Rochdale, Oldham, Wolverhampton & Walsall: church mosque twinning
- Created on Saturday, 15 April 2017
Siriol Davies has been listening to Muslim and Christian leaders in Rochdale, Oldham, Wolverhampton and Walsall. Building on the good relationships already in place, the value of personal friendships, of partnerships between mosques and churches and of being part of a wider national network is being realised.
In the aftermath of the 2001 Oldham riots the question was asked of Church and Mosque leaders ‘When do you meet up?’ and the answer was ‘We don’t’. This led Roman Catholic Father Phil Sumner to set up a Priests & Imams group which has been meeting frequently ever since.
Today the co-ordination of the group has been handed on to curate Revd Dave Hanson and, after hearing about the Church Mosque Twinning Programme, Dave and I began to think about how it could work for Oldham.
Dave introduced me to Shakir who also takes an active part in supporting the Priests & Imams Group. Shakir runs an Islamic School in Oldham and Dave is a curate in Chadderton so living and working nearby made them an ideal pair to start the twinning programme in Oldham.
We took the idea to a Priests & Imams meeting. They were very positive and I heard a strong desire that Oldham should start to be known for its good community relations rather than what they felt was an outdated perception left over from the riots.
Out of the meeting came the idea of a bigger conference of Church and Mosque leaders to be held in the summer. In the meantime two more tentative twinning relationships were suggested; a sense that we will work gently and steadily towards the conference and then, using the experiences gained, encourage more people to get involved.
One challenge locally is that Dave the curate will be moving on to another posting as his curacy is coming to an end. Who will take over the local organising role?
This is the next issue that needs to be resolved and is something that in the wider twinning programme we faced a few times. People move on suddenly, they change jobs, they leave the area and the twinning relationship is disrupted before it gets embedded: key people locally are missed, there is a break in communications.
However, a twinning programme actually contributes to long-term stability by encouraging numerous crossing-boundary relationships to develop in each locality, thereby increasing the robustness of these cross-community links.
The view from Rochdale Railway station includes a number of domes and steeples. It is clear from this first view that both Churches and Mosques are a significant part of the history and life of Rochdale.
Talking to local Church and Mosque leaders what became clear was that although Rochdale has over seventeen Mosques plus Islamic teaching centres they are very centrally located.
As far as the Church of England goes, this means that all the Mosques are found in just a very few parishes.
A very sensible approach to the Church Mosque Twinning Programme which emerged was to invite churches that are two or three miles out of the centre to participate in the project by twinning with a centrally located mosque.
So far this has been met with enthusiasm especially by those churches that have not previously participated in building relationships with Islamic leaders.
Rochdale has a very special café which has become a key part of the twinning programme.
The CommuniTea Room is run as a Community Interest Company with a specific aim to contribute to better community relations in Rochdale. Dobir Miah, Chief Officer of Rochdale Council of Mosques had a vision of a place where both Asian and White, Muslim and Christian, old and young could meet and feel comfortable.
From the beginning, CommuniTea has employed staff from different Rochdale communities and now it’s a buzzing and friendly hub of chat and friendship. All participants in the Rochdale Church Mosque Twinning Programme are invited to meet together in the café and offered a free cup of tea if they do.
Meeting in the community room above the café all participants were keen to get straight into Twinning and many offers to help others get started were made.
Wolverhampton and Walsall
Christian and Muslim leaders in Wolverhampton and Walsall got right behind Church Mosque partnerships, shaping the twinning concept into a distinctive format which includes a commitment to meet up three times over the year, a commitment to have an exchange visit for the wider Church or Mosque community and a commitment to do something together for the wider community.
Revd Ray Gaston, a local priest and the Anglican Inter Faith Enabler for Wolverhampton, brought a wonderful energy and vision to creating a Muslim Christian Partnership and to finding participants and forming partners between Christian and Muslim leaders in both Wolverhampton and nearby Walsall.
At a meeting to celebrate existing partnerships and to encourage more to develop both Maulana Rashid Raja from Wolverhampton Central Mosque and Bishop Clive of Wolverhampton spoke powerfully.
Bishop Clive imagined the radical changes that could arise from these relationships and said that we should be aspiring to the unbelievable. The consequences of establishing these relationships between Christian and Muslim leaders based on trust and affection were going to be unbelievable.
The Methodist Chair of Wolverhampton & Shrewsbury District Revd Rachel Parkinson went straight to the unbelievable in challenging partners to consider running together at Parkrun on a Saturday morning. Enthusiastic shouts of approval ... and in that moment it all seemed possible.