By Damilola Oladokun
Faith in the World is a continuation of a series of events hosted by the 2016 Humanities in Public festival (HiP), a research showcase of Manchester Metropolitan University’s (Manchester Met) Faculty of Humanities, Languages and Social Science. HiP aims to introduce the public to research of topical events and activities inviting everyone to participate.
The event, held at Manchester Cathedral, began with an introduction by novelist and Manchester Met Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing Dr Catherine Wilcox, who welcomed everyone, explaining that the evening would consist of presentations by a variety of speakers and practitioners from a range of backgrounds. Guests included ministers of religion and creative writers who have found heaven in some surprising places. Catherine explained that the aim of the event was to shed light on what is happening in the church as well as build bridges with communities and cities through networking, promoting conversation and, most importantly, taking academia into the community.
The first speaker was Manchester Met Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing Dr Bex Lewis, who is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way. She explained that going to church is no longer the cultural norm for many people, saying that, rather than actively ignoring the church, people simply don’t think about it. Quoting Matthew 5:13-16, which calls us to be salt and light in the world, Bex explained that, for thousands in the digital age, that world includes social networks.
She said, “With literally billions in the digital spaces, the online social spaces presented by churches need to be appealing, welcoming, and not look like they are just an afterthought. They are now effectively the ‘front door’ to your church for digital users, and you ignore those spaces at your peril.”
Bex went on to use a quote by Pope Benedict XVI to explain that not understanding the digital space is no longer an option. She said, “To build a presence online, one needs to be present. One can’t post and run!” To conclude, she said that we have become used to ‘broadcast Christianity’ – where all our lessons come via preaching from trained priests, whilst social media is re-enabling a relational model that allows many ordinary Christians to have one-to-one conversations about their faith with non-believers, whilst also developing their own discipleship with and through others.
Next, Canon Richard White, one of the members of clergy at Liverpool Cathedral and the Director of the Joshua Centre gave a presentation entitled ‘A Safe Place To Do Risky Things’. Richard said that Liverpool Cathedral aspires to be a “Safe place to do risky things in Christ’s service.” He explained that risk is not usually the first word people associate with cathedrals, but it is at the heart of what it means to express faith in the world.
He added, “If there is no risk, there is no trust. If you cannot think of the last time something failed, you are not taking many risks hence, are we living in faith?” He went further to explain that taking risks hurts when it fails and is often misunderstood, before discussing three areas where Liverpool Cathedral has taken risks which are now yielding results. They include having enterprise as a core mission statement, events which should be hospitable yet Christian such as Light Night and Light of the Living Dead and acting quickly even when we feel unprepared like they did with Sepas, a Persian speaking congregation with over a hundred asylum seekers and refugees.
Richard finished by saying, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing badly”. Taking risks in the church is about re-engineering mindsets: breaking out of the ordinary norm of what church should be like without diluting the word, and often this will be misunderstood.
Finally, Catherine Wilcox took to the stage to deliver her presentation entitled ‘The Nearest Thing To Life’. She started with a quote by George Eliot which stated, “Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow men beyond the bounds of our personal lot”. Catherine then talked about how her novels explore issues in the Church, which she described as “the hot potatoes of the Church of England.” She also explained that public debate in these areas has become increasingly polarized and embittered. According to Catherine, fiction offers a different style of discourse and a window into the world of faith as it operates in the church and also in the world.
Catherine then brought the event to a close and thanked everyone for attending. She encouraged guests to look out for upcoming Humanities in Public events including Working Towards A Sustainable World: Inspired by Ruskin on June 25th.