Lancaster: interfaith peace service

 On Sunday, St Walburge's, Preston, hosted a unique interfaith service for peace in time of war, which was broadcast live on the national and satellite ITV network, three days after the outbreak of the Iraq War. The Catholic Bishop of Lancaster, Bishop Patrick O'Donoghue, officially welcomed all who came to show their concern to pray and work for peace. Granada TV produced and directed the service. They asked Fr Denis Blackledge to help them with production, to get contacts from various faiths, and to present the one-hour programme. As the Catholic Diocese of Lancaster had already hosted an interfaith service for peace in their own cathedral at the end of January, Fr Denis was able to draw on that material as a basis for the televised service. And as Lancashire is unique in having a full-time Interfaith Officer, Anglican Rev Dale Barton, Fr Denis was able to draw on the latter's list of personal contacts from Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Buddhist and Bah'ai backgrounds. The whole venture was only mooted some ten days before the actual live broadcast. So it was all systems go for all concerned! Six days before the service, Fr Denis found himself chairing a meeting at Granada TV headquarters in Manchester with half-a-dozen of the key members of the production team. The final decision to go ahead with the programme was only made four days before transmission, on the very eve of the Iraq War. Amazingly, everyone and everything came together in a moving and unique way. Never before in Lancaster have so many faiths come together at one time, as well as Christians from Quakers to Catholics. Hymns were picked that would appeal to as many as possible. Bishop Patrick read the Beatitudes from St Matthew's Gospel. Rev Lawrie Adam, an Anglican priest, preached on the text: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God". Rabbi Brian Fox spoke in Hebrew and English; Sikh Nirmal Singh prayed in Punjabi and in English; Hindus Ishwer Tailor and Vijayanti Chauhan sang from the Upanishads, and translated their prayers into English. Muslim Azra Butt, a young mother [who teaches at St Augustine's Primary School, Preston] spoke in Arabic from the Koran, and then in English. Bah'ai Richard Fusco and Buddhist Debbie Durdu spoke from their own traditions in our own language. Iman Yakub Patel, Chaplain at the University of Central Lancashire, added his heartfelt prayers, as did Peter Bullman on behalf of the Quakers. The Maia Singers from Manchester, a choir of more than thirty, led the hymns, and Gail Regan sang "How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace" from Handel's Messiah. Chloe Mullett played some gentle Bach solo flute music for a time of reflection. William Roache MBE, of Coronation Street fame, read his own special prayer for peace. Bishop Patrick ended with this prayer: "Almighty God, you lead us from death to life, from falsehood to truth, from despair to hope, from fear to trust, from hate to love, from war to peace. Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe." Source: Diocese of Lancaster

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