Talk on Zoroastrianism September 15th 2016

On Thursday September 15th about 35 friends of Altrincham Interfaith Group gathered in Westleigh, adjoining St Vincent’s Church in Altrincham, to hear Burjor, Zarin and Rushna Avari talk about their religion, Zoroastrianism. After a prayer said by the family, Dr Burjor Avari, who teaches multiculturalism at Manchester Metropolitan University, began by talking about the history of the religion, which features the teachings of Zoroaster who lived around 600-1000BC in eastern Iran. He was one of the first people to teach monotheism, and to dismiss all the Indo-Aryan gods that had been worshipped before. Their supreme being was called Ahura Mazda which means “The Wise Lord.” But there is also an evil spirit called Ahriman who represents the spirit of evil in all of us. These two primal spirits are depicted as being in conflict in our minds, and we have to ensure that it is the good spirit that is uppermost. Burjor followed the history of the followers of Zoroaster from Iran to India after the Muslim conquest of Iran, where they prospered, and integrated well with the other communities there. Some later returned to Iran but after 1979 when the Ayatollah took over, they fled to the UK and the USA. Now only about 150,000 Zoroastrians survive in the world, where they are mostly engaged in businesses and are generally known as Parsis or Parsees.

Then Rushna, Burjor’s daughter, spoke to us about the ethics of the religion, and the importance of following the right path, with moderation in all things. She described the many charities that are funded in the UK and India by members of the religion, and also the importance of caring for the environment and animals. Harmony of living is a key factor.

Following that, Mrs Zarin Avari spoke about the various ceremonies that are carried out: the Fire Temples where a fire is always kept burning, the initiation ceremonies of boys and girls, and marriage and funeral rites. Funerals were often carried out in Towers of Silence in India, which are large, stone towers. The body is taken there by corpse-bearers and left for the vultures to eat, but in the UK people are cremated or buried. New Year celebrations, held on March 21st, were described, and the special dishes that are prepared for that occasion which involve items such as apple (beauty, fruits of the world), garlic (good health and peace), lentils (rebirth), pomegranate (sweetness) etc, which Mrs Avari had kindly brought along in their ceremonial containers for us to see.

There were several questions and a lively discussion after the talk, which was much enjoyed by everybody.

Carolyn Jones

(Hon., Sec. Altrincham Interfaith Group)

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Altrincham Interfaith Group Annual Shared Meal – February 6th 2016

As has become our custom, this year’s Shared Meal was held in the Hall of Altrincham Grammar  School for Boys and once again was a fantastic success.

After a welcome by the AIG Chairman, Gordon Levy, we heard Detective Police Inspector Ben Ewart of Trafford Division, Greater Manchester Police, who spoke about the excellent interfaith relations in the Borough of Trafford. Prayers were then recited by Muslim and Hindu children, and representatives of the Jewish and Christian communities after which everyone was invited to partake of the main course.

The Hall buzzed with chatter while people enjoyed delicious home-cooked food, with meat and vegetarian curries prepared and served by the Muslim and Hindu community, supplemented by samosas from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association, and Kosher alternatives made by the Jewish members.

Then it was time to hear the main speaker, Baroness Susan Williams, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Communities and Local Government) who gave a personal and heart-warming talk about the work that she did in the community, and her interest in interfaith activities.

Following that, everyone descended on a large table groaning under the weight of numerous delicious puddings, cheese and biscuits and fruit donated by the Christian community which were enjoyed by all, and then chatter continues till it was time to go home.  It was so good to see members of all the faith communities mixing and talking together, which is the whole purpose of this shared meal.

Many thanks to Mr Gartside and the staff to Altrincham Grammar School for Boys who made the Hall available for our use. In few of the current situation, this year we will make a donation  from proceeds of the dinner to the charity Refugee Action.

Carolyn Jones, Hon. Sec. Altrincham Interfaith Group

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Altrincham Interfaith Group’s Alf Keeling Memorial Lecture 2015

This year, we were especially privileged to have the first woman Bishop in the Church of England, the Right Reverend Libby Lane, address us on the occasion of the Alf Keeling Memorial Lecture.  This was held at St Ambrose Preparatory School on the evening of December 3rd, 2015, and the Hall was packed with over 80 people attending.  Gordon Levy, Chairman of Altrincham Interfaith Group, welcomed the Bishop who spoke about the Role of Women in Interfaith Relationships. Her talk described the activities of five remarkable women who challenged the ideology that religion is the domain of men only, and showed how they could bring in qualities which, though often present in men, were generally more developed is women such as sensitivity and compassion,  and could enrich texts with their female perspective. She stressed that religion should not be closed off to women, who can contribute so much, and can help to bring diverse communities together.  There was a very lively discussion afterwards, with several questions including the reaction of the media to the consecration of a women Bishop, the language of gender in religious texts, the gifts that women have respecting reconciliation in areas of strife, as well as the design and source of the Bishop’s episcopal cross and ring.  The evening closed with drinks and biscuits and a chance for everyone to socialise.  Thanks go to Mr Driscoll and the staff of St Ambrose Preparatory School for making the hall and facilities available to us.

Carolyn Jones (Hon. Sec., Altrincham Interfaith Group)

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Interfaith week: Tree planting in memory of Rev Brian Jackson

About 40 people gathered at Timperley Congregational Church on the afternoon of Sunday November 22nd, during Interfaith Week, to witness the planting of a tree in recognition of the life and work of Rev Brian Jackson, one of the founding members of Altrincham Interfaith Group, who passed away last year.  AIG Chairman Gordon Levy welcomed everyone and spoke about Rev Brian and showed us the plaque that had been made to fasten onto the exterior church wall. Then Iftikhar Awan of the Altrincham Moslem Association spoke warmly about his association with Rev Brian and also about many aspects of his life and work.  The tree, an acer with leaves of orange and gold, was then planted in the ground by Rev Brian’s two daughters, Sue Henstock and Karen Tully after which everyone was invited into the church for drinks and a delicious selection of cakes, for which we thank Rev David Gould and members of the congregation.  Finally, Louis Rapaport, a long-standing Jewish member of Altrincham Interfaith Group, spoke about Rev Brian, the establishment of Friendship Circles and the importance of Interfaith Week in Britain today.  We are most grateful to Timperley Congregational Church for allowing us to remember Rev Brian in this way and also for their generous hospitality.

Carolyn Jones (Hon Sec., AIG)

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Annual Picnic 2015

This year Altrincham Interfaith Group had a new venue for their Annual Picnic -  Denzell Gardens on the A56 – and it was an absolute gem. There were tree stumps for tables, shade if required, and a lovely flat grassy area for the children to run around.  The sun shone and it was the perfect day for a picnic.  Unfortunately, only a handful of people turned up -  such a pity. But those that did come shared delicious food and had a goodtime.  Hopefully, more people will come next year, when they see what a lovely place this is -  and there is no charge for parking!


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