‘Did you know, Christian worship has been taking place on this site for well over 1000 years?’ asked Revd Philip Wells, rector of Polesworth Abbey. Whispers of ‘wow!’ and ‘awesome’ rippled around the group of school children standing in the sunlight in the remains of the old Abbey cloister. The Abbey welcomes many school parties each year, but one which visited a few weeks ago, during Lent in 2016, was a bit different. Mingling with pupils from the local Nethersole C of E Academy were pupils from the Al-Ameen Muslim Primary School in Tyseley, Birmingham, working together this year as part of a Faith School Linking Programme being developed in the West Midlands by 3FF, the Three Faiths Forum, with funding from St Peter’s Saltley Trust.
The project is designed to enable schools of a religious character to encounter and learn about each others’ faith and practice over a sustained period. The first linking day had taken place at the ‘neutral’ venue of Birmingham City University earlier this year, and now two classes from the two schools were meeting together for the second time, visiting Polesworth Abbey and Nethersole Academy. A visit to the Abbey gave pupils an opportunity to learn about the significance of Easter for Christians, as they were led through the Easter story and given a tour of the church by the rector of Polesworth Abbey. Pupils then returned to the nearby primary school to begin work on a tapestry project, bringing together symbols from Christianity and Islam. As pupils from the two schools worked together, conversations flowed around a whole range of subjects, from families to football, clothes to the respective practices of the faiths represented amongst pupils. I was struck by the readiness and ease with which, prompted by little more than the opportunity of encounter, pupils asked questions about each others’ faith and culture, and expressed their own understanding of their beliefs and practices. In some small groups, there was evident enjoyment of re-making the acquaintance of pupils from the other school.
In a future return visit to a planned visit to a mosque will give pupils the opportunity to learn about Islam. We look forward to seeing how the project develops. Meanwhile 3FF are currently establishing an additional base in Birmingham, and offering schools workshops nationally – see http://www.3ff.org.uk/schools/education-workshops.php for details.