Your basket
Your basket
0 items - £0.00

Personal tools

Home Mission Inter-Religious Work

Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Inter-Religious Work

by Gerry Lynch last modified 12 Mar, 2018 04:58 PM

The Diocese works to promote good relations and deeper understanding between Christians and people of other faiths

“We should always "be ready to give an account of the hope that is within us, but with gentleness and respect" and we must remember that people of other faiths are also loved by God, and can be touched by Him when they pray.

“Inter-religious understanding and engagement is just as important in areas like this Diocese where minority faiths are small. Stereotypes arise more easily where people rarely meet those of other faiths.” - Canon Guy Wilkinson

The Diocese has relatively small communities belonging to faiths other than Christianity, although there is a well established Jewish community in the Greater Bournemouth-Poole area, and small communities of Muslims in several of the larger towns, most notably in Trowbridge, Poole, and Salisbury. There are individuals belonging to all major world faiths scattered across the Diocese.

Among New Religious Movements, the neopagan movement is larger in Wiltshire than almost anywhere else in the country.

Bishop Nicholas regularly writes to leaders of other religions in the Diocese around major festivals, to extend good wishes and recognise their contribution to the common good.


Understanding Islam

The Understanding Islam course by Chris Hewer is being offered in our region this year at Ammerdown and Hilfield Friary. I know Chris Hewer well and have the highest regard for his scholarship, his Christian faith and in particular for this course.

 Ammerdown Centre, Bath, 30 April to 4 May. Contact Ammerdown Centre

The cost of the course at Ammerdown is £299 residential and £199 non residential

 Hilfield Friary, Dorset, 25-29 June. Contact .

The course is intended to build a first introduction for anyone who wants to understand Islam.

The Understanding Islam course has been developed over decades by Chris Hewer. Participants are invited to take a critical journey to understand Islam through the eyes of those who follow it.  The course is conducted in manageable groups as an interactive seminar with opportunities for questions and discussion throughout.

 Chris has built a reputation for being an exceptional scholar and teacher with an outstanding understanding and love of Islam and a passion for sharing it with others. Chris comes from a background in Christian theology, education, Islamic studies and inter-faith studies, and has worked in the field of Muslims in Britain and Christian-Muslim relations since 1986. For more information about Chris and his work go to

 He writes: “Who knows best what Islam is about?  Muslims do; so this course will aim to help people to understand Islam as Muslims believe it and live it.  Which Muslims?  Well, Islam is a diverse way of life that is understood differently in many details by different Muslim groups and individuals but there is a broad agreement on the solid central elements of Islam, which is what I shall try to explain.  We may call this “mainstream Islam.”  From time to time the diverse positions taken by different Muslims will be explored.  The author is a Christian and thus I am bound by Christian ethical principles, a key one of which is to “do unto others what you would have them do unto you.”  It would offend me if a Muslim were to teach a course about Christianity that was coloured by her Muslim understanding in such a way that I felt that my faith was being distorted; therefore I will try diligently not to do that to Islam in this course.  We could extend the principle, to “seek to understand others as you would like them to understand you.”  That is the ethical principle that readers and viewers are invited to assume in working through this course.

 The course has deliberately been called “Understanding Islam” with the emphasis on understanding.  To understand a way of life requires more than just accumulating knowledge and understanding it in our heads.  We may call this intellectual understanding.  To understand a way of life though requires also that we should attempt to feel what it is like to follow that way. This “feeling knowledge” we could call “the knowledge of the heart” or intuitive knowledge.  During this course we will attempt to understand Islam both with our heads and our hearts; to know and feel what it is from the perspective of a Muslim. We may call this “empathetic understanding.”  

 It is important to see the difference between ideals and realities but, even more important, to know when we compare Muslim ways of life with whatever we might think or do ourselves that we are comparing like with like.  There is a temptation when studying another faith or way of life to compare “my wonderful ideals” with “your sordid realities” and we can see where that can lead us.

 There is a fundamental difference between understanding something and agreeing with it.  I can seek to understand the factors that might lead someone to become an alcoholic without agreeing that this is a good life stance.  This course seeks to promote understanding but no-one is asked to agree with what Islam teaches or adopt a Muslim way of life.  This is not a conversion exercise!  We are free to understand and disagree.  Islam teaches that God gave us intellect, reason and freedom to puzzle things out and decide for ourselves.  God does not compel human beings to believe [Q. 2:256].  Critical questions and observations are allowed and from time to time these will be addressed in the course. 

The Jewish Festival of Purim

Jessica Spencer at the Council of Christians and Jews writes about Purim

The Jewish festival of Purim falls this year on 1st March. The festival marks the thwarting of a plan to destroy the Jewish people, at the time of the Persian Empire. Jews read the story as told in the Book of Esther, dress up in strange clothes, and are commanded to drink until they cannot distinguish between a hero and a villain. Identities are confused, conflated, and concealed.

Concealment is a major theme in the Book of Esther. Esther, on being summoned to the king’s palace, does not make known her people or her kindred. She continues to hide her Jewishness as Queen, until she realises that only by revealing her identity, and risking death, can she save the Jewish people. Her name shares its root with the Hebrew word ‘nistar’: hidden.

The story of Esther was itself almost hidden. The Talmud recounts that Esther wrote to the Sages, requesting that observance of Purim and the Book of Esther be established for future generations. They wrote back: ‘you will arouse the wrath of the nations upon us’, fearful that commemorating a story in which Jews were victorious would incite hate. Although they eventually accepted her request, it is interesting that the oral commentaries add much to the story that is not in the canonised book. While the oral commentaries call King Ahasuerus wicked and implicate him in the proposed genocide, there is no denunciation in the text. The author leaves any such criticism of the authorities hidden between the lines.

The most notable absence from the Purim story is God, who is not mentioned once in the Book of Esther. In the Gemara, the rabbis ask:

‘From where in the Torah comes the name Esther? As it is said: “And I will hide [haster astir] My face on that day.” [Deut 31:18]

From this they conclude that God, too, is hiding in the Book of Esther, and that the salvation of the Jews in the story is a ‘hidden miracle’. We live in a world in which God’s face often seems hidden, a world in which there are often reasons to hide. Perhaps, as for Esther, the greatest challenge is not to know when to hide, but to know when to speak. It can be hard to hide — but harder still to reveal oneself for who one is.

Visit my Mosque Day

Kat Brealey is the National Programme Coordinator of Presence & Engagement – find out more on their website.

Sunday was Visit My Mosque Day – an initiative established in 2015 to encourage people of all faiths and none to step inside a mosque, perhaps for the first time, and meet some of those who use it. So while I usually linger over my cup of tea after church on a Sunday morning, this week I hopped on my bike and headed to Bristol’s Hizrat Bilal Centre.

 Why? Because in today’s diverse society, learning about different faiths and cultures matters. It helps us to understand those we live, work and study alongside. But sometimes it can be hard to know what to believe about Islam, or where to get different perspectives. I was keen to take part in Visit My Mosque as it offered a valuable opportunity to meet ordinary Muslims living locally, to hear first-hand about their beliefs, and see how these shape their lives.

 For me, visiting different places of worship is also important because it is a chance to be a guest rather than a host. Christians talk a lot about the importance of welcome, and the Bible has plenty to say about hospitality. However as crucial as it is to offer this, it is also valuable to receive it. It was humbling to hear the imam thank everyone who had accepted the invitation to come, and see how genuinely pleased the mosque community were to have us there. It was clearly a joy to be sharing the space with so many visitors, and after our tour of the building we were urged to dig into a wonderful spread of refreshments. As a guest I learnt about another faith, but also reflected on my own, and where the two are similar and different.

 If you missed out this weekend, don’t despair! Many mosques run special events throughout the year, as do other places of worship. For example, Ramadan – the month when Muslims fast – takes place this year from mid-May to mid-June. During this period, many mosques invite people to join them for an iftar – the evening meal which breaks the fast. In addition, many mosques are happy to receive visitors at any time. Why not get in touch with your local mosque and arrange to visit – perhaps with a group from your church? A single visit may not answer every question – and even if it could, one mosque isn’t representative of Islam as a whole – but it’s a great place to begin.

Bishop Nicholas:Trowbridge mosque visits St James' church


The Church Urban Fund Near Neighbours programme seeks to bring people together who are near neighbours in communities that are religiously and ethnically diverse, so that they can get to know each other better, build relationships of trust, and collaborate together on initiatives that improve the local community they live in. Learn more at

The Church of England Presence & Engagement programme helps parishes be a truly national Church in areas of high religious diversity, following report to General Synod Presence and Engagement: the churches' task in a multi Faith society. It encourages and supports the mission and ministry of parishes and other Anglican communities in multi-religious contexts, supported by the Church of England's national Adviser on Inter Faith relations.

The BBC website has a useful introductory guide to the beliefs of a wide variety of religions - visit it here.

Porvoo Guidelines: inter-religious encounter in churches of the Porvoo Communion
The Porvoo Communion draws together Anglican churches from Britain and Ireland with Lutheran churches from Scandinavia and the Baltic. These guidelines emerged from a consultation held in Oslo in December 2003. They have no official status, but offer some practical pointers on pastoral issues.

Inter Faith Marriage Guidelines: advice from a Christian perspective.

Network for Inter Faith Concerns (NIFCON) of the Anglican Communion.

The Bournemouth and Wessex Branch of the Council of Christians and Jews meets 4-5 times per year with attendance at meetings from 60 up. More details at

Document Actions