EEFA Summer Newsletter 2018

New Multi-faith Centre for EEFA: As I expect most of you will know by now, EEFA has recently taken possession of a suite of rooms at 47 St. Helen’s St., courtesy of the East of England Coop Funeral Service.  We are very happily ensconced there and have been pleased to extend hospitality to various groups there as well as developing our own programme of activities. Suffolk Humanists now meet there on a monthly basis, Suffolk County Council’s care team have had an away day, and we have hosted a symposium between members of the Suffolk Travelling Community and Health Service personnel. We have met twice with representatives of Suffolk Churches Together, initially to plan for the Suffolk Show, and latterly to explore future ways of working together.  We have several other consultations arranged for the month of July. The rooms themselves are light and well- equipped.  They include two offices, a seminar room, a meeting room which seats a dozen and a library/reading room.  We are able to offer the occasional or regular use of these rooms to groups and individuals as long as they are sympathetic to inter-faith dialogue.

Seminars and courses:  We have held various seminars and taster sessions including some on the “Language of Faith” and run Focus groups to explore ideas while keeping ourselves grounded.  We are in conversation with West Suffolk College about courses which we could deliver in partnership with them.  One will have a trial run in September – “Faith in Diversity, Cultural Sensitivity and Spiritual Care”.  It will be followed by “Faith in Diversity, Religious Literacy and Ethical Issues.”

Reading room:  We are slowly rebuilding our library – you may remember that we had to dispose of about 3000 books when we had to move out of our base in the University.  We are also slowly building a team of volunteers to fulfil various practical roles and to share their vision.  We are hoping to arrange some purely social get-togethers on the lines of “Meet on Mondays” or “Tea on Tuesdays” and also some specialist interest groups.  We will publish information about these as they develop, on our web-site, and would be glad to receive suggestions from you for others.

Schools: Alongside the developing of our Centre, our work with schools has continued – 100 schools have had our tutors visiting them or have taken pupils on visits to places of worship.  We are currently using 15 or more faith tutors, speaking regularly on Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Humanism, and Sikhism and occasionally on Christianity.  Our regular tutors like Elizabeth, Martin and Bhupindar receive glowing reports.  As an experiment we ran a “Treasures of Faith” Day in March in Occold where we live, to enable 144 children from 7 rural primary schools to meet some of our tutors and learn a little about their faiths.  We used the Church, Baptist Chapel and Village Hall and although the day was rather full and the hall was rather crowded, the children were able to be at large in the Church and were full of questions.

Comments from the children included: “I liked meeting the humanist.  I hadn’t heard of this before and my mum and dad hadn’t even heard of it when I told them about it.” “It was really good to hear from so many different people about different religions.  We wouldn’t normally get to do that”. “Buddhists don’t worship gods, they worship life itself.”

Funding for the day: We decided to offer the day free of charge to the schools, and attempted, in response to an invitation from the District Council to apply for a grant, to get support for this particular event through our local councillor.  Unfortunately he seemed unable to understand how our activity contributed to community cohesion, encouraged tolerance and highlighted the value of learning about religions.  He said firmly “We don’t fund religion”.

Open the Box: We are not receiving bookings for the hire of our faith boxes at the moment, probably because the school systems are changing, and we are not yet in contact with the significant people in the new regimes. It may be the right time to update this project to support the new RE syllabus. Open the Tent: This recent project of Liz Bennett has been well received.  Her team are already offering presentations in schools of 1) the Christian Nativity story 2) the Birth of Moses and they are currently working on a third - the  Hindu story of Rama and Sita.

Other youth contacts: At the Suffolk Show this year I handed out some faith quizzes, based around the 12 symbols used in our game “Diversity”.  I was pleasantly surprised at the knowledge of some children who took part. A group of teenage boys actually thanked me for asking them to have a go!! Last summer we were invited to provide some activities including a multi-faith service at the Suffolk biennial scout and guide August bank holiday weekend camp.   We hope to build on the contacts we made at that event.

Community outreach:  We are represented on various committees and boards involving police and fire service, refugees and asylum seekers, mental health, Healthwatch, SACRE, and chaplaincies. We are involved in conferences on safeguarding and mental health issues.  A particular initiative of EEFA has been an inter-agency project to explore spirituality and spiritual care in residential homes which  resulted in a report published by Healthwatch, Suffolk, which has been very well received.

Spirituality: There is a growing awareness of the deep spiritual needs of people at all stages of life, whether or not they describe themselves as religious.  This is reflected in the special attention now being paid to the spiritual needs of those this within mental health care.  It should also be seen as a vital ingredient in the care of the elderly.  We are continuing to explore the theme of spirituality, alongside colleagues in health and social care.  It is widely recognised that issues of faith and culture do need to be addressed - but spirituality is a dimension of life which lies at the heart of existence and is not a “tack on” topic.

New Game: We have been trialling our new game “Staging Posts on the Journey of Life”.  Inspired by Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage and one man in his time plays many parts”, it presents topics for discussion and provides a wealth of readings and poetry from a range of sources, old and new, to enable participants to reflect on life’s stages and the expectations and experiences associated with them.  I have played it in various settings, including in a residential home, in our home with some neighbours who had not met before, and with a representative group in our Multifaith Centre.  In each context it certainly engaged people’s attention and got them talking to each other.  In the residential home it was interesting to see how an elderly lady with dementia perked up and connected to the group activity when we read some of the poetry.  The game will become the focus of one of the sessions for our new course.  There is much scope for its further development and use.

New Course: “Faith in Diversity, Cultural Sensitivity and Spiritual care.” This will commence in the Autumn in Ipswich on Wednesday mornings as a pilot scheme.   It is to be included in the West Suffolk College prospectus and could be rolled out around the region later.