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IFN’s 2021 National Meeting - Faith communities and COVID19 learning from the journey

IFN’s 2021 National Meeting took place online on 23 March. Its theme was ‘Faith communities and COVID19 learning from the journey’.

The meeting was an opportunity for IFN and its member bodies to: remember together all who have died with COVID-19; celebrate resilience and selfless service; consider some key issues; share some of the learning from their experiences on the journey so far; draw on that learning to help them think about how they can best work – separately and together – towards a reopening of society; and think about the road ahead.

10 days before the meeting, it was announced by the Prime Minister that 23 March would be a National Day of Reflection (marking a year since the announcement of the first lockdown) initiated and led by Marie Curie UK.  In the light of that the previously planned time of silence at the outset of the day was moved to the same time as the national minute of silence at midday so that IFN’s member bodies could join with those across the UK to remember all who had died with COVID-19.  The work of all those who have been responding to its impacts on our lives was also held in gratitude.  In the lead up to the silence, the Most Venerable Bogoda Seelawimala, Vice-Moderator read out a short statement from the Co-Chairs and Faith Communities Forum Moderators for the National Day of Reflection.  This is reproduced below.

The day was chaired by IFN’s Co-Chairs the Rt Revd Jonathan Clark and Narendra Waghela.

The first session was on ‘Stepping up to serve: sharing stories of faith and inter faith responses to need’. Major Pam Knuckey, Assistant Director (Research), Research and Development, with Major David Evans, Territorial and Inter Faith Officer, the Salvation Army UK, spoke about the Salvation Army’s response during the pandemic, including through its congregations and partnerships; Gurdeep Kaur, Co-Founder of the Sikh Foodbank (Scotland), gave an insight into this important initiative which has been serving a number of area communities during COVID-19 and Dr Maureen Sier, Director of Interfaith Scotland shared the inspiring response from faith and inter faith initiatives from Scotland. Hetvi Parekh, Sewa Day Team Leader Nottingham, spoke about its programme where volunteers of many backgrounds, including from local faith communities, have been delivering food donations to foodbanks, charities and local schools.  This was followed by a short presentation by IFN Executive Director, Dr Harriet Crabtree on ‘Faith communities and COVID-19’, which provided a broad brush picture of response, highlighting the issues that were being explored during the meeting. Shermara Fletcher, Principal Officer for Pentecostal, Charismatic and Multi-cultural Relations, Churches Together in England, and Dr Arshad Latif, Covid-19 Response Group, British Islamic Medical Association, then talked, from the perspective of their organisations, about the unequal impact of COVID-19 in terms of mortality and illness and the issue of vaccine hesitancy and the response to this, including encouragement of vaccine take-up.

Paul Smalley of NASACRE, Senior Lecturer at Edge Hill University, then spoke about ‘Religious Education and COVID-19 response’, including how RE in schools adapted to the online world of the pandemic. He introduced a new IFN resource which will shortly go live – ‘Inter faith activity in the UK: A Teacher resource for secondary pupils 11-14’.

The afternoon began with a session on Partnership working during the pandemic – and beyond’.  Daniel Singleton, Director, FaithAction, talked about its work in England to support actions by the UK Government on places of worship during the pandemic and faith communities during COVID-19; and the importance of faith groups and local authorities working in partnership. Esmond Rosen, President of Barnet Multi Faith Forum offered a response from the perspective of a local inter faith organisation which has been working closely with its local authority throughout the pandemic. Kate McColgan, Chair, Inter Faith Council for Wales, reflected on the experience in Wales of the Inter Faith Council for Wales and the Faith Communities Forum of the Welsh Government of mutually supportive work with the Welsh Government to tackle the pandemic. 

The final session of the day was on ‘COVID-19 and inter faith engagement moving forward’. This included reflections on the road ahead by Ed Petersen, Chair, Northern Ireland Inter Faith Forum, Eda Molla Chousein, Youth Programme Coordinator of the National Interfaith Youth Network, Religions for Peace UK, Dr Avtar Singh Matharu, Chair, York Interfaith and Malcolm Deboo, Co-Moderator of IFN Faith Communities Forum.

During the day 10 workshops were held.  Each workshop provided a chance for insights into faith and inter faith responses during the pandemic so far and also to consider what has been learnt - lessons for the future in terms of faith and inter faith engagement.  Morning workshops were held on: ‘Places of worship, ritual life and celebrating festivals’, with presentations by Rajnish Kashyap, General Secretary, Hindu Council UK and member of the UK Government’s Places of Worship Task Force (England) and Rabbi Mordechai Wollenberg, Senior Rabbi of Woodford Forest United Synagogue in London, under the Chief Rabbi’s auspices, and IFN FCF Vice-Moderator; on ‘Funerals and bereavement’, with presentations by Mohamed Omer MBE, Gardens of Peace/Muslim Council of Britain - Responding to death and burial needs during a pandemic and the Revd Canon Dr John Hall, Devon Faith and Belief Forum - The multi faith context for response, a reflection from the perspective of work done by the Devon Faith and Belief Forum with Devon County Council; ‘Health care chaplaincy’, with presentations by the Revd Mark Burleigh, Chair of the Network for Pastoral, Spiritual and Religious Care in Health and Head of Chaplaincy & Bereavement Services at Leicester’s hospitals - Health care chaplaincy during the pandemic and Swaminathan, Hindu Forum of Britain and Chaplain, London North West University Health Care Trust -  Reflections on Hindu experiences of the challenges faced in providing chaplaincy/spiritual support during the pandemic; ‘Vaccination and BAME health COVID matters’, with presentations by Haidar Lapcha, Programme Manager and Communications Lead for the Community Champions project, Strengthening Faith Institutions and Vinay Shah, Institute of Jainology, One Jain Initiative and IFN FCF Vice-Moderator - How the Jain community has responded to the vaccine rollout (the latter presentation was supplied separately); and ‘Capturing the faith response to the pandemic – surveys, research, blogs’, with presentations by Professor Paul Weller, Inter Faith Working Group of the Baptist Union of Great Britain; Emeritus Professor, University of Derby; Professor in the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University; Research Fellow in Religion and Society, Regent's Park College, University of Oxford; and IFN Trustee -  Highlighting some of the research initiatives and surveys looking at the faith reponse to the pandemic and Dawn Waterman, Archives and Heritage Manager, Board of Deputies of British Jews - Creating the Board of Deputies COVID-19 Jewish community archive (part of the ‘Hidden Treasures: Celebrating Jewish Archives in Britain’ project). 

Afternoon workshops were held on: ‘Faith groups and leaders working with local authorities’, with presentations by Carlo Schroder, Rochdale Borough Council, and Samra Kanwal, Greater Together Manchester – How one the local authority and faith leaders within its area have been engaging during the pandemic and Ryan Charlton, Policy Lead for Community Resilience in the Cabinet Office - Faith groups and local resilience structures – the pandemic and wider engagement; ‘Wellbeing and safety, from loneliness to domestic abuse: responding on an inter faith basis’, with presentations by Jeeves Rohilla,  Faiths Forum for London and Strengthening Faith Institutions and Tara Corry, Women’s Interfaith Network - An inter faith response to domestic abuse and Elizabeth Fewkes, Near Neighbours West London Coordinator and Nighat Khan, CEO of New Vision for Women - An inter faith response to loneliness; on ‘Financial impacts on places of worship and faith - based charities’ with presentations by Oliver Chan, Research Team, National Council for Voluntary Organisations - The financial impacts on Charities of COVID-19 and Ian Hardie, Treasurer. United Reformed Church -  Some reflections on impact from a URC context; ‘Digital communication – from dialogue to social media and Inter Faith Week’, with presentations by Philip Ybring, Communications Manager, Faith and Belief Forum - Communicating for inter faith understanding at a time of COVID and Yogesh Joshi and Chanda Shome, Watford Inter Faith Association - A local inter faith experience of communicating digitally during the pandemic; and ‘Inter faith solidarity and shared messaging in challenging times’, with presentations by Dr Harriet Crabtree, Executive Director, Inter Faith Network and Neil Pitchford, Druid Network and IFN FCF Vice-Moderator - Some reflections on inter faith statement making and messaging.

IFN is grateful to all who made presentations throughout the day, and also to the workshop facilitators, rapporteurs and note-takers: Patricia Stoat, Nottingham Inter Faith Council and IFN Trustee, Ashwin Soni, Crawley Interfaith Network, Jo Backus, Network of Buddhist Organisations and IFN Trustee, Jay Anderson, Leeds Faiths Forum and IFN Trustee, Mohinder Singh Chana, Network of Sikh Organisations, IFN Trustee and IFN FCF Moderator, Kirit Wadia, Interfaith Coordinator, BAPS  Swaminaryan Hindu Sanstha, Rabbi Maurice Michaels, Faith Links Bournemouth and Poole and IFN Trustee, Leonie Lewis MBE, IFN Trustee, Karl Wightman, Baha’i Community of the UK, Carrie Gealy, Inter Faith Network, The Revd Mark Umpleby, North Kirklees Interfaith, Jim Robertson, North East Regional Faiths Network, Marigold Bentley, Assistant General Secretary, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, Moin Azmi, Vice-Chair, Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board (MINAB), Steve Miller, Convenor, London Borough Faiths Network, Minister David Bruton, Spiritualists’ National Union and IFN FCF Vice-Moderator, Chelsea Craven, IFN volunteer, Dr Ed Kessler MBE, Director, Woolf Institute, Sheikh Ibrahim Mogra, Muslim Council of Britain, Paul Southgate, North East Regional Faiths Network and Denise Raby, Keighley Interfaith Group.

Note:  IFN links a wide range of organisations and its membership encapsulates a wide diversity of background and belief as well as experience and expertise.  That can never be fully reflected in the pattern of presenters in one meeting. The pattern of speakers varies from meeting to meeting so that the benefit of this for learning and good practice can be gained.


Statement on the National Day of Reflection

At this meeting of Inter Faith Network member bodies today, we join with all those around the UK holding a minute’s silence at the noon hour to remember the lives of those who have died with COVID-19. 

Faith communities have experienced the loss and illness of many among their number. Some have experienced an especially heavy impact because their members are drawn in part or entirely from groups disproportionately affected by COVID-related illness and death.  

We hold particularly in our prayers at this time the families, friends and colleagues of all who have died, their sorrow of loss deepened by isolation and, for many, inability to observe traditional rites of mourning. We hold also in our prayers those who continue to provide physical and spiritual support for the dying and the bereaved.

As well as remembering those who have died, we give thanks for all that has been done, by so many, to support those whose lives have been affected by the pandemic.

Let us, as we pause to remember, also commit to moving forward in hope and with commitment to working for a reopening of society that reflects the values of mutual concern, support and compassion demonstrated during this last year.

The Co-Chairs and FCF Moderators of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, 23 March 2021


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