Religious Artefacts Event – February 8th 2024

On the evening of February 8th 2024, Altrincham Interfaith Group held what turned out to be one of their most interesting events. Representatives from eight faith communities each brought along religious artefacts that meant something to them personally, and explained their significance. The audience were spellbound and everyone learned something new – it was a fascinating evening.

Elinor Chohan, Chair of Altrincham Interfaith Group, started the proceedings with a brief introduction and a call for a moments prayer for peace for all those in conflict over the world. Then John Mulholland, a Christian, showed us a small reproduction of part of a fresco painted by Giotto of St Francis preaching to the birds. He described in a moving and eloquent way the circumstances whereby he obtained this, how St Francis worked tirelessly for peace, and how it impacts on his everyday life.

Then Dr Nasser Kurdy of the Islamic faith gave a most interesting presentation about the two folded pieces of white cloth which he had brought along, that are obligatory garments for men visiting the Ka’aba in Mecca. He explained all the rituals associated with the wearing of the cloths and about the Ka-aba itself and a very lucid way, with explanations as to their significance.

He was followed by Dr Poonam Kakkar, a Hindu, who delighted everyone with her talk about God Ganesha. She displayed images on the screen and explained how every part of his body eg elephant head, trunk, broken tusk, large belly, folded leg are significant as well as the four items held in his hands (an axe,piece of rope, a lotus flower and rice). She then went on to describe a Puja Thali (prayer plate) and the objects upon it – fruit, a sprinkler, a lamp, bells and a container, their meaning with the connection to 5 physical elements and our senses.

Gordon Levy, from the Jewish community, brought along a twisted candle with 6 wicks, and a spice box, used in a ritual to close the Sabbath on Friday night, called Havdalah. This was carried out in the home, together with singing songs wishing people a good week, and alleviated the sadness felt at the closing of the Sabbath.

Then Carolyn Jones, a Unitarian, presented a chalice which, with a lighted candle, is used at the beginning of the service in many Unitarian Chapels and Churches to represent the light of truth, freedom and love. She explained the origin of its use in the 15 th century and how it really came into force during World War II when it was used as the symbol of the Unitarian Service Committee which smuggled Jews and other persecuted people out of Nazi controlled France.

Danoush Youssefi, a Baha’i, brought along several items – soil in a cup, an apple and leafy branch, a torch and roses. The significance of each was explained and how they were reminders of how to live a good life, for example, “Plant not but the rose of love in the garden of your heart.”

Izak Loggenberg from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints brought along copies of the Book of Mormon and explained the major beliefs of the Church and the story of how the Book of Mormon came to be. He stressed how their focus was on Jesus Christ and his teaching.

Finally, Sukhbir Singh, a Sikh, talked about the importance of truth and how difficult it could be to be truthful at all times. He described the three pillars of Sikhism – to worship God, share everything you have and work hard. He then showed us the iron bangle that all Sikhs wear, which symbolises the eternal nature of God with no beginning or end and which was a constant reminder to always do good at all times.

After some questions from the audience, the evening closed with drinks and biscuits and a time for people to mingle and chat. The event was well attended and very much appreciated. We all learned a lot about many different faiths that we did not know before.

We are most grateful to St Vincent’s Church, Altrincham, for the use of their premises.

Silent Vigil for Peace 29th November 2023

Over 120 people, the majority of whom were from the local Muslim and Jewish communities, met in Hale last week for a silent vigil for peace in the Middle East at the invitation of Altrincham Interfaith Group.

Elinor Chohan MBE introduced the event, which was welcomed as being dignified, uplifting and positive in bringing local communities together in solidarity. A bell rang, initiating a profound 20-minute period of silence. In this shared stillness, Jews and Muslims sat side by side, bowing their heads in a collective reflection for resolution to the longstanding conflict that has divided Israel and Palestine.

The diverse attendees echoed a common sentiment – a yearning for peaceful coexistence and collaboration in an atmosphere of mutual respect. The vigil clearly demonstrated that hate and violence have no place within this community, aligning with the truth that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that,” echoing the wisdom of Dr Martin Luther King Jr.

Both sides have their own and differing narratives, but the commonality is that there are civilian casualties and human suffering on both sides. Contemplating the occasion, attendees conveyed a deep sense of positivity, departing from the event with uplifted spirits and a hopeful outlook. There is now an appeal for leaders to draw inspiration from the community’s unity, fostering collaboration to bring an end to the sorrowful conflict, and seeking a resolution that acknowledges the diverse needs and aspirations of those affected.

Tom Ross, Leader of Trafford Council, commented on the significance of the vigil, stating, “We have all been shocked by the harrowing events in the Middle East, and the vigil was an opportunity for people from different communities in Trafford to come together, reflect, and pray for peace in the region.”

Rabbi Yisroel Binstock of Hale Synagogue, remarked, “There was a powerful and palpable energy in the room as friends and neighbours of all faiths and none gathered in silence together, united in our heartfelt desire for peace. I wish we could share that moment with others; it is difficult to heal a fractured world, but we can do it one village at a time.”

Elinor Chohan, Chair of AIG, reflected on the event, expressing, “In the tranquil silence, a healing essence pervaded, and the collective presence was powerful. It is my sincere hope that such gatherings can serve as a guiding light, illuminating a path for our communities to coexist harmoniously as neighbours and friends.”

Nasser Kurdy, surgeon and Imam said, “In this collective effort to transcend religious boundaries and come together in solidarity for peace, the Altrincham Interfaith Group exemplifies the potential for positive change that can occur when diverse communities unite for a common purpose. Strong friendships forged over the years are being severely tested and strained but they will not be broken for we all share a unified understanding of humanity. Being part of this gathering was very humbling and like everyone there, I left with a renewed sense of hope. I pray for the end of hostilities and the end of the senseless loss of lives. I pray that innocent people can return to their innocence and I pray for peace, prosperity and security for all people of Israel and Palestine.”

Carolyn Jones, Secretary AIG

The Alf Keeling Memorial Lecture, November 23rd, 2023

“Who is my neighbour? Families seeking asylum arrived in Hale needing help. What can we learn from the Ashley Hotel story about ourselves and our faith?” delivered by Kevin Jaquiss, Methodist Church Local Preacher.

About 70 people attended the lecture this year, which was held in the brand new Parish Hall of Holy Angels Church in Hale Barns. Elinor Chohan, Chair of Altrincham Interfaith Group, welcomed the speaker, a trained solicitor and mediator who, for the past year or so, has been involved in welcoming refugees to the Ashley Hotel in Hale.

Kevin began by citing a case from 1928 where a judge ruled on the question of who is one’s neighbour, and said that your neighbour is anyone affected by what you do. But do we think about the effect our actions may have? The richest 10% (that’s us) produce the same level of emissions as the other 90%, and this has driven global warming resulting in extreme weather events and rising sea levels, causing the annual displacement of, on average, 21.5 million people; by 2050, 1.2 billion people could be displaced globally. According to the Judge’s ruling, these people are our neighbours – they are closely affected by what we do.

Saying “Stop the boats” will not work – numbers of refugees will increase, and this is the direct result of our actions. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights says everyone is entitled to seek refuge from persecution. The UK signed up to giving refugees rights to access to courts, education and possible citizenship, not to impose penalties or return them to their homelands. We have obligations, and now families are coming to the Ashley Hotel. Initially there was a negative reaction to this, but other people wanted to help. Clothes were collected, English classes organised etc but these efforts seemed inadequate when people were housed in a depressing hotel, with no means to get their own clothing or shoes. Volunteers at the Hub, run by Altrincham Baptist Church and Trafford Council, worked with local Christian and Muslim associations to organise welcome packs and presents for Eid and Kevin, working with Care UK in Warrington, helped to provide clothing. But legal advice is not available and demand is overwhelming. Helpers feel ashamed that they cannot do more. The UK houses only 1% of refugees, of which 75% are legally entitled to our protection. In law, there is no illegal way to travel, but Kevin stressed that we are not being swamped. Refugees are, however, being sent to unsuitable places where no housing is available such as Liverpool. He cited the parable of the Good Samaritan, where Jesus said your neighbour is someone who shows you mercy. Faith teaches us to have compassion, and though some people may be opportunists, we must still help. Kevin concluded by stating that we are all human, all connected, and we all need each other.

After a series of questions by concerned people, refreshments were offered. Finally, Altrincham Interfaith Group would like to express thanks to Holy Angels Church for allowing us to use the wonderful facilities in their new Hall.

Carolyn Jones (Hon. Sec., Altrincham Interfaith Group). If people wish to volunteer, they should contact Kevin in the first instance ( Financial donations should be made through collections by faith communities, not individuals. Contact Chris Graham ( at Churches Together in Hale. Collections of warm clothes (coats, jumpers, hats, scarves, gloves only) are most important at present and can be left at St George’s Vicarage (Church Walk off Townfield Road, off A56) Monday 8.30-10.0 and Wednesday 10.30 to 11.30. .

Response to the current conflict in Israel and Gaza

The current conflict in Gaza and Israel is truly shocking and devastating. Many local residents have friends or family directly affected. We hope and pray for all those caught in this cruel conflict.

The Altrincham Interfaith Group was set up to bring together the major faith groups in the area, to help improve knowledge and understanding of one another, to develop friendships between people of the different faiths, and to work together to make a positive contribution to our local community.

Our vision is of developing a cohesive community, where there is no fear of the ‘the other’ and at times of tension, nationally or internationally we are determined to continue working together as neighbours in peace and harmony.

Now is a time to draw together, to actively listen to one another in order to truly understand each other’s diverse narratives, to unite against those who would divide us, and to treat one another with mutual love, care and respect.

Elinor Chohan (Chairperson AIG)