of the Grassroots Programme
majority of violent conflicts in the world today are between people living
within the same national boundaries. Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia, Sierra
Leone, Sudan, Sri Lanka, Colombia, Mexico, East Timor are just a few of the
places where different cultures and ethnic groups are finding it impossible to
live together. The conflicts are easily internationalised and there are global
connections between groups engaged in struggles in many of these countries, but
they are fuelled by tension between people who are different within one country.
a world where movement of peoples is greater than ever before the tensions
which relate to ancient historical events will be compounded by the arrival of
new cultures and faiths. Those who are different may be regarded as problems
that need special control. Policies will be designed to ensure the assimilation
of different cultures so that countries become mono-cultural.
is part of a project called Building Plural Communities which has brought
together representatives of ten plural communities across Europe. The
understanding of a plural community is one where different cultures or faiths
co-exist. Some of these communities share their experience in this Newsletter
and over the next few years it is hoped to explore how the creativity and
richness of such communities can be enjoyed and the tension and conflict avoided.
of the concerns already recognised is that of Identity. How is it possible to
affirm ones own identity without threatening the identity of the other? In
religious terms how can the affirmation of the supreme truth in one religion be
reconciled with similar claims of other faiths? The ten communities that have
started on this journey will not discover all the answers but they are
convinced that searching together has to be a better option than those on offer
human and financial cost of the disaster in Kosovo is enormous. We cannot wait
until other Kosovos occur. Now is the time to increase efforts at building new
understanding. Governments and faith leaders must be persuaded that addressing
these issues is an urgent priority. The following pages tell the stories of
many people who are already making their contribution.
Soul for Europe
are drifting to a lower version of ourselves' was the sombre assessment of
European society according to Michael Higgins, Irish parliamentarian and former
Minister of Culture. The occasion was a symposium organised by the European
Commission on, 'In search of European Identity.' In the information and
misinformation about Europe with which we are bombarded there has been little
reference to the debate about ethics, values and spirituality. It may be a
surprise to know that there is a project funded by the Commission called 'A
Soul for Europe' which involves Christians, Humanists, Jews, Muslims and others
with the aim of promoting reflection on the spiritual and ethical dimensions of
movement towards European integration has three components - securing peace,
encouraging economic co-operation, and building social cohesion. The economic
agenda is the one that is driving the process at present, which is why the
words of Jacques Delors in November 1990 are even more relevant today.
is impossible to put the potential of Maastricht into practice without a breath
of air. If in the next ten years we haven't managed to give a soul to Europe,
to give it spirituality and meaning, the game will be up.'
Higgins suggested we are further away from this goal now than we were in 1990.
'How can we talk of a Europe of citizens when we are creating a Europe of
consumers?' The New Europe faces more fundamental questions than the success of
the Euro. 50 million people in Europe live in poverty, 18 million are
unemployed. The religious landscape is changing dramatically with 8 million
Muslims and significant numbers of those of different faiths. The churches and
those of different faiths have to respond to the challenge. Cynicism towards
European institutions has to be overcome. Passive acquiescence to a process
which is in danger of destroying those higher qualities that make us human has
to be reversed. The reality is that no national government is strong enough to
control the economic power of the financiers or the information power of the
media. We are in a world which is changing so fast that many of the structures
are obsolete. Europe has the potential to offer a new model of society:
where the energy and creativity of a plural community can be released;
develops new structures of accountability and control that are strong enough to
deal with the economic powers
which recognises that economic prosperity is only sustainable if linked to
where its people find satisfaction in their search for meaning and purpose.
Cowling attended the Soul for Europe symposium on behalf of Grassroots. The
Building Plural Communities project receives funding from Soul for Europe.
hands have a voice
Agace and Sukriye Dogan are working with Hinbun, an organisation for Kurdish
and other women in Berlin which serves to build bridges and shows migrants and
Germans ways out of ethnic isolation. They attended the Plural Communities
workshop in Luton.
us from Hinbun as a Kurdish institution it was always important to network with
multicultural institutions. We have been working there since the establishment
of Kairos Europa in 1992.
from all over the world come to Europe for many reasons. One reason for coming
is seeking asylum because of violent political methods used by their
government, such as physical punishment, prison and exodus. As refugees in a
different country they don't suffer physically but the psychological torture
does not stop. The countries of their refuge often make it very difficult
because of restrictive asylum laws (e.g no possibiliites for therapy).
people come to Europe for social reasons. It is not a matter of life and death
but a question of quality of life, bringing families together etc.
group of migrants includes those of the second and third generation.They are
born in Europe and have grown up in Europe. They don't know anything about the
country of their parents. But under German law they are still foreigners and
experience discrimination. None of the countries are felt to be home. This can
lead to growing nationalistic and fundamentalistic groupings, as already exist
in European countries.
men and women have been living in Europe for centuries in exile. In nearly all
of the countries they have not many rights as ethnic minority, because they are
not legitimately accepted as an ethnic group. Because of that they have been
fighting for the acknowledgement of their own language and culture,
e.g.official translators, official registration in statistics, basic laws,
which other minorities already have. The Kurds experience in exile is a
continuation of the discrimination which prompted them to leave their country
in the first place.
is absolutely vital for Hinbun to work together with multicultural groups
within the EU against racism and discrimination. When political opinion swings
in the opposite direction it is especially important to get together and
provide the basis for a just Europe.
our work together with other multicultural groups we like to bring the problems
of the Kurds to the surface and also to learn from different experiences.We
understand differences as cultural enriching and as positive stimulation for
our work. Through a deeper understanding of our common problem we can find
solutions together and strengthen our power and resources. Additionally to our
political activity our meetings give us hope, strengthen our faith in peace and
justice. According to a Kurdish slogan: "One hand alone is nothing, but two
hands have a voice"
Series of Snapshots
Harrison lives in the Hulme area of Manchester and attended the Building Plural
begging bowl that belonged to Jaya’s grandfather was put into my hands
and it was warm. The touch of all of us had brought it to life once more, and
recalled within it the hot Indian sun. I felt it’s roundness and
weight. And afterwards, I could still smell the sharp taste of metal on my
hands. It had left something of itself with me.
in the bar, I tell Colin that I am fearful that the history of Ireland will
repeat itself, that the paramilitaries will splinter, one part will reach a
settlement, but others will continue to fight. I ask him whether he is still
hopeful that peace will come. 'Yes’ he says, 'It’s like a divorce
and the Governments are the parents. Once the parents have made their peace,
the children can carry on squabbling, but really the war is over.’ I
feel a wave of relief.
Chung told us that Koreans have always kept themselves to themselves. Even
when they left their homeland, they created their own communities, they never
mixed much with other races. Then he exemplified the exact opposite!
was impoverished by a superior Western mentality’, said Sr Lucina. Her
words moved me. How easy I have found it to miss out on the rich cultures,
histories and traditions of the peoples of South Asia
I have lived amongst my whole life. I sit in the Sikh Gurdwara and realise I
have never been inside one before, or a Mosque, or a Hindu temple. I have
never learnt anything of their religions. I have insulated myself from the
difference, the challenge of difference, and have missed out on the richness
Graves lives in Manchester and works with Southern Voices.
came into a society where non-white people were excluded from jobs, housing,
social and political life for this simple reason- they were non-white. The old
demons are no longer visible- ‘no black need apply for this job.'
‘Room not available to coloured people.' Paradigms are shifting and what
was stable 30 years ago, is under siege now.
we are not a singular, Anglo-Saxon society.
we are not yet a plural one in terms of justice and access, we are one in
composition and must move accordingly.
who belong to the so-called minority cultures live and work here. We
contribute to this country. We produce. We do business. We trade. We
challenge irrelevant assumptions and attitudes and are also challenged. We
enrich it with our cultures and expand its understanding. We cannot accept
second class status. Once released, the dragon will not return to its cave.
And if it is not directed, it will burn. We argue for a plural society informed
of our particular cultures. We also know that these cultures must change and
metamorphose as must the dominant culture.
I came to England, the discourse was about, ‘what to do’ about
these immigrants; about assimilation and integration. How do we
the newcomers. This was a policy that failed. We could not be culturally or
physically absorbed, so we were relegated to an inferior status. How easily
the exotic and mystic become the demon at close quarters. The
‘other’- not easily endured.
there is no talk of assimilation in the UK (though it is distressing to hear
about strategies for integration with regard to refugees-those most in need of
the support family and familiar structures.) Today, the discourse is about
plurality, multiple identities and intercultrality.
would such a society look like? I can only imagine elements of it. No child
would say of her/his school environment, ‘I feel as if no one understands
me. There are no teachers who know how I feel,' because the teachers will be
inter-racial. The curriculum will demand that teachers actively seek to
reflect and teach plurality not exoticism. There must be some provision of
non-European languages. This is not to say that there can be a detailed
exploration of all cultures but there will be an ethos which recognises the
value of all. The workplace will be equally accessible to all precipitating a
spiral of change in organisational, political and business culture which will
be informed by the values of many peoples. Currently, we are expected to
‘perform,' to a different value base. We can never do this as well as
people who are born into this. Why should we? We come from different
cultures. We work differently. We value different things. Our spiritual
assumptions are different. Some people say they want this to become a
‘colour blind’ society. This is a nice aim if it means that we do
not have to become black and brown reflections of the dominant society. It
will only work if we all ‘give’ a little; change a little; and keep
as much as we want without prejudice and xenophobia. There are aspects of
culture which all cultures must lose.
fact that there is unrest, violence and murder indicates that people are
frightened of change and do not see the richness. It also shows that it
matters enough to fight for. My perception of an intercultural society is one
which is informed by the values of its diverse peoples. One thing for sure,
society is dynamic. Change is its life. If it doesn’t, it stagnates to
the point of death.
come from a society that was born with many dimensions and its continual
struggle is that it should not be devoured by its own diversity. There are
checks and balances and counterbalances that prevent this but sometimes this
breaks down and violence erupts.
tensions in plural and diverse societies. They can be points of conflict.
Have been. Probably will again. Or they can be points of creative experiment.
Dynamic tension. Learning. Challenge. New shoots from which a mightier tree
can grow. The moment is here and already there are people working from both
positions. In truth the only choice we have is how we approach these points of
Christian response to plurality
challenge of building plural communities is particularly important to people of
faith. Religion is often a factor in conflicts and in some cases part of the
cause. The role of religion in conflict resolution and community building is
attracting increasing attention. There are those who take the view that the
only solution will be to persuade others of the superiority of your faith. At
the opposite extreme are those who argue that we are all the same really, and
all religions are an expression of one faith.
view in Grassroots is that a way forward is in plural communities where values
and difference are recognised. This has important implications.
human perceptions of truth are partial
faiths recognise the mystery and majesty of the Divine energy at the heart of
creation. In Christianity this mystery has been progressively revealed
throughout the centuries. The understanding of God has changed with the
experiences of people. Even the understanding of Jesus has changed. It would be
a contradiction to accept that the finite mind of a human person could contain
the understanding of the infinite Divine. We all experience a reality that is
true for us but it can only be a partial reality which can be enlarged through
the experience of others.
understanding of the truth needs to be continually reinterpreted
understanding of the truth will be shaped by the situations we face in life. At
times of suffering and pain we experience a God of compassion and healing. At
times of injustice and oppression we experience a God of righteousness and
liberation. We need to discover the understanding of truth that is appropriate
for this time.
is a way to truth
all have some experience and understanding of the truth we can enlarge our
understanding through dialogue. Dialogue with those who think differently from
us can be more creative and productive than dialogue with those who think the
same as us.
the heart of the Christian message is the idea of love. The sacrificial love of
God for the world and the love of the Christian for his/her neighbour. The key
to relationships between those of different faiths in plural communities must
be, ‘Does this understanding help express the love that is at the heart
of creation?’ ‘ Is this understanding life giving for ourselves and
who wish to pursue these arguments in more depth might be interested in the
following book ‘The Uniqueness of Jesus - A Dialogue with Paul F
Knitter’ edited by Leonard Swidler and Paul Mojzes. Published by Orbis
Communities in the Sudan
Fanan is originally from South Sudan but now living in Khartoum where he is
involved in the Sudan Education for Development and Peace project in
partnership with Grassroots.
there is a country that understands the difficulty of reaching the goal of
becoming a plural community, it is mine, namely Sudan. We have many
diversities: it is believed that there are 700 distinct ethnic groups speaking
113 languages. We are also categorised as either Muslims, Christians or Pagans.
the major difficulty to be overcome is the different ethnic barrier. The truth
remains that a typical Sudanese thinks of himself as member of a tribe first
before anything else. For example, in politics what counts is not whether you
are Muslim or not, but what tribe you belong to. Even Churches are sometimes
named after tribes, that is, Moru Church, Dinka Church etc.
is an ‘idolatry of ethnicity,' which has not been touched by many years
of Christian evangelization. Some people simply have to suffer because of
their tribe. The massacre of Dinka people at Daein, Western Sudan, in 1987 is
a case in point.
there any way out? Fortunately, today, more than any time before, many
Sudanese are concerned with creation of plural communities. They seek
inspiration in the fact that their differences benefit and sustain oppressive
structures. To give one example, Women Action Group (WAG) started building
bridges between southern and northern Sudanese women in 1996. Today, there are
southern women who can call a northern woman a true friend, and vice versa.
must be done? We must stop explaining all our problems by pointing our fingers
at other people. We must acknowledge our complicity, to denounce evil by name
and to work to transform our situation.
accomplish this task, different communities need time to critically analyse
their situation, identify root causes of their problems and seek creative ways
to respond to them as groups. When different ethnic groups come together, they
do not only find ways to respond to issues but they also learn to appreciate
their differences. The training workshops organised by SEDEP are a good
example of this.
course, it will take time, It is difficult, I admit, to persuade people who
fear and distrust all that are different, to abandon tribalism. But the end
result will be a united and stronger Sudan; which every Sudanese will be proud
to call their own country.
Rainbow People of South Africa
Parenzee is an Anglican ordinand from South Africa who joined Grassroots in
are eleven main languages in South Africa. This gives an idea of
how multi - faceted the population of S.A. is. In an attempt to be
inclusive, the new government tried to make a space for each tribal
and language group within its borders. And I dare say, people are
beginning to feel included and demanding their right to be so. It
is of course a very painful struggle to keep all these groups
reasonably happy, integrated and valued.
the official langauge is English, there are still many people whose
first langauge is not English and therefore communication can be a
very real difficulty . All schools have now opened their doors to
everyone and it is with the younger generation that real change will
the variety of language is just a beginning of some very vibrant
and life - giving worship and cultural celebrations. Colour of clothes
(including headgear ), symbols used, musical instruments, movement and
dance , together with the expressive and unrestrained nature of the
people has prompted Archbishop Desmond Tutu to refer to the peoples
of S .A . as THE RAINBOW PEOPLE OF GOD - a very apt description of
some very real deep struggle.
living in a theological college for one year where we received
students from all parts of Southern Africa and other places like
Namibia, Mauritius, Seychelles, Lesotho, made us constantly aware of
differences, yet in some strange way, the Spirit of God hovered over
us all as we found new and very meaningful ways of communicating
and relating to each other, especially in our worship.
is no doubt that this is the way forward for the continent of
Africa, if we are all going to survive in any meaningful way.
Holding on to our diversity as we face the enormous problems
confronting us as a continent.
have always been totally overwhelmed by the potential to overcome great
obstacles, and the tenacity to endure and win the battle against Apartheid by
so many of my fellow citizens. It has and will always be a trememdous
honour and priviledge to be part of a continent so deprived and
demoralised, yet with so much courage of not only surviving but
beating the odds which life dishes out and also of creating a
community of people who know and love the LORD GOD ALMIGHTY!
a new language
Gleeson is concerned about finding new ways of responding to the spirituality
of those outside the churches
1989, in an attempt to find the right context within which the Gospel could
operate, I returned to my roots in inner-city Nottingham. My aim was to create
a space and not try to fill it myself. This meant waiting for the right moment.
it felt right I soon found a job as a machinist in a local textile factory,
making leisurewear and underwear for Marks and Spencer.
wanted to relate on an equal footing and become accepted as an equal, without
labels, just as myself. I hoped to draw religious life out of a
‘servicing’ and into an incarnational, experiential mode of
missioning; of ‘being with’ rather ‘doing for.' I made basic
decisions about my lifestyle that would help me to be more authentic and
needed to get rid of the trappings of religious life, for example, title,
dress, and status. So when I started at the factory, I decided not to tell the
women that I was a nun. Why should I? It was irrelevant to them. And I
didn’t tell them for four years. I also needed time to learn how to
communicate on all levels, to unlearn ‘church talk,' to learn a new
language that spoke to the unchurched and allowed them to express their own
experience of ‘faith.'
this time I attempted to inculturate myself into the frightening yet
fascinating world of the factory, a world full of passion, agony and good fun.
From the word go, I was in awe of the women. They were good, proud, courageous
folk carrying out an incredible and complicated routine of work, that
mesmerised the likes of me, coming, as I was, out of a much easier,
professional, comfortable world. They then went home to cook, clean and manage
a family, struggling with little support and few material means.
church or ‘ecclesia’ is 'the place where God is’ then the
factory was an interesting congregation. We were a good ethnic mix: a majority
white English, non-religious, nominal Christian; about 15% Asian, first and
second generation, equal mix of Indian and Pakistani, Muslim and Sikh, speaking
mainly Punjabi and Urdu; approximately 5% Afro Caribbean, mostly second
generation Jamaican, devout Christian Pentecostal; plus 3 first generation
underlying racial, ethnic tensions were serious but rarely surfaced; the women
came to work mainly to earn a living and partly to escape domestic boredom, and
so kept antagonisms largely under control. When racial tension did rear its
head, the flash points were often around language. For example, the Indian Sikh
women had a strong community identity, in and out of work, being devout members
of the same local Temple. In work they kept to themselves partly from choice
but also of necessity, being largely isolated by the English women. They
communicated enthusiastically amongst themselves in Punjabi, to the disgust of
the English women, who were threatened by this, thinking they were being talked
about! They were critical and intolerant and said that, as they were living in
England, they should speak ‘our’ language!
years involved sharing experiences of oppression, listening with great care and
attention, being sensitive and compassionate, building relationships of trust
without judgement or moralising, forgiving and being forgiven; in other words
‘practising my faith.' I began to understand their insecurities and
fears, They really were ‘like sheep without a Shepherd.'
to this image helped me to accept the role of Union representative for KFAT in
1995. However, after nearly ten years, with so many issues to address, I still
feel I hardly scratched the surface.
1492, two prominent Irish families, the Ormonds and Kildares, were in the midst
of a bitter feud. Besieged by Gerald Fitzgerald, Earl of Kildare, Sir James
Butler, Earl of Ormond, and his followers, took refuge in the chapter house of
St Patrick's Cathedral, Dublin, bolting themselves in. As the siege wore on,
the Earl of Kildare concluded that the feuding was foolish. Here were two
families worshipping the same God, in the same church, living in the same
country, trying to kill each other. So he called out to Sir James and, as an
inscription in St Patrick's says today, 'undertooke on his honour that he
should receive no villanie.' Wary of 'some further treacherie,' Ormond did not
respond. So Kildare seized his spear, cut away a hole in the door and thrust
his hand through. It was grasped by another hand inside the church, the door
was opened and the two men embraced, thus ending the family feud. The
expression 'chancing one's arm' originated with Kildare's noble gesture. There
is a lesson here for all of us who are engaged in 'family feuds', whether
brother to brother, language to language, nation to nation. If one of us would
dare to 'chance his arm', perhaps that would be the first crucial step to the
reconciliation we all unconsciously seek.
one's arm is from a postcard featuring the 'door of reconciliation' at St
Patrick's Cathedral Dublin;
used with permission
have moved again and our new address is at the bottom of this page. We only
moved a few doors along the road so the only part of the address to change is
the number but the upheaval was the same as moving across the country. We hope
that we will remain in the present office a little longer!
been accepted as a Candidate for the Methodist Ministry in Britain and will be
leaving Grassroots in August to pursue this stage in his journey. We are
delighted that the Methodist Church will have the benefit of such a person in
ministry and we expect the links between Leo and Grassroots to continue. He
will be editing the next issue of the Newsletter and reflecting on his time
with Grassroots so we do not need to say farewell yet.
a second visit to Khartoum in March to review the progress of the Sudan
Education for Development and Peace project. The situation continues to remain
very difficult in Khartoum but our partners are developing their plans in
income generation, health and education.
working with Christian Aid and other partners in Holland, Sweden, Denmark and
Switzerland to follow up issues raised at the World Council of Churches
Assembly in Harare. A Workshop is to be held in Copenhagen on May 10/11th to
review progress in the search for alternatives to the neo-liberal economic
system. It is hoped to develop a strategy which will enable co-ordinated action
between churches and social movements in Europe and the South.
planning meeting was held on April 15th for this event which will involve a
Hearing with members of the European Parliament and Commission on Alternatives
and Globalisation. The dates are October 21st - Hearing, 22/23rd Community
Festival. Further information will be available from the Luton office in due
work of Grassroots in different parts of Europe continues to expand and we are
conscious of the complexity. To provide more support for this work a European
Advisory Group has been formed which includes people who bring expertise and
experience to help plan and evaluate the work. One of the proposals was to
explore the possibilities of appointing a European Mission Partner and
conversations are in progress with the Institute for Ecumenical Studies in
Prague concerning such an appointment.
a result of the Plural Communities consultation, Grassroots has been linked
with the Right Time Association in Poland. We already have many contacts and
Artur Zielinsky has visited Luton. Shanthi and David will be visiting Poland in
July to learn more of the situation and understand what are the issues in
plural communities. It is hoped that this will enable exchanges to develop so
that the experiences of both countries can be shared.
Programme, 102a Dunstable Road, LUTON LU1 1EH