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Chairman Jack Liebeskind
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Cheltenham Interfaith Annual General Meeting 9th April 2018
Cheltenham InterFaith is now in its 15th year. Almost month by month over that time there have been speakers on a great variety of topics as well as visits to places of worship both near and far. Our speakers have sometimes been very distinguished in their fields of interest people such as Rabbi Julie Neuberger, Bishop Kenneth Cragg and others from the University or have been known and recommended by members.
After the last AGM we were delighted to have Dame Janet Trotter speak to us. As both a member of Cheltenham InterFaith and Lord Lieutenant of the County she encouraged us to continue in our interfaith activity and stressed that prejudice against people of religions other than one’s own or against religion existed in both rural and urban areas. She emphasised the value of CIF linking with local community organizations, especially those under the auspices of local authorities and she offered her services in making contacts.
Several weeks later we were addressed by the co-chair of the National InterFaith Network Mr Jatinder Singh Birdi. His topic”The role of the interfaith body” and like Dame Janet he too emphasised the importance of working with local authorities. He had plenty of experience of that in his own local group in Warwick. We wondered how he had time for anything else in his life since all of this connecting time required much effort and many meetings.
After the summer an old college friend of mine Reverend David Godwin spoke about his book “Reflections of a Jewish Christian”. The book is on sale throughout the County as David had been a long time and well known Chaplain at the Cheltenham and Gloucester hospitals. He has researched his mother’s Jewish roots in Dresden and their extermination. It had given him a new appreciation of Judaism.
David’s talk was followed in October by a visit from Mark Evans, Gloucester Security Advisor and Rebecca Richardson, County Hate Crimes Co-ordinator who spoke to us on “Security for faith communities in a time of terrorism”.
November we celebrated National Interfaith week with a well attended event at the University. The week is now in its 10th year and locally it is a collaborative effort between Cheltenham InterFaith, Cheltenham Borough Council and the University of Gloucestershire. The theme was “The Search for the meaning of life”. There was a panel made up of speakers from all the major religions in the county, including the Bishop of Gloucester, an Imam from Gloucester, Dame Janet Trotter, Jenny Silverstone, Chairman of the Hebrew Community, as well as Hindu and Baha’i. They spoke in their own right rather than as official representatives. There was good and varied food shared and provided both by the university and those who came. The event was covered by BBC Radio Gloucestershire. These annual events take most of the year in preparation and it’s a time when Cheltenham Interfaith has the opportunity to show its significance and value through its contribution of ideas and making its presence known.
In December we once again had our annual home grown members evening with Abby Fisher a former Committee member and Jewish Chaplain at the University leading us in a hands-on bagel making session at the Faith Space. It was a lot of fun and quite messy but we enjoyed mixing and chatting and our bagels were fairly tasty. It was good to have some students with us, which was the advantage of using the Faith Space at the University.
January we had a talk from the Baha’i community on the anniversary of its founding. It’s good to have the support and contributions of members and their contacts and we were grateful to our committee member Sarah Marr for arranging this.
February’s meeting was on Shrove Tuesday and as it was the eve of the Christian season of Lent with Fasting being an important aspect we had a panel presentation on Fasting and its significance in religions: contributors were the University Muslim Chaplain, a Baha’i representative, Jack Liebieskind on Jewish fasting and myself on Christian Fasting.
There was no meeting in March as our proposed date then for the AGM was not possible since the Friends Meeting House was not available.
Through the year we have had invitations to events including National Holocaust Memorial Day Commemoration at the Borough Council offices in January and to a celebration of the Seder. We have one currently to which we need to respond. There was also an invitation to an Interfaith Day at Alderman Knight Special School in Tewkesbury which I attended.
Cheltenham InterFaith maintains a web site and I am grateful to my own church parish administrator Mrs Chris Davies for maintaining it, but it does need input and constant contributions and updating, for this the help of our members and friends is needed.
I have continued as Newsletter editor and producer but the quarterly issue has proved more than I can maintain without help, input and contributions and without sufficient upcoming information of meetings or programme activities. So I was only able to produce an issue in the autumn. This went as usual to our members, supporters and friends by email as well as to libraries and certain public figures by paper format through the post. I have received appreciation for it so it does help to keep our presence known. It is available online too for those with a casual interest in interfaith activity and also received by the National Interfaith Network to which we are affiliated.
Sarah Marr is our representative on the NIF and I attend any meetings I can. A recent one in London proved impossible at the last moment. The National Chairman has been to speak to us in the past and gives us great encouragement. Our affiliation to NIF depends on our upholding the Constitution which is attached and was agreed some years ago by your committee. It enables us to be listed as a bone fide interfaith group in the national list, and so to co-operate with the Borough Council and University in planning such events as National InterFaith Week event.
Committee meetings have been held at the Global Footsteps Cafe to whom we are grateful. Although needing to pay a charge it has taken pressure off of any committee members having to provide home hospitality in an ongoing way. It has not been easy for all committee members to meet every time since we all have busy and demanding lives. I am grateful to Sophie Franklin as she steps down from her role as secretary and for her travelling by bus from Tewkesbury and for Elizabeth McNamara for her work as Treasurer over the last year. She too is stepping down.
Hamid Charafi has helped us very much with contacts with other communities as Police Community Liaison officer, especially the Islamic community, Kevin Devaney has attended and reported on local interfaith meetings and opportunities and Jack Liebeskind has been exploring the ways Cheltenham Interfaith can move forward through consulting interfaith figures in the area. We look forward to hearing what this has yielded in the discussion that follows this evening. Thank you also to John Sampson for his steady support and long time committee membership. John gave CIF a talk on Faith Issues way back in the year of our founding 2003.
I would like to thank all who have helped with the refreshments through the year, especially Daphne Simon, not least the pancakes on Shrove Tuesday
I would also like to thank the Friends for letting us use their Meeting House over the years. This was largely due to the effort of our member Richard Laycock a Friend who made us so welcome and who tragically died recently and whose funeral many of us attended.
Being part of an InterFaith is very important. Never has the need been greater and the number of students and staff who gather every week for an interfaith lunch at the University to discuss issues only proves this. There is need however to consider how our own group can have a wider appeal and with a strong supportive committee and more effective publicity.
I have been a committee member for most of my 11years in the area and Chairman for about the last 6 years. I undertook the role on the understanding that the support of a working committee would make it possible to do. My own parish work load had increased and whilst am still the Roman Catholic representative locally on interfaith matters and am as excited as ever about the challenge and opportunity for interfaith work, I do feel that it is time to step down as Chairman and as a committee member. This means that I will also no longer be newsletter producer and website contact. I am happy to be involved in any initiatives that are decided on tonight or in the future as and when possible as a member of CIF.
I am grateful for all the support that I have received over the years and am proud of the legacy that we have as I look back over our programme of events held. Hopefully we can find a way forward. Thank you all.
Dear Members and Friends,
This year has seen a new committee elected with Jewish and Muslim members as well as Bahai and Christian. We have been very grateful to the Global Footsteps Café for providing a meeting place for the committee and plans are moving forward for the next few months with an interesting programme.
Following a meeting at which CIF was addressed by a Vice Chairman of the National Interfaith Network, who is also in the leadership of Warwick Interfaith, we are looking at ways in which we can develop links with the local Borough Council. We are now expecting a representative of Cheltenham Council to join our committee. We see from the good practice at Warwick how important it is that an interfaith group works with local community initiatives and look forward to some joint activities with the Council’s Cheltenham ‘Together’ Group.
Future talks will include one from Revd David Godwin, a college classmate of mine on his book ‘Proud Scars – Reflection of a Jewish Christian’ David’s family perished in a German concentration camp. David is a former Chaplain of Cheltenham and Gloucester Hospitals and has been invited to speak to CIF this Autumn.
We will also have a talk on Interfaith relations and security relations from one of our local police officers and there will be an invitation to share in a local celebration of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles.
Planning has begun for the celebration of National Interfaith Week in conjunction with the University of Gloucestershire and Cheltenham Borough Council. It will be from 7.00pm to 9.30pm on Wednesday 15th November, the venue will be Park Campus, University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham. Topic: ‘The Search for the Meaning of Life – where and how to find meaning in life’
Fr Peter Slocombe Chair Cheltenham InterFaith
Friends Meeting House, Warwick Place, (off Portland Street) Cheltenham, GL52 2NP Parking is available close by at the North Place Car Park (entrance is also from Portland Street).