BAHRAIN’S glowing role as a centre of multicultural peace, harmony and religious tolerance has been given a further boost by a visit of a group of delegates from a UK-based Christian educational charity.
The trip was organised by St Christopher’s Cathedral’s Dean, The Very Reverend Christopher Butt, to showcase the kingdom and the eight-day visit, which concluded last week, proved to be an overwhelming success.
“People have a view of Islamic countries that is coloured by Islamic extremism,” explained the Very Revd Chris. “It is important that there is an opportunity to experience the wonderful openness of Bahrain and the friendliness of Bahraini people. This was typified when two of the group who were walking along the road into the souq were graciously offered a lift by a Bahraini lady in her car.
“Hospitality is a gift. In the giving to others we ourselves all too often receive so much more.
“There is a wonderful tradition of hospitality among the Arab people in the Middle East. We are privileged to live here and can learn so much from the experiences that we have received from our hosts in Bahrain and we can reflect that hospitality to all who visit us here.”
Christians Aware is an international and interdenominational educational charity working to develop multicultural and interfaith understanding and friendship.
Its aim is to work for justice, peace and development and does this with a programme of special interest groups, conferences, international exchanges, work-camps, books and the magazine Travel with Awareness, a book of guidance for international visits.
The UK party was made up of Susan Cooper who lives in London, Norma Hayward who lives in Essex and Richard and Christine Stainer, whose home is in Suffolk.
The Very Revd Chris explained: “Susan, who has had an interest in the Gulf for several years since a visit to Epiphany Church, Doha a few years ago expressed a keenness to organise a group from members of Christians Aware to visit Bahrain and I said that I would be willing to organise a programme for them.”
It was the first group event of this nature, but earlier in the year GulfWeekly featured a visit by Anne Futcher from the Exeter Diocese in the UK, who stayed for a month in Bahrain as part of her training as a priest. She was so enriched by her experiences in Bahrain that she wanted to bring her husband, Christopher, the Archdeacon of Exeter, to visit Bahrain, which she did just this last weekend on a longer trip to the Gulf.
“So, such visits are becoming an important part of the Cathedral’s ministry,” added the Very Revd Chris. “We are glad to offer hospitality in this way. The visitors stay with members of the cathedral community and get a feel for what it is like to live here, which is quite a different experience from staying in a hotel, and they share in all that’s happening in our life together.”
The trip proved both insightful and adventurous. Retired teachers Christine and Richard enjoy travelling and are interested in Christian-Muslim relations.
Richard, who taught geography in a secondary school, is World Development Officer for the Diocese of St Edmondsbury and Ipswich and is a lay elder in his church.
Christine was a primary school teacher and had been an acting head. She remains interested in young people’s ministry and is involved with Messy Church and visited Tanzania and Lebanon with Christians Aware.
Their Bahrain excursion took an unexpected turn when they took a bus trip to explore the sights and had to rescue the driver who has stepped out of his cab at a stop and couldn’t get back in. After several button-pushing attempts, Chris managed to press the right one to open the doors.
The trip also included a visit to the Grand Mosque, the Bahrain Fort and Museum. They travelled to the US Naval Base with Chaplain Christina Mauntel and met the British Royal Navy Chaplain, Mark Mander too before heading to the Seafarers’ Centre with its chaplain, Rev’d Stephen Thanapaul.
Norma is interested in the history of Christianity in Bahrain and in interfaith and multicultural aspects of life in the kingdom. She is a retired accountant and her late husband was a clergyman. They were both involved with Christians Aware from its earliest days.
Susan, a retired actuary, was a member of the General Synod of the Church of England for 15 years and has been a member of Christians Aware for about 30 years. Her last job involved advising overseas insurance regulators, this included visiting, amongst other places, Jordan and Dubai.
“None of us had visited Bahrain before and only one had visited the Gulf,” she said. “Most of the group had very little knowledge of Bahrain or the Gulf countries prior to our current visit and even needed to check location on the map.
“The people are far friendlier than we had expected. Some had thought it would feel oppressive and were therefore surprised at the relative liberality. There has been plenty of opportunity to talk with people in the shops and on the streets.
“The most significant memories of our trip will be the tolerance of people of all faiths to each other and the visit to the Grand Mosque – both the splendour of the architecture and the warmth of the welcome. We admire the embracing of people of all faiths and cultures within the society.”
They were particularly taken back by the hospitality they received from the talented Bahraini craftsmen and women working at the Craft Industries Development Centre in Manama.
“When we return home we will share the experience with others through articles and talks to local Christian and other community groups,” said Susan.
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