Hypnotic tabla drumming echoed around St Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square last night as people took their places for a lecture on 'Religion, Democracy and Civil Society'. An earnest-sounding title. But as the audience included Franciscan monks, Moslem Mullahs, a Greek Patriarch, suits, saris and turbans, it became clear this was to be no dry academic gathering. The event was the first 'Citizens' Organising Foundation' Institute lecture. Organised by TELCO (The East London Community Organisation), things got off to a brisk start with the announcement of the launch of a new COF group in Central London. A young student then gave humanist Professor Bernard Crick a scroll making him an Honorary Life Fellow of the COF. Then the guests speakers - representatives from five major faiths spoke for their allotted 10 minutes - each introduced by a COF member involved in some community action. First up was Archbishop Cormac Murphy-O'Connor. His predecessor Cardinal Hume had attended TELCO's inaugural meeting five years ago. Archbishop Cormac repeated the late Cardinal's concerns about the breakdown of family and community life and outlined Catholic social teaching which calls for respect for the dignity of each person and loving service of others. Recent studies, he said, had shown that in areas with strong community there was better social and economic development. He said: "I am told that through TELCO better relations have developed between Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians and those of no faith, through communities working together on common issues of local concern. This is a very important achievement especially in a multi-faith and multi-ethnic area where barriers of ignorance and fear can all too easily separate and divide." The Archbishop pledged his support for TELCO: "I am heartened by the desire of so many people not just to live a better life but to help others do so too." The Reverend Dr Kathleen Richardson spoke next. A Methodist Minister and past Moderator of the Free Church Federal Council, she is currently Moderator of the Church Commission for Interfaith Relations and Churches Together in England. She spoke of the need for strong active expectation, rather than than passive hope. "There is a link between believing and active discipleship," she said. The idea that we can succeed at others' expense has had its day. We're in this together." A Baptist minister and community leader from Brooklyn spoke next. Originally from Georgia, he was a very passionate speaker with a name to match - The Rev Dr Johnny Ray Youngblood. He spoke of the banality of evil - how so many sins are committed not from deliberate intent but rather from laziness, lack of thought and passive acceptance of the status quo. "Too many clergy are too tired, too busy, too unaware to get involved in the community around them" he said. "They have a huge amount of social contact but it is all stylised, superficial. No relationships of any depth are formed. Things become mechanical - like the unprepared sermon of the tired priest with 30 keys hanging from his belt." Rev Youngblood spoke of the need to develop our relationships, cultivate awareness and act on the information gained together to build community. Br Iqbal Sacranie, First Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, said faith was not simply a matter of prayer and worship but something that involved all of life. "We live in a secular society now and need to protect our faith communities. But there should be no need for confrontation," Br Sacranie said. He said there was a need for spirituality in society at large and faith communities should take their message out into the world. "Politics seems to have become part off the entertainments industry," said the last speaker, Stephen O'Brien OBE, chief executive of London First and a board member of several Church of England charities. "It is extraordinary that, after all the antics of the candidates before the Mayoral election for London. only 32 per cent voted." Mr O'Brien said he felt uplifted by the work of TELCO and was very committed to supporting their work. The evening ended with blessings in a number of languages. TELCO is one of several community groups around the country based on an Americanmodel. Every member has a role and responsibility - they are not just a talking shop. Groups within the organisation are running dozens of campaigns covering health care, transport, education, safety and finance.
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