On Saturday the 18th of September 2021, the Southwark Multi-Faith Forum held their long-awaited inter-faith walk. This walk usually takes place on a yearly basis but, due to the COVID pandemic, it had to be cancelled in 2020. The event was aptly themed “Faith – More in Common in a Time of COVID”.
The starting point was the historic Southwark Cathedral1, where walkers were welcomed by the Canon Precentor of the Cathedral, the Revd Canon Andrew Zihni. In his remarks he drew attention to two art installations. The first, which had recently been transferred to another location in the country, was entitled “Please Believe These Days Will Pass”. The second, still in place, was entitled “Leaves of the Tree”, by Peter Walker. It consisted of 5,000 leaves cut from steel, on each of which was carved the word ‘Hope’. They were displayed on the floor of the sanctuary, giving the impression of fallen autumn leaves.
Both pieces of art, the Reverend remarked, reflected a belief and attitude regarding the pandemic, namely that “even in the darkest hour light will break through”. A sentence from the information display read: “The leaves symbolise the past, what has transpired, as we hope for a better future.”
This piece of art certainly generated much conversation amongst participants in the walk as they examined it and reflected on its message.
Following this, Rabbi Nathan Godleman provided interesting insights into the establishment and tenets of the South London Liberal Synagogue, and its beginnings in Streatham, south-west London.
The walk then moved on to St Hugh’s Church, Bermondsey, which is a sister church to Southwark Cathedral. Here, The Reverend Canon Michael Rawson spoke about the history of the building and the diversity of its parishioners. His talk included an introduction to their inter-faith exhibit, an abstract painting titled “Journey Through the Wilderness – The Wilderness Panels.” It consisted of five panels, each representing the world religions of Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Buddhism. The painting attracted a great deal of interest and discussion, acting as a reminder of the similarities that can bind people of different faiths. It also beautifully demonstrated the essence of the inter-faith walk.
This point was further emphasised at the next venue, the Baitul Aziz Islamic Cultural Centre, near Harper Road, where the Imam, in his contribution, noted the significance of love, respect, unity and service in all faith traditions.
As the walk progressed, in glorious sunshine, the enthusiasm and energy of the participants was palpable, and conversations were joyful. This was very likely due to over 18 prior months of previously extremely restricted movement.
The next destination was The London Friendship at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Walworth, south-east London. There, Kyan Pucks and Samira Ciotti gave an enlightening introduction to the foundation and principles of the Baha'i Faith.
The final presentation was by Christopher Cooke, President of the Wandsworth Stake, London. Despite a lack of time, due to the interesting and engaging questions from participants, he provided a great overview of the establishment of the Church and its historical context, including remarks that affirmed its Christian tradition and how it began in England. Importantly, he highlighted the purpose of the Friendship Centre as a community resource to support refugees and others who may be struggling.
Each presentation included time for questions, which helped to enhance the knowledge and understanding of individuals and the group. All too soon four hours came to an end, but the friend-shipping continued for some time after, while being treated to a barbeque hosted by the Friendship Centre.
The success of the whole event was evidenced by participants lingering and talking for as long as it was possible. Many were enlightened and edified. The event ended as it began, recognising and appreciating the diversity of all, while focusing on the things that are held in common.
Community friendships and relationships were built, re-established, and strengthened. Indeed, Musharraf Chaudhury, chair of the Southwark Multi-Faith Forum. remarked: “A fantastic day of sunshine, amazing venues and great speakers. It was so wonderful to see so many friends and colleagues in person after such uncertain and challenging times. Thank you to everyone involved in making what many commented as ‘the best walk they have been on’. It was an amazing display of diversity, togetherness and hope for the future.”