit in’ with a local place of worship. Lancashire County Council has therefore commissioned LFoF to produce a resource aimed at faith groups, to help them better understand the situation of sanctuary seekers, and so be better able to help them to feel welcome.
Spiritual capital The contribution of faith groups to wellbeing in the arena of spirituality is being more widely recognised, and acknowledged by secular partners in both the local authorities and health. The faith sector is being more actively consulted in issues such as wellbeing and mental health support.
A good example of this is from Royal Preston hospital; when the chaplaincy staff were under pressure due to Covid, a multi faith reference group was set up, which has resulted in a number of appointments, and improvements to the spiritual care and support of patients, families, and staff.
A further example is the services being offered by West Preston Methodist church @home café, and to which local agencies, including social prescribers, are now referring people, to good effect.
Inter Faith week this year runs from November 15 – 21
Peter Lumsden (Methodist District interfaith officer / Lancashire Forum of Faiths)