22 July 2005

Reaffirming unity in the "Faith Together in Leeds 11" Partnership

The neighbourhood that was home to three of the four London bombers is determined to show solidarity in the wake of the shock and grief caused by the events of July 7.

Based in Beeston, Leeds, 'Faith Together in Leeds 11' is a unique grass roots project involving groups of all faiths and none. This includes the Methodist Church, the Church of England, the Hamara organisation and other local Muslim organisations. It aims to serve the community in which it is based, promoting regeneration and the improvement of local services and facilities. Working in partnership, the Hamara Centre and the Building Blocks Centre (an ecumenical building shared by Anglicans & Methodists) offer local residents health care, education, recreation and leisure activities, parental support and care for the elderly. The groundbreaking work of this group has attracted visitors from Christian organisations and much further afield because it is considered a model for inter faith community work everywhere.

As all communities across Britain and the world, the people of Beeston were shocked and saddened by the London bombings of July 7 and offer their prayers and support to those who have been affected by them. They were further stunned by the discovery that three of the four bombers were from their own neighbourhood. They also extend their sympathy to the community of the Hyde Park area in Leeds who are dealing with a similar situation and where the Methodist church has been cordoned off because of the police investigations.

Distressingly, the identification of the bombers has led to an increased hostility towards Muslims throughout the UK. In response to this, Elizabeth Harris (the Methodist Church's Secretary for Inter Faith Relations) says; 'Islam, like Christianity, has many shades of opinion within it and we must not let the voice of the few drown out that of the many. Similarly, Muslim leaders are not responsible for everything that individuals in their sub-communities are doing, any more than Christian leaders are in theirs, or politicians or journalists are. We need to help each other to understand what is happening in our communities and support each other as we try to respond and deal with it.'

Furthermore, the 'Faith Together' project feels that recent media coverage has misrepresented Beeston as divided and tense, and the conduct of its Muslim community as extremist and ill- educated. The Revd Neil Bishop, a Methodist minister involved in the project, comments that 'the comfortable legend is that something has gone wrong in the grim northern towns with their divided communities and high unemployment. Beeston has low unemployment, good community relations and excellent inter faith relationships. But of course that's not what people in the UK want to hear, because if terrorists can come from a progressive place like Beeston they could be hiding almost anywhere.'

Determined that the good work begun through 'Faith Together' should continue, the Revd Bob Shaw, a local Anglican priest, says 'God has brought us together in Beeston as people of different faiths. Our Christian task is to continue our witness to the truth of the Gospel, knowing that faith, hope and love are the things that last forever and that these qualities will unite and sustain us through these difficult days.'

The Methodist Church and the Church of England Diocese of Ripon and Leeds are proud to be working in partnership with the Hamara Centre in Beeston through our shared ownership of the 'Faith Together' project and will continue to stand in solidarity with our Muslim colleagues at this difficult time and into the future. We are privileged to be involved in this and other faith projects with our Muslim brothers and sisters, and hope to continue to work with them to bring peace and understanding through diversity.

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