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Report on 2014 AGM & Address

The SAIF meeting of March 25th 2014 was the fourth Annual General Meeting of the Forum and began with the report of the Chairman, Canon Dr Christopher Lamb, as follows.

“It has been a typical year for SAIF. At our AGM this time last year Jatinder Birdi of the Sikh community spoke on the Interfaith Movement and caused some questioning in his audience by concentrating on the social activities that people of different faiths should in his view be involved with. In May we welcomed Hari das from the Hare Krishna Temple in Coventry who spoke on the title ‘From Knowledge to Realisation’, and when he paused for breath answered our questions! In July Nicholas White introduced us to his community, with the brief: ‘The Christadelphians: who they are and what they believe.’ Some found this a very conservative, not to say fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity, so it was an important exercise in listening. Listening to one another is of course one of our major aims as we meet.

In our last two meetings of the year we broke new ground by embarking on two sessions of Scriptural Reasoning. The first was led by David Izen and a Buddhist colleague on a passage from the Buddhist scriptures, the Lotus Sutra. The parable of the Jewel hidden in the Robe teaches that inside everyone is the capacity for a life of beauty and creativity, but it is often unrecognised. Our second meeting focussed on the story of the Magi, popularly known as the Wise Men, who journeyed from the east to Bethlehem at the time of the birth of Jesus. Perhaps because this story is better known in our culture than the Buddhist parable, the meeting was less successful, but we shall continue to learn.

In our last meeting Ros Murphy led a highly appreciated discussion on a new book by Alan Race, entitled Making Sense of Religious Pluralism. Ros asked the question ‘Where next?’

This year we look forward to Rehana Sadiq coming in May. Rehana is the Muslim Chaplain to Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, and a former colleague of Ros Murphy. She is mentioned with much appreciation by Malala Yousafzai in her autobiography I Am Malala, the story of her shooting by the Taliban.

The Rector of St Mary’s Church in Warwick, Dr Vaughan Roberts, has made a particular study of popular music and popular culture and its connection with religion, and he will talk to us in July on the subject of Dr Who. Vaughan cannot manage Tuesdays, and the Friends Meeting House is not available on Thursdays, so this meeting will take place on Thursday July 10th in the Methodist church.

In September we return to the idea of Scriptural Reasoning when John Neal from the Nuneaton Baha’i Community will lead a discussion on a Baha’i passage.
Your ideas are welcome for our November meeting.

The Syrian civil war continues into a fourth year and tensions in the Middle East are increasingly focussed on Sunni and Shi’ sectarian lines. In the Central African Republic, Nigeria, and recently in Kenya, Christians and Muslims have been in murderous conflict. Right wing parties make gains in France, and anti-Semitism is alive and well again in many European countries. I need say nothing more to underline the importance of our work, but I do urge you to consider inviting your friends to our meetings, and perhaps to take a part in our Steering Group.”

In a brief Election the following were appointed to serve as the Steering Group until March 2015:

Christopher Lamb (Chairman)
David Izen (Vice-Chairman & Treasurer)
Sylvia Clark
Mike Eldridge
Mark Humphries
Ann McNeill
Ros Murphy

Evelyn Ho had withdrawn from the Group due to ill-health, and Ann McNeill and Ros Murphy (a founder member) were welcomed to it. The Chairman expressed his gratitude to Evelyn for her contribution to the work of SAIF.

After a very satisfactory Treasurer’s report, the Chairman introduced the Revd Dr Alastair Kirk, Anglican chaplain to Warwick University, and also Interfaith Adviser to the Diocese of Coventry. Dr Kirk described the activities of the multi-faith chaplaincy team (of which he is the only full-time member), and something of the character of the university, its 22,000 students and 5,000 staff. It marks its 50th anniversary in 2015.

The chaplaincy building was completed in 1974 from Christian and Jewish funds. In 2006 new space became available and prayer halls were added with money from Muslim sources. At present there are Anglican, Methodist, Roman Catholic, Jewish and Muslim chaplains, and the hope is to include Hindu and Sikh members of the chaplaincy team.

‘Students are always hungry’, says Alastair, so much meeting in the chaplaincy centres on food, which is always vegetarian. But students are also encouraged to talk about their passionate convictions, and ‘Speed-networking’, on the analogy of ‘Speed-dating’, has been a popular way of enabling Christian and Muslim students to share their convictions in five-minute encounters with a series of people. Scriptural Reasoning has also made for effective meeting between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Sessions have focussed on Abraham and Jonah. A January One-World-Week takes place each year, and Alastair has been instrumental in securing Professor Mona Siddiqui as the speaker for a prestigious university lecture series. The Islamics professor from Edinburgh’s topic was ‘Religion in Public Life’.

Alastair spoke of the anti-faith culture prevalent in Warwick as in other universities. Lecturers would refer in slighting terms belief in God, claiming that their stance was one of neutral objectivity, whereas in fact it was ideologically atheist. For some students this was very destructive of their faith.

Christopher Lamb

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