The Benefits and Joy of Interfaith work

  By Julie Harrald, public affairs community specialist for Leicester stake

  • 12 October 2013

The MP for Loughborough, Nicky Morgan, with members, erecting a polytunnel for a community garden.

If there is an interfaith group in your area, get involved, and if not, then start one!

Under Priesthood leadership, our public affairs programme is one of our formal interfaces with the community. At local and national level we have competent people building links with the media, politicians, business, local government, charitable organisations and other faith leaders.

It is work that requires consistency and time so that relationships can be built and those we work with come to know they can trust us, how to contact us, and who to speak to - without finding that our personnel has changed each time they try! As a consequence, a calling to public affairs requires long term service: in the Leicester Stake the public affairs council members have given a combined total of over 60 years of service.

The former Chairman of the County Council, Mike Jones on Helping Hands day

An area of endeavour that we have found particularly fruitful in the Loughborough Ward, is interfaith work. In 1997 Bishop Arthur Hardy, now our stake director of public affairs, was inspired to reach out to all the other faith leaders in the town and invite them and their congregations to the Preston Temple open house and we have been involved in interfaith work ever since. It has been so beneficial to all of our other areas of public affairs work that we wanted to share the experience to show what can be accomplished and encourage others.

For several years after that first contact, we attended monthly interfaith discussion meetings, open to the public, and hosted and planned in turn by the various religions in the town. Over time, initial caution about us dissipated; we made friends and became reliable, active participants, as much able to listen as to talk – an essential quality in interfaith work.

The former Deputy Mayor and Mayoress, Roy Brown and his wife Gillian, with Primary children on Easter Sunday

In 1999, we joined as full members of Loughborough Council of Faiths (LCofF), the formal interfaith body in the town, established to be a forum for doing business – a place where faiths can organise joint events and engage with local government and public services, such as health, police and education, including the local university. Over time, LCofF members come to know many of the long standing borough councillors who have had the privilege of serving a year as Mayor. Many of them stay involved, and those who give most generously of their time or expertise are recognised as ‘Friends of Loughborough Council of Faiths’. Besides ex-Mayors, other ‘Friends’ include the MP and the local newspaper editor. Thus, as active members of the Council of Faiths, we have become genuine friends and colleagues not only with the members and leaders of the other religions in the town, but many of the key opinion leaders.

These are some of our many good experiences and opportunities we have been given:

- The local MP and the chairman of the County Council and his wife have asked if they could join us in our Helping Hands projects.

- The Deputy Mayor and his wife attended our Easter Day Sacrament Service.

- We have taken our turn saying the prayer at the start of borough council meetings.

- We have performed music at the annual inaugural church service for the new Mayor.

- We have been leading participants in organising the annual town commemoration events for Holocaust Memorial Day.

- While serving for five years as secretary of the LCofF, our public affairs locality specialist helped the newspaper editor set up a regular ‘Faith Matters’ column in the local newspaper.

- We have opened our building for rehearsals for several interfaith pantomimes.

- We were invited to have a seat on the county SACRE (Standing Advisory Council for Religious Education), where one of our representatives Denise Hardy, has now served for many years and is about to become Chair, and Arthur Hardy has recently had his portrait painted and exhibited in recognition of extended service.

- We have participated in many varied events at the university, organised by the chaplaincy there.

- Our Young Women touched hearts with their singing at the Quaker national conference when it was in the area.

Interfaith work requires us to be reliable, honest, open, listening, enquiring, informative and hard working, but the opportunities and experiences are great. It gives us the opportunity to dispel misunderstanding about our beliefs and talk to those normally least likely to listen to us – those committed to other faiths. In the long term, we become respected as credible team players, keen to help and engage with the wider community.

If there is an interfaith group in your area, get involved, and if not, then start one!