OneSpirit minister Anthea Ballam spoke up for the experience of interfaith worship on BBC Radio 4’s flagship weekly programme, Beyond Belief, broadcast yesterday. You can listen to or download a podcast of the 30 minute programme.
Describing the annual interfaith service organised by the Interfaith Contact Group in Brighton and Hove, of which she is secretary, Anthea said, “the power of this occasion is totally breathtaking.” This sort of worship, she said, is based on “compassion and love and a real respect for each other”.
(See a short video of the recent service, in Nov 2016. The picture below, taken from the video, is of the Call to Prayer, led by Imam Uthman Jeewa Adhan.)
In a sometimes passionate discussion, Anthea represented a very different view from another participant, Rev Dr Gavin Ashenden, an Anglican priest and theologian with an Evangelical perspective. His resignation in January as one of the Queen’s Chaplains had provided the impulse for the radio programme.
He had resigned after publicly criticising the decision of St Mary’s Cathedral in Glasgow to include in its recent service marking the Feast of the Epithany a reading in Arabic from the lectern by a local Muslim of verses from the Qur’an that revere Jesus as a prophet, but not the Son of God.
Referring in the radio programme to a different event — when St John’s Church in Waterloo, London, hosted a Muslim prayer service in 2015 — Gavin Ashenden said: “For them to give these spaces to a different filtration of God is an act of betrayal.”
Anthea Ballam presented a very different approach to spirituality. “If you look at the different faiths, it’s…. like a garden of diversity, and the beauty of diversity comes up when you share religious experience with people of different backgrounds. Every religion has its exquisite theology and insight.”
The third participant in the programme was Shayk Sohaib Sayeed, a Koranic scholar and a chaplain at the University of Edinburgh. He praised the many Christians who take a lead in interfaith initiatives.
A few days after recording the Radio 4 programme, Anthea Ballam — in her role as chaplain to the Mayor of Brighton and Hove — presided over prayers at a meeting of the council. She had invited a prominent member of the Islamic Women’s Group to read from the Qur’an.
“Imagine my feelings,” recounts Anthea in a recent blog, “when she said that she wanted to read the passage of the Qur’an that deals with the birth of Jesus!” Anthea wrote a short introduction from the heart. “The reading went down well,” she concludes, “proving that it’s not what you do, it’s the way that you do it… and doing it with love makes all the difference.”