"Faiths for the City", a challenging project that brings together representatives from six of Birmingham's main faith communities, theologians and other academics, from the University of Birmingham and civic leaders from the City of Birmingham, was launched on Tuesday, 11 September, writes Peter Jennings. Archbishop Vincent Nichols represented the Christian tradition during the event in the Great Hall at Birmingham University, attended by more than 200 people representing the inter-faith, multi-cultural diversity of the City of Birmingham. Among the audience was Bishop David Urquhart, the Anglican Bishop of Birmingham, Fr Mark Crisp, Rector of St Mary's College, Oscott, the diocesan Seminary, Fr Julian Green, Catholic chaplain at Birmingham University and a number of parish priests from parishes throughout Birmingham. The dialogue that has been going on for the past year is focused on specific issues related to the welfare of the City of Birmingham The project will now be followed up by a series of further events looking at the environment, business and commerce, education, employment and the criminal justice system. The "Faiths for the City" project was introduced by Professor Michael Clarke, Vice Principal of the University of Birmingham. His remarks were followed by five-minute contributions from an impressive line-up of six faith leaders, many of them members of the Birmingham Faith Leaders' Group. They spoke in strict alphabetical order for the faith they represented - Buddhism, by Vajragupta, Director of the Birmingham Buddhist Centre forum 1997-2005; Christianity, by the Archbishop of Birmingham; Hinduism by Dinesh Chauham, a senior member of the Hindu Council in Birmingham; Dr Mohammed Naseem, Chairman of the Birmingham Central Mosque since 1975 and an advisor to Muslim students at Birmingham University; Judaism, by Rabbi Leonard Tann, Rabbi of the Singers Hill Synagogue in Birmingham for 21 years. Sikhism, by Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh Ahluwalia, Chairman of the Gura Nanak Nishkam Sewak Jagha. During his address Archbishop Vincent Nichols said that there were three ways in which the Christian faith serves the City of Birmingham. "Each is important, and the City needs them all. These are part of our vision for the City," he said. "Firstly, Christian faith generates great 'social generosity', or 'faithful capital'. This generosity is found in every parish, in every Christian congregation, in this city. Quietly, often unrecognised, Christians respond to the needs of their neighbours, join in a whole variety of charitable ventures and find, in their faith, a quiet inspiration for their life's work. The extent and impact of this 'generosity' is not often calculated. Yet no city can survive without this kind of 'capital'. "Secondly, the Christian faith contributes much to our search, as a society, for moral coherence and stability. "Christian teaching does not provide ready-made answers to every problem. They have to be worked out. And in working them out the Christian tradition, recognises that all the various sciences and professions have their importance and autonomy. True progress is made when our different endeavours work together, in cooperation and dialogue, seeking what is true, good and beneficial. This is the dialogue we seek, and a dialogue based on reason. Christian thought does not seek to dominate but to cooperate. "Thirdly, the Christian faith is important because it inspires and sustains genuine human and spiritual culture, art and beauty. This, too, is a vital contribution the faith makes to the life of this City in music, ceremony, prayer and liturgy. "These three areas come together in education. Young people formed in social generosity within a moral framework growing their spiritual wellbeing. Christian schools strive explicitly to achieve these aims. "If this partnership is to be recognised in Birmingham then official and public recognition, and support for the visibility of faith and for its role, must be given." Archbishop Nichols concluded: "Birmingham, in its public structures, is a secular city. That is right. But, contrary to popular impressions, being secular does not mean being a-religious or, even less, anti-religious. "As a city, Birmingham does well to foster its religious communities for their own sake and with their own ethos, not asking them to take on secular values or appearances. The religious communities will repay the City one hundredfold." Rabbi Leonard Tann, highlighted the words of the Prophet Jeremiah: "But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." The six short addresses were challenging, provocative and stimulating and contributed to a lively half-hour question and answer session during which all the faith leaders on the platform supported Archbishop Nichols in a robust defense of faith schools. Further information about the project can be found on the Faiths for the City website: faithsforthecity.org.uk
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