Chairman’s Report – AGM 5th May 2020

A significant contribution of the Altrincham Interfaith Group is that it provides us with a way of meeting and making friends with people from different backgrounds. As a speaker from a previous shared meal once said “Learning about other faiths enables you to better understand your own”. This last year has provided us with many opportunities for making friends and for learning about the faith of others.

On 25th June, we enjoyed a spirited Cultural Entertainment Evening when Ann Angel skilfully hosted contributions from the Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish communities. We had bagpipes, singing accompanied by a guitar, Hindu dancing, Muslim story-telling and Jewish choir singing. There was frequent lively audience participation in the singing. A capacity audience of all ages thoroughly enjoyed the evening in All Saints Church Hall, Hale Barns.

On 11th July, there was an informative talk on “The Buddhist Path” by Ken Garrod at Westleigh, St Vincents Church. About 40 people attended this fascinating talk. The speaker answered questions readily and helpfully.

Altrincham Interfaith Group members supported the November Remembrance Day events locally, laying wreaths at the cenotaphs.

On November 21st Rev Bruce Thompson gave the Alf Keeling Memorial Lecture at St Ambrose Preparatory School, Hale Barns. His title was “The Responsibility of Faith in an Age of Impunity – how we might challenge the irresponsible words and actions that are disfiguring society”. It was lively and very relevant coming three weeks before the General Election. The audience of about fifty responded to his call to tackle the innuendo and hate messages on social media and in society. There was a thoughtful question and answer session afterwards.

Representatives of AIG have attended wider Interfaith occasions, including the Mayor of Trafford’s meeting on Community Cohesion; the unveiling of a statue of Mahatma Gandhi at Manchester Cathedral; and two very moving Holocaust occasions, a Study Day at Menorah Synagogue and the Trafford Commemoration at the Waterside Plaza, Sale.

On February 15th we held the Shared Meal at Altrincham Grammar School for Boys. The Mayor of Trafford, Councillor Rob Chilton, attended together with 160 guests. After opening prayers by Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim representatives, we enjoyed a delicious meal provided by members show-casing their unique styles of cooking. The address was given by a member of the Hindu Community, Ghanshyam Nabar, who spoke interestingly and personally about his Hindu faith. Everyone who was there felt the friendship and warmth of the occasion and the way people from different communities mixed together.

Since mid-March we have not been able to meet due to the coronavirus lockdown but electronic communication has taken place. On April 16th seven of us had a social Zoom meeting. We were able to share the ways different communities are keeping in touch with each other, practising their faith and carrying out social service during these unusual times.

I’d like to thank the committee for their support during the year. We are so fortunate in the services of our superlative secretary, Carolyn Jones. She keeps us in touch and co-ordinates our activities with skill and good humour – even when the computer lets her down! We are also grateful for the accountancy skills of our treasurer Gordon Levy. This year he successfully managed to secure a grant from Trafford Council which covered the hiring charge of the hall for our shared meal. Ann has ably facilitated the work of the Social Committee – on which more other members would be most welcome. Our Facebook page is kept up to date by Azhar Rasul, Cedric Knipe, Kaushik Chakraborty and Carolyn. Cedric regularly sends our contributions to the Messenger newspaper.

I hope this report gives a flavour of some of our activities this year. Thank you all for your support.

Mrs Ruth Neal (Chairman AIG)


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Shared Meal -15th Feb

Interfaith thrives in Altrincham

On Saturday 15th February an important event took place in Altrincham – 150 people of all faiths braved the wind and the rain to meet and share food and friendship under the auspices of Altrincham Interfaith Group.  When our newspapers and the media appear to full of division in society, whether it be Brexit, HS2 or just politics in itself, it is heartening to see people of all faiths getting on together and having a good time.  The event was attended by Mayor of Trafford Councillor Rob Chilton and his Chaplain Reverend Barbara Sharp and the Chief Inspector of Police in Trafford, Zeashan Nasim with his wife Dawn while the guest speaker was Hindu Ghanshyam Nabar whose work involves creating commercial links between India and Greater Manchester. He talked about the origin of Hinduism and how interfaith is so important in maintaining co-existence and social integrity.

Adults and children from different faith traditions offered prayers to start the evening and then the “Bring and Share” meal began, comprising Kosher and vegetarian starters provided by various Jewish communities, the main meal by the Hale and Altrincham Muslim Association with contributions from both Hindus and Ahmadiyya Muslims while delicious desserts were provided by the local Christian and Unitarian Churches and Chapels. It was a great example of togetherness and the room buzzed with chatter and enjoyment. Thanks go to Altrincham Grammar School for Boys for use of their dining hall for the occasion and to Trafford Council for a Community Cohesion grant to help fund the event.  Part of the money raised will go towards to Mayor of Trafford’s Charities: Manchester Foundation Trust Charity, in particular Wythenshawe, Altrincham and Trafford hospitals, the Alex Hulme Foundation and the Society for Abandoned Animals.

Group photo from left to right: Mayor of Trafford Councillor Rob Chilton, AIG Chair Ruth Neal, Ghanshyam Nabar (guest speaker), Radhika Nabar and Chief Inspector Zeashan Nasim  ©Paul Fertig 2020.

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

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The Alf Keeling Memorial Lecture November 21st 2019

The Alf Keeling Memorial Lecture was our contribution to Interfaith Week 2019. About 50 people came to hear Rev Bruce Thompson from Lincoln, ex-minister at Timperley Methodist Church, talk on “The Responsibility of Faith Communities in an Age of Impunity.” He addressed the problem of hate crime, of people saying whatever they like without any thought of the consequences, and with no shame. How people in power have no qualms about lying and social media is a perfect platform for venting anger. How we seem to have lost our moral compass.

He structured his talk about an experience he had when a car driver nearly knocked him off his bicycle – he instinctively felt anger and was about to raise a clenched first when he saw the driver was a beloved, elderly parishioner, a “saint,” and so his fist changed into a wave and his angry shout to a mild “Hello Mary.” He concluded from this that there are people in charge of things that can endanger life. That people are prone to anger when their safety and security are threatened. That they are placated when they know the person who is making the threats and also that there are consequences if one follows through the intended actions (i.e. if he had denounced the parishioner in church). He talked about the breakdown in our society, and how anonymity is a factor in our behaviour these days. How society has become disconnected and we do not know each other anymore, which produces hostility. His response to this was a plea not to become complacent about anti-Semitism and islamophobia. Not to laugh at racist or anti-Semitic jokes and not to become complicit in hate. Instead, to eat, share food and laugh together with other faiths. Stand by each other and rise up against populism and prejudice. He told us not to lose heart but to fill social media with kindness and goodness to counteract the hate.
It was a passionate and very timely address – I think we were all moved by it, especially now when there is so much aggression and uncertainty in the country.
After his address there were some questions and then he was presented with a book token to swell his already large library. People then were able to mingle and chat over a drink and biscuits.
Once again our thanks go to St Ambrose Preparatory School for their generous hospitality.

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

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Altrincham Interfaith Group Cultural Entertainment Evening July 25th 2019

This year the Cultural Entertainment Evening was held at All Saint’s Anglican Church, Hale Barns and the Hall was filled with an enthusiastic audience. The event began with a welcome delivered by Ann Angel from the committee of AIG after which she introduced the first act, Gerry Murphy from St Vincent’s Church, Altrincham, who played a medley of songs on the bagpipes. The audience spontaneously joined in with Amazing Grace, and other popular songs. This was followed by Fiona Simpson from Altrincham Methodist Church who sang in a wonderfully rich voice while accompanying herself on the guitar. She encouraged everyone to sing the chorus to her songs “You are the Wind beneath my Wings” and “My Lighthouse” – complete with actions!

We then had Hindu performers from the Vedic Organisation for Indian Culture and Education (VOICE) who sang a short Indian prayer (Avya and Suhaavi Sehgal, and Aarush and Piyush Kumar) accompanied by the violin ( Navya ). It was followed by four dancers (Shreya Pathak, Suhaavi Sehgal, Riya Sharma and Eshaani Patil) with stunningly beautiful dresses in vivid colours who performed Kathak – Raas, a classical Indian dance telling part of the story of Krishna. We then saw another wonderful Kathak dance piece called Tarana performed with elegance and grace by Krishna Panchmatia that was quite breath taking.
After a short break for refreshments, Adnan Malik, a student of the Azeemi Sufi order, read his poem “The Acorn and the Dirt” which was about the reactions of an acorn on falling to the earth, and this was followed by The Menorah Choir led by Ruti Worrall, who sang a variety of songs including a highly original version of Old MacDonald had a farm which included kangaroos, parrots and a choir! Some prayers were sang including one for peace around the world. It was then time for some Communal Singing, led by the choir, and everyone joined in with enthusiasm, especially the rendition of “Rhythm of Life.”
Ruth Neal, Chair of Altrincham Interfaith Group then thanked everyone and presented Ann Angel, the main organiser, with a beautiful orchid. All in all, it was a splendid evening and all the performers were of a very high standard. Finally, we are most grateful to All Saint’s Church and Reverend Claire Jaquiss for allowing us to use the hall and catering facilities.

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Talk by Manjula Arora 3rd April 2019 entitled ‘Blossoming of the Jasmine Flower’

Manjula’s talk entitled ‘Blossoming of the Jasmine Flower’ explained the Bhagwad Gita concepts and their relevance to humanity. It was a very well attended event hosted by St Vincent’s Church in the Westleigh building in Altrincham. Time was allowed for questions and our hosts served light refreshments to complete the evening.

A short report follows written by Kaushik Chakraborty:

Altrincham Interfaith Group hosts talks from representatives of different faiths to help understand each other better and foster working together in the community.

With this aim, Dr Manjula Arora from the Hindu faith talked about her personal journey in search of God following the Hindu tradition. This was a well attended talk with around sixty people present on the evening of Wednesday the 3rd April in Westleigh, attached to St Vincent’s Church in Altrincham.

She talked about the ‘beauty of human existence on earth as it was meant to be’ introducing the salient points of Hinduism in the form of doing good ‘Karma’, thus creating a ‘bank’ of good deeds which could then free us from cycle of rebirths and attain Moksha (salvation).

She talked about the discipline needed to follow a virtuous path and help blossoming of the soul, titled by her as ‘blossoming of the jasmine flower’, contrasting material consciousness with spiritual consciousness which she said “was like a spark of pure light that sits in your heart” and imbues you with love, peace and joy. She urged us to eliminate boundaries – not to judge people by how they look or what they wear but to recognise the spirit in everyone; this would produce a shift in consciousness and be a more beautiful way to live.

In the questions and answers session, she discussed the existence of a Creator, and also the idea of reincarnation. She dispelled the common notion of polytheism in Hinduism, explaining there is only one God while other deities are corollaries, much like the saints in Christianity, who manage different aspects of life.

Manjula was presented with a lovely orchid as thanks for her talk, and then tea and coffee with biscuits was served by the ladies of St Vincent’s Church to whom we are most grateful. We also thank the Church for the venue which is much appreciated.

Kaushik Chakraborty, Hindu representative, Altrincham Interfaith Group

Thanking Manjula for her talk and presenting a small gift in appreciation

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