Birmingham Faith Leaders Group host Annual Interfaith Service for Peace at the St Thomas Peace Garden

Bishop Wolliston (Connecticut, USA) meets with Faith Leaders

Bishop Wolliston (Connecticut, USA) meets with Faith Leaders

A multi-faith Peace Service was held at the Peace Gardens in Birmingham with the aim of bringing the city’s major religions even closer together. The Birmingham Faith Leaders group, which was created in the wake of the 9/11 atrocities, held its annual Inter Faith Service for Peace at the St Thomas Peace Garden in Bath Row. It was the fourth time the group came together for the service which originally began in response to hate attacks against Muslims following Twin Towers attacks.

As a renowned structure which embodies peace and promotes harmony on a global scale, St. Thomas’ Peace Gardens, a small obscured park near Birmingham City Centre, seemed the ideal setting to mark the 13th anniversary of the Birmingham Faith Leaders Group.

The event and the park welcomes and values people from all walks of life, attracting individuals from various religious, cultural and social backgrounds. This resonates strongly with one of the Nishkam Centre’s fundamental considerations, accepting and respecting those of another faith; promoting interfaith.

The park itself is a tribute to those who have come to pass during times of unrest, who have suffered loss through terrorism, conflict and social upheaval. We have all experienced loss at some point in our lives and will continue to do so. Though grief is inevitable, it is important to remember those who have perished and to celebrate new life. This concept was clearly represented in the symbolic watering of a rose bush the Faith Leaders had planted in commemoration of the victims of the 9/11 attack. The coming together of humanity to prosper in troubling times and to triumph over strife in hopeful aspiration of the future was the integral message projected by Archbishop Bernard Longley of the Roman Catholic Church, who led the sermon.  Grief is identified as having the power to break us, but together it binds, strengthens and shapes us.

Starting with a call to prayer for the six major religions, a number or prayers were said before the Peace Rose was blessed with sprinkles of water. Faith leaders and attendees then pinned their own short prayers and messages on to the prayer board.

Jonathan Gurling, Executive Secretary of the Faith Leaders Group, said: “We try to keep the event very simple and short so more people will attend and stay for it. The Faith Leaders Group was formed when the then Chief Minister at Singers Hill Synagogue, Rabbi Tann, was so incensed by the attacks on Muslims, he telephoned Dr Naseem, the then Chairman of the Central Mosque, and asked to visit on September 12 when community prayers were being held. He was joined by Christian and Sikh leaders and the Faith Leaders Group grew out of this simple act of brotherhood”.

At a time when racial tensions around the world have been running high the event was even more poignant and the super-diversity of the City was marked by this celebration of Birmingham’s mixed cultures.

Mr Sewa Singh Mandla, Trustee of the Nishkam Centre and member of the Faith Leaders Group said, “The faith leaders have a very good working relationship and we are proud that we are able to come together in unity to show that Birmingham’s faith traditions are stronger together”.

Amrick Singh, Nishkam Centre Director, noted, “This year was just as important as previous years to show a powerful message of togetherness. Whilst this is a great opportunity to take time out of our extremely busy schedules, it was also demonstrative of the strength of the communities here in Birmingham.”  He went on to say, “This year’s event was honored to welcome Bishop Dr Neville Wolliston, Bishop of the Lord’s Church in Hartford, Connecticut, USA. I have had the pleasure to spend some time with the Bishop who is a local Handsworth born and bred lad whose family moved to America over 30 years ago. He came back to visit and talk about his faith and youth work with various groups”.

It was clear that a real community spirit could be felt among the congregation, especially through the participation during collaboratively read prayers and with the handwritten contributions fastened to the prayer board. It featured messages which avidly requested greater love, happiness and peace to be spread around the world. Patricia Earle of the Woman’s Federation of World Peace labelled the occasion as nice and beautiful in its effective simple and symbolic approach in honouring those who have passed.

Mr Mandla went on to share with us that this year was a very special time for the Faith Leaders Group as Bhai Sahib Dr Mohinder Singh, Chairman of Guru Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jatha and Nishkam Civic Association, was going to be hosting the leaders in a unique meeting in Amritsar, India. Bhai Sahib will host the faith leaders and their partners in the most sacred city of Amritsar where Harmandir Sahib Gurudwara (or the Golden Temple) is located – one of the most sacred places for the 26 million Sikhs worldwide.  The Nishkam International Centre will be home for the guests in Amritsar to share moments of reflections and to learn about the Sikh Dharam whilst taking time out to discuss faith based issues.

 

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