What was an Obama faith adviser doing in Luton?
Michael Wear served President Obama in the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives and was also Director of ‘The Faith Vote for President Obama’.
He and his wife Melissa came to Luton for a day to learn about the Church of England’s contribution in multicultural communities among people of different faiths, the church’s experience in relationship with a large Muslim community and about work challenging the presence of the far right. The Wears soaked up a large amount if information, experience and understanding in a short time, to inform their thinking about the place of faith in public life and the issues facing Muslims as well as the place given to them in the US after the election of President Trump.
Over the course of the day, led by Bishop Richard and hosted at St Mary’s and at All Saints, Bury Park, the Wears met some of the key people involved in cohesion work in Luton and in the diocese, heard about examples of civic leadership, particularly by the Church of England and met some Muslim partners there. They also had a chance to experience Luton on the ground walking through Bury Park.
Peter Adams, who works in Mediation, Peacebuilding & Community Relations at St Mary’s, spoke about peacemaking and engagement with both community and police in coping with demonstrations from far-right parties. The Revd David Jonathan (Johny) spoke about the work of ‘Grassroots’ and ‘Near Neighbours’ building relationships between faith communities and Ryad Khodabocus from the Luton Council of Faiths talked about th role of signs and symbols of peace such as the Luton Peace Walk. Bishop Richard talked about the role of the Bishop as a civic leader, how people often speak of Church of England Bishops as ‘our Bishop’. He said:
“This provides them with the opportunity to play the role of Convenor, Broker, Faith Representative, and Offerer of Hospitality,”
He also mentioned the value of ‘reconciliation’ being one of Archbishop Justin’s priorities and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee statement about the Church of England having a role in making space for all faiths in the country.
The final part of the day was an opportunity to hear first hand from Police Officers working in Bedfordshire Police’s unique commnuity cohesion unit, Muslim leaders, and the Town Centre Chaplaincy.
Peter Adams, reflecting on the day, said:
“In our global village, with internet connecting our lives together, understanding each other’s lives and challenges is so important to us. What President Trump does or says in the USA can have an impact on the streets of Luton within minutes. Conversely we know events in Luton are regularly portrayed in US media, mostly negatively. It was therefore a great joy to be able to share good news from our Luton story with such eager listeners with a big audience of their own.”