Some Humanists and Secularists are strongly opposed to having anything to do with religious people, so they won’t get involved with inter-faith organisations. Suffolk Humanists don’t take that view; one of our number is a co-opted member of Suffolk County Council’s Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education (SACRE), some of us are Humanist representatives on Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource (SIFRE), and another is a tutor with the East of England Faith Agency (EEFA). Our group is affiliated to SIFRE.
This is our member Margaret Nelson’s experience of SIFRE:
Suffolk Inter-faith Resource was founded in 1991 by a small group led by Cynthia Capey (a Humanities lecturer at Suffolk College). There’ve been Humanists involved since the beginning. We’ve been accommodated by the college since 1994 (Suffolk College was split into Suffolk New College and University Campus Suffolk in 2007). We have charitable status and offer an educational resource to the wider community. I was a SIFRE tutor, now I’m a EEFA tutor, contributing to courses for schools and adult organisations, and I’ve been a member of SIFRE’s board.
SIFRE has a good relationship with Suffolk local authorities. We’ve contributed to civic events, for example: on 11th September 2002 I led an Inter-Faith commemoration of 9/11 in Ipswich Corn Exchange, where the contributors included a group of Kurdish refugees and a Chinese children’s dance class. We’ve had a successful one-day conference for local authorities, the police, social services and others, and our group had a stall. In January 2008 I was asked by SIFRE to supervise a 10-week “World Religions Roundabout” course for the WEA (Workers Educational Association) in a Suffolk village. The course began with an introduction to Humanism and will cover other religions practised in Suffolk. I learned a lot, as well as the WEA people, who said they enjoyed the course.
We’ve contributed to several SIFRE publications: a directory of local faiths (and Humanism), with descriptions of their activities; a collection of writings by women; a Community Handbook, updated several times; a similar publication for the North Essex Mental Health Trust. Our most successful venture so far has been “Diversity”, a board game which teaches players about the beliefs of people who live in the county. It’s been popular in schools and for training with the police, local authorities and those in the caring professions, who can hire a team of tutors to play with them.
A survey commissioned by Suffolk County Council a few years ago demonstrated what I already knew: that racism is rife in the rural areas. Religious differences are often mainly cultural, and they’re poorly understood in rural Suffolk. Although playing Diversity may not have much impact, it’s one way of dispelling some myths about minority communities. I’ve played with 6th formers at a school conference, who’d never talked to a Sikh before, and found my SIFRE companion to be a friendly, warm human being, despite his turban, and my Muslim companion to be a non-militant representative of her faith, despite the negative media representation of Islam. There’s a “Forum of Faiths”, with Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Humanist, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Pagan, Sikh, Taoist and Zoroastrian representatives.
Proselytising and preaching are not permitted. I’ve never encountered hostility from my colleagues, though I have encountered hostility from some so-called “Humanists” who seem to think we ought not to have anything to do with religious people. This is silly and short-sighted, since there is much to gain from involving ourselves with such organisations.
One of my clergy friends in Ipswich, a retired hospital chaplain, once caused an eyebrow to be raised when he kissed me in front of a crematorium chapel attendant after a funeral. “You kissed an atheist!” the attendant said, in mock horror. “That’s all right,” said my friend, “it’s not catching.” I have a similar attitude to working with religious people. I know that many more people in Suffolk have heard about Humanism as a result of our involvement, and I’ve learned about local religious groups.
SIFRE Forum of Faiths
Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource’s Forum of Faiths meets occasionally to consider their teachings and views on a variety of topics. They’ve talked about various subjects, including justice and the environment. For copies of the booklets containing all the contributions to each forum, contact the Suffolk Inter-Faith Resource.
More on Interfaith events
You can read the text of Humanist contributions to Interfaith events in our region on our Public Speaking page.
EEFA & SIFRE – change of status
From April 2010, SIFRE reverted to being a purely voluntary organisation and all the educational work was handed over to EEFA, which provides tutors for schools and other organisations from a variety of faiths and Humanism.
The photograph shows 6th form girls from a Catholic school in London playing Diversity at a convent retreat in Suffolk, with help from a local Humanist and SIFRE.
Update: Summer 2015
Until the end of 2014, SIFRE was accommodated by University Campus Suffolk. However, now that UCS needs these rooms for other activities, SIFRE no longer has a base but is a “virtual” organisation, operating online, and hires space for activities such as couple of recent events at West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds. One of these was to launch the latest book, ‘Sharing Our Stories‘.
Due to lack of funding and a base, SIFRE has been wound up and replaced with smaller groups around the county, including Ipswich. We still have a connection with the East of England Faiths Agency (EEFA).