Thursday, 28 May 2009

Faith Encounter Awards Ceremony

I've been a bit quiet lately - snowed under with marking and college reports, but I am still managing to get out and about in Birmingham. One of the highlights last week was attending the awards ceremony of the Faith Encounter Programme. I use the FEP for modules I'm developing at Queen's and have recently asked to serve on its Steering Committee. It was great to see so many youthful trained guides graduating at last weeks ceremony (photo of guides and tutors above). Any initial caution I had about the FEP when I first started in post - with its emphasis on training a 'tourist' guide and all the possible negative conotations attached to that in relation to engaging with other faith traditions - have completely vanished over the year. I have experienced the power of ordinary people of faith sharing their faith and offering hospitality to students from Queen's in a way that has really enabled positive and creative engagement. What was a shame was the lack of response this year from the Christian community with no one training to be a guide. The good news is that FEP have recently received funding to develop their work in other areas of the West Midlands. I asked Ruth Tetlow Co-ordinator of the Faith Encounter Programme to pen a little piece about the ceremony and Faith Encounter generally for my blog and here it is........

'There are now 30 trained Faith Guides in Birmingham, of 7 different faiths.
The Awards Evening for the second group took place on Monday May 18th, in Small Heath. 15 Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs, who had all taken part in a new 12 week evening course, received their Certificates and celebrated with a huge cream cake.
Many people in Birmingham from school children to college students are taken to visit places of worship of different faiths, as part of their Religious Education curriculum. Mosques, churches, temples and gurdwaras have always welcomed them with great hospitality, but have not always been aware of how to communicate their beliefs and way of life effectively, even to adults. So in 2007, the Faith Encounter Programme, a small independent, multifaith group of experienced local people, developed the Faith Guiding course.
The Institute of Tourist Guiding granted accreditation (Level 2), although having people of various faiths training together to be tour guides at a range of different places of worship, was an entirely new concept for the ITG at the time. The unique course consists of three parts:
first, the participants need a good grounding in their own faith and so Faith Tutors go through key points and discuss how the Faith Guide can put them across to people of other faith backgrounds and no faith. Words from different cultures and languages (like hajj or langar) cannot always be translated but do have to be explained;
second, there are ITG Blue Badge Guides who teach guiding skills, such as always repeating a question so that the whole group has heard and engages with it;
and thirdly, the Faith Guides need to be able to put themselves in the shoes of their visitors, whatever their faith, age, gender or cultural background, so there are interactive sessions in interfaith understanding.
The course includes 4 visits to places of worship and also requires 72 hours of private study and 2 practical workshops. It is assessed by both practical and written examinations. The practical exam is a very special though nerve wracking day, when the whole group travels to each person’s place of worship in turn, by minibus, and acts as the (sympathetic) visitors for each other, in the presence of the 2 examiners.

At the Awards Evening, the 15 newly trained Guides testified to how their eyes had been opened: ‘During this course, week after week with relative strangers, not only were we exposing our inner thoughts and spirituality to others of the same faith but to those of different faith.’
‘I have …always felt reluctant to enter (a strange place of worship), because I would not know how where to go, what to do or how to behave if I entered the worship place.’
‘I became aware of how what you say can be misunderstood by others.’
‘I gained greater knowledge of my own faith – something I’ve been meaning to do for a long time!’
Go to the Faith Encounter Programme website where you can see photos of Faith Guides in action, find out how to book a visit and get further news of events in which they are involved.'

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