How Christians relate to people of different faiths and cultures is the subject of a new training course being pioneered by the Diocese of Leeds which all new clergy in the diocese will be required to complete.
The new ‘Presence and Engagement’ course is designed to give clergy experience of church ministry in places where at least 10% of the community are of other faiths. Recent visits have included All Hallow’s Church, Hyde Park, Leeds, the Leeds Grand Mosque and St Paul’s Church, Manningham, along with Bradford Central Mosque.
Among those taking part in the course is Bishop of Bradford, Bishop Toby Howarth (pictured), Chair of Faithful Neighbours and lead bishop on Interfaith Matters who will meet participants this month to discuss some of the issues and questions raised by the course.
The course looks at how the church can work in partnership with other faith traditions in local communities to strengthen “the common good” at an individual and societal level.
Emily Tidball, Presence and Engagement Coordinator for charity ‘Faithful Neighbours’ which is developing the training says, “The Diocese of Leeds is the only Diocese that asks all clergy new to the Diocese to complete this training, recognising that Presence and Engagement is relevant and important in all contexts.”
Presence and Engagement (P&E) parishes are those which have 10% or more people of other faiths. At the last census there were 82 P&E parishes in the Diocese but this is now estimated to be closer to 100.
However, Director of Clergy Development, the Revd Andrew Tawn, says the training is important for all clergy wherever they minister. “Even in parishes with there are very few or no members of other faiths, parishioners will undoubtedly encounter them at work and hear about them on the news.
“There is no context in our multi-faith society where these issues are not relevant. The course is about seeing engagement with people of other faiths as an opportunity rather than a challenge ”
Presence and Engagement is part of national Church of England programme which was agreed by General Synod in 2017. Currently, there are just four Presence and Engagement hubs – Leeds, London, Manchester and Birmingham and only the Diocese of Leeds requires all new clergy to take part in training.
As well as visiting P&E parishes, those taking part will also take part in a day exploring the theological questions and a half-day of workshops which cover themes such as gender issues in interfaith work, tools for sharing faith, culture vs religion, media portrayals of faith and challenging inaccuracies.