Muslim youngsters visit Billericay Churches
Sunday, 25th March was a bright morning. It was also the day when members of the SEECC (South East Essex Cultural Centre) paid visits to some of the churches near to Billericay School. Muslim chldren from this partof Essex come to Billericay School on a Sunday morning to learn about their faith.
On this particular morning, some of the older youngsters - those of secondary school age - were also learning more about Christianity and the churches of our town. They and their teachers were very interested in finding out more. On their walk round the town, they were accompanied by four Christians - Moya McCarthy, Peter Brierly, Berney Watkins from the Methodist Church and myself. I talked to some of the young people, whose families had originally come to England from a variety of countries. Two boys are in their first year at the Anglo-European School at Ingatestone;one girl who lives in Queens' Park attends Mayflower School. Ozlem, one of their teachers, lives in Chelmsford and studies at th university, as well as caring for her children; her family are Turkish but had been living in Poland.
At the start of the morning, we were all welcomed by three women in the Quaker Meeting House. The small room was set out in preparation for the meeting a few minutes later. "We prefer to be called Friends," they told us. "Not all Friends are Christians; we do not have titles and symbols." They also shared their belief that each person is valued in the sight of God; this has led many Quakers, or Friends, to work tirelessly for peace. It was a good point for the Muslim youngsters to start their exploration. When we reached the (pic) United Reformed Church, they sat in the gallery and shared in the first few minutes of our service. At every point on our morning's visits, there was appreciation of the welcome offered.
When we reached the Church of the Holy Redeemer, there was more opportunity to ask questions. Andrew Dyckhoff explained some of the theology of Christian beliefs and, after the morning service was over, also talked about the church building. Many of the youngsters were well-informed. Their teachers also had questions. What was the 'Tabernacle' in the church? What was the role of the Pope? What was the practice of the priest hearing Confession?
By the time we reached Emmanuel, it was quite a long morning and refreshments were welcome. Rev Elwyn Cockett only spoke a little, but shared some simple songs on his guitar. The sunlight continued to stream into the church. For those of us who were Christians,the variety of expression of Christian belief in terms of buildings and in other ways was quite striking. Yet, the image of the Cross was present in all but the Quaker Meeting House.
At Emmanuel, another symbol in the church was pointed out - that of the Dove. This was a link for us all that morning. The young people from SEECC brought with them a gift to the Churches of the town - a picture made by some of the young children at the school. It was dominated by a white dove [see picture]. Also in the picture were a crescent moon and a star touching the symbol of a