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Ivy Gutridge MBE

Ivy Gutridge came to Wolverhampton from her home town of Swindon with her husband Ken. A committed Methodist all her life, Ivy was a member at St John’s Methodist Church in Wolverhampton. After a member of family who was seriously ill and cared for by Ivy had died, Ivy reluctantly took on the role of Note Taker at meetings of the newly formed Wolverhampton Interfaith Group (WIFG ). She became Honorary Secretary of the WIFG from 1974 to 1998, initially using her own home as the Office. Ivy’s infinite capacity to devote herself to people was focussed on the work of the Wolverhampton Inter-Faith Group. Ivy died in June 2004 after suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease for a number of years.

Ivy moved on from her nervous beginnings, including theological reservations, to becoming the driving inspiration of the WIFG. Ivy’s energy, courtesy and organisational ability brought credibility to the group. Ivy’s genius was that she realised how important it was to promote interfaith dialogue when it was not fashionable. Her vision and foresight has meant that the seeds she began to sow Thirty Years ago will continue to bear fruit well after her life.

In Wolverhampton Ivy worked behind the scenes to resolve conflicts, heal divisions and build relationships of mutual trust and respect. Ivy also travelled to other UK towns and cities to help develop interfaith groups.

In 1983 Ivy was appointed to the Methodist Committee for Relationships With People Of Other Faiths. She did much work from her own home towards the book ‘God Of All Faith’ put together by that Committee. Ivy was active in the founding of the national lnterfaith Network (UK) and was elected its first woman Vice-Chair in 1992. Ivy never sought any limelight or recognition, but was honoured for her Interfaith work when she was awarded the MBE in 1994.

Ivy regarded interfaith dialogue as her life’s work. She conducted it with humility, and was an inspiration to others. She was known in Wolverhampton as ‘Queen Of Interfaith’. Ivy’s interest in Interfaith dialogue was not academic but arose out of an intense desire to find out about, and honour, other people’s faith at a person to person level. She believed in people’s freedom and right to hold their own religious beliefs. A Muslim leader gave the address at a service of remembrance and thanksgiving for her, concluding with the words “As a Muslim, I would recommend her for Sainthood.” A fitting tribute to one who is among the pioneers of the Interfaith movement in the UK.

“Neither on this Mountain, nor in Jerusalem” John 4:21

Sometimes I avoid Chapel Walk. I don’t have time to talk to John who sells the Big Issue. But I like to sit on the bench outside the front doors of the Vic, Victoria Hall. Sometimes I take a mug of coffee with me,-and sometimes an extra one for John. Recently John asked me about the Four Church buildings on the Road about there: The Unitarian Chapel, St. Maries Cathedral, URC, and The Vic. We talked about their different traditions and styles of worship “Do they all worship the same God?” asked John. “I don’t think we all worship the same God,” I replied, “but there is only One God- we all worship the One God.” He then said- “You could all worship in one building. Why do you all need such a large separate place?” I said Jesus had a vision- he longed for a time when people would worship God “in spirit and truth.”

In a conversation with the Samaritan woman, Jesus used the phrase ‘neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem.’ Do you have a spot where you like to sit? Your watering hole? Your Jacob’s well…the well at which you rest? Wells are familiar places in the Bible. They are often the places where women and men can meet- perhaps because they are public places and are safe spots. Isaac met his bride to be, Rebecca, by a well. And Jacob met his bride, Rachel, at a well. A well provided water in a desert area. Wells are therefore symbols of the gift of life from God to people. Sometimes the life God gives is described in the language of marriage. Israel is seen as God’s bride. The Church is seen as the bride of Christ. The Samaritan woman-from a despised group- met Jesus at a well. Does this encounter suggest that God gives (has given) new life through the most unlikely encounters, and through surprising relationships, through despised people…? Can you think of a time when you were refreshed by a foreigner? -or a marginalised person?   Just picture Jesus sitting at the well, in the midday heat, shattered by his journey. He is tired and thirsty. He is prepared to ask for a drink. “Give me a drink.” The conversation begins on the theme of water. It moves on to the theme of worship. And the whole chapter ends with Jesus returning to Cana- where he transformed water into wine, and on this occasion restores someone to life.

The progression is similar to chapter 2. • There is a conversation involving water, and transformation of water into wine. • It moves on to the theme of worship involving the cleansing of the Temple. • It concludes with the reference to Jesus resurrection.   So in Ch 2 and Ch 4, the structure is: Water Worship Life, new life.

In both chapters – There is ordinary water, and the water of life – There is a reference to Temples, and Jesus’ critique of Temples – His distinction between temporal places of worship, and true centre of worship which is within us – The body is the Temple – The worship God desires is worship in spirit and truth, worship which is neither defined by nor confined by buildings.

The real Temple is not found in Buildings, but in the Body.   The essence of temple worship is as temporary or time related just as a drink of water does not quench thirst for long. True worship, worship in spirit and truth, is equated with drinking the water Jesus offers which “will become…a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”   “Sir”-says the woman- “give me this water.”  The conversation begins with Jesus saying “give me a drink.” It moves on to a point where the woman says to Jesus “Sir, give me this water so that I may never be thirsty.”    

The sea, the sea

In the last week of January, the Reverend Thurairajah Samuel, a Methodist minister in Morley, visited his home village, Thirukkovil, in east Sri Lanka.  Several members of his family had been killed and his family house destroyed in the tsunami disaster of 26th December 2004.  He was accompanied by the Reverend Dr Inderjit Bhogal, a Methodist minister in Sheffield, who has written this account of their meeting with the people of the village on the first day of their stay.

“Sea is coming, Sea is coming.”

On Boxing Day 2004, the Reverend Rasarethnam Dayanithy was conducting morning worship in the Methodist Church in the village of Thirrukovil on the east coast of Sri Lanka.  At around 8.55am he heard three bangs in quick succession.  His first thought was that Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) fighters had fired mortar bombs at the Army.  Then he heard the shouts, “Sea is coming, Sea is coming”.   Water began to flood into the Church.  Every one rushed out in panic.  The minister led them to the upper floor of the Orphanage in the grounds.  Then, being a swimmer, he went down and started to rescue as many people as he could.
 
A month later he said to us simply: “It was a nightmare”. 

His was the first eye-witness account Sam and I were given of the disaster.  We had made the twelve-hour journey to Thirrukovil from the capital, Colombo, in the south-west of the island, arriving close to midnight.  Our journey had taken us through colourful towns, verdant tea plantations, mountain passes with their terrifying hair-pin bends, past lagoons, a myriad of palm trees, accompanied all the time by the cacophony of the abundant animal life.  The continuing beauty and vitality of the island – the ‘Pearl in the Indian Ocean’ – threw the devastation brought about by the tsunami into sharp relief.  We spent the last stretch of the journey in a silence induced by the awesome destruction, now lit by the moon, along the coast.

The following morning, the news that Sam was in the village spread quickly.  Friends and relatives started to arrive to meet him.  Reunions were touched with pain and pleasure, embraces wreathed in smiles and tears.

We made our way towards the sea and towards the site of Sam’s family house.  It took practically an hour to walk a few hundred yards.  As we walked along we could see that almost every house within about a quarter of a mile of the sea had been destroyed or severely damaged by the tsunami.

As we approached the place where his house had stood, Sam stopped and said, “Here is a part of the steel sheeting from the roof”.  On the site itself there was just a mound of broken walls.  The bright green paint of inner walls stood out in the searing sunshine.  I stood with Sam on the mound of rubble.  It was a powerful emotional moment.  No words.  Just silence and tears to mark the loss of what had been a home.

Next door to Sam’s house we could see a grave in the neighbour’s garden.  We were told that buried here are a mother and her six-month old child.  The mother had run into the house and locked the door for safety.  The sea broke in and filled the house, drowning both mother and child.

We moved on along the golden sands.  About 50-60 people, many of them fishermen, had joined us by midday.  Sam invited them all to sit under the shade of a tree beside a well.  One of the fishermen climbed a coconut tree.  He dropped down several coconuts.  These were cut and we were given juice to drink. 

We sat in the sand with people who now are amongst the poorest on earth, who yet display a dignity that has not been broken or abandoned.  We received of their generosity.  They gave us all they could – their tears, their smiles, their time, their coconut juice.

tsunamiboatAnd their stories.   They told us they had lost all but two of the boats of this once thriving fishing village.  One of these boats stood alone at the water’s edge.  The other they are trying to repair further up the beach.  Besides their homes they had lost their livelihoods.

“The Sea has been a source of life to us.  The same Sea became the source of death.  This is what we cannot understand,” they said.

As they told their stories we could hear what today was the gentle lapping of the waves on the beach.  A month earlier the waves had risen to the height of the coconut trees, killing hundreds of people, demolishing houses, smashing boats.  One villager said, “The wave was like a snake with five heads that rose high and came down on us.  It came very fast.  It took many people with it.” 

The sea had sustained their village.  Then the sea had destroyed it.

“Under my Umbrella”

My first impressions, when I saw the pictures on the TV, of scenes of floodwaters along The Wicker in Sheffield, took me back to the hurricane and floods of New Orleans and the Tsunami.  June has been our month of monsoon.

New Prime Minister, Car Bombs, Bomb alerts, Terrorism, War and the Smoking Ban have been in the news but our focus has been on our local reality.

When the big rains came, the volume of water and the routes it took, surprised everyone.  This was a flood of Biblical proportions.  The extremely heavy rains of June have broken all records.  Where was the ark to save us?  There were 3000 emergency calls in Doncaster alone between Mon 24 and Fri 28 June.  The Fire Service answered a call every 30 seconds.  The RNLI came from coastal regions to assist in the rescue efforts in South Yorkshire.

Sheffield’s floods exposed some important truths about our city. 

First, our City is divided into two by the River Don.  When the river swelled up and flooded, one of the greatest causes of concern was that people were prevented from crossing the river by road.  This was the cause of some of the most serious traffic jams and delays.  Many people were stranded away from home on the other side of the Don to where they lived.  Members of family were stranded in different parts of the City and separated.  Many people couldn’t get home from Day Service Centres, Hospitals, Schools, Work and Shopping Centres.  Nurses and other staff couldn’t get in to work to start their shift and relieve colleagues.

Second, the past five or six years have seen tremendous property development and investment along the River Don.  Luxury apartments have been built along the river banks and sold at astronomical prices.  At the same time, houses have been demolished, for example, on Wincobank and Woodside.  These are areas of considerable beauty that are considered to be “less desirable” for living or investing in.  Furthermore, the eating houses providing Caribbean, Kurdish and Pakistani cuisine along the Wicker were all flooded and are now closed awaiting refurbishment.  There has been investment for the wealthy, but not protection for the vulnerable businesses.

Third, the aged infrastructure in parts of Sheffield along the River Don has proved to be inadequate.  Nature has reclaimed the River Don since the Steel Industry has declined.  The tropical temperature of the waters has disappeared.  Fish have returned.  It’s good to see kingfishers and even cormorants.  Fig Trees abound along the river banks.  But the new pollution is the rubbish people throw into the River.  This along with fallen trees helped to block water routes in the river.  We cannot simply shift blame for the floods on to nature, or just ask “how could God allow such disasters”.  We also have to acknowledge the consequences of our own lifestyle.

Fourth, Pop song “Under my Umbrella” sums up the real sense of community spirit that has been evidenced among us.  The Major Incident Plan, and the Emergency Services went into action and deserve thanks from us all.  But they were assisted by countless acts of love and sacrifice from ordinary people.  Extra shelter was provided for those stranded, or suddenly bereft of their homes, by schools, superstores, the Royal Mail and hospitals.  Stories of hatred and terrorist activities have created fear in communities.  People transcended this and offered hospitality.  Many welcomed complete strangers into their homes and gave them shelter.  Radio Sheffield’s Good Neighbour scheme has been an excellent idea.  
Plans to prevent floods in the future will require attention around river banks, flood plains, architecture and design of buildings, roads and railways.  We must all consider our own lifestyles also, and reduce the amount of waste we create and throw away.  Throwing rubbish into the rivers and dykes must end, and the Council must take greater care of our rivers, river banks and river beds.

Our own floods will help us to empathise even more with people in other parts of the world who are victims of extreme weather and disasters.  Floods in Afghanistan, Pakistan and India over the same period in June killed six hundred people, and a total of 1.2 million have been affected by the storms. We have learnt from the Tsunami and the situation in New Orleans’ floods that our care strategy is judged by how we respond to the needs of the poorest and the most vulnerable among us.

1st July 2007

Face to Face and Side by Side

Gill Hicks lost both her legs in the 7/7London Underground bombs three years ago.  She is now walking between Leeds and London [200 miles] with her new artificial legs. 

I met Gill when she and her WALK/TALK Team walked through Sheffield.  The Sheffield length of the walk commenced in the City’s Peace Gardens.  Leader of the Council, Paul Scriven was among those who gathered to walk and talk with Gill and her team.  In his words to Gill, Paul Scriven said, “I want to launch a new initiative today.  Each year, during this particular week, we will encourage people to walk in each other’s shoes as a way of encouraging people to understand each other better.”  Mike Love, a member of the Walk/Talk Team called on people to build a shared future through conversation.  Then Paul joined fifty or so others to walk with Gill and colleagues through the streets of Sheffield.

I walked and talked with Gill.  As I did so recalled that in March 1997 I had set off from the Peace Gardens to walk to 10 Downing Street along the route Gill was taking to London.  I had walked to hand deliver a letter to the Prime Minister asking for a fairer deal for “Asylum Seekers”.  I asked her why she was walking to London.  “It’s to encourage people to walk side by side with each other and talk with each other, to encourage conversation.” 

“But why are you walking?” I asked her.

“Walking is the most difficult thing I have to do” she replied, “I want to say to people, if I can do this you can do something simpler, meet with each other and talk with each other”.  Gill particularly wants those who fear each other, or just never meet, to talk to each other, and “walk in each other’s shoes”.

The route brought us to Sheffield United Football Club, where former legends like Tony Currie and staff from “Football Against Racism in Europe” [FARE}, came and expressed solidarity.

The walkers moved on to Mount Pleasant Park, Sharrowvale, for a delicious lunch provided and served by Aagrah, the newest Asian Restaurant in Sheffield.  Mohammed Aslam, the Managing Director of Aagrah is part of Gill’s Walk Talk Team and walking to London, supplying refreshments and a support minibus for the entire route.

Perhaps the best way to engage in conversation with friends and strangers is over a meal, and along a walk.

Gill led the walkers on to Sheffield’s newest, purpose built Mosque, in Abbeydale.  The Mosque was packed with around 1000 worshippers gathered for Friday prayers.  Gill was introduced as one who lost both her legs in the 7/7 Bomb explosions and was invited to address the assembled congregation.  She walked up to the front and said what she was doing and shared her simple message of building good relationship with each other, of learning the art of living peacefully alongside each other. 

Gill then sat down, on a chair provided specially for her, and remained until prayers were concluded in the customary manner of sharing words of peace.

At the close of Prayers members of the Congregation came to Gill and expressed words of sorrow and regret at what had happened to her.  “We are very sorry for what has happened to you.”  These were the words said to Gill Hicks.  Words were accompanied by tears.  These were not empty words. 

It was one of the most powerful and emotional moments of love and forgiveness that I have ever witnessed.

It was also a moment of revelation and inspiration.  The path to forming relationships of respect trust among those who fear each other includes taking steps to forgive each other for the ways we have hurt each other.  Forgiveness is one of the hardest tasks in relationships.  “Sorry” is one of the hardest words to say.

Community tensions are heightened by fear of those who are different from us.  Kate Adie commenting in her book “The kindness of strangers” on the aftermath of 9/11, on her observation and reporting of events worldwide, says that we only become interested in strangers when we come to see them as a threat to us.  This is the world in which we live.  There are fears in our communities, of those who are of another faith, ethnicity or nationality, for example. 

Gill Hicks could have gone around to spread a message of hatred towards the Muslim community.  There are those who use fears to create hatred and hostility in our multi ethnic, multi faith communities.   

I came to walk and talk with Gill Hicks fresh from the Government launch of the “Face to Face and Side by Side” strategy, which Hazel Blears MP described as “a framework for a partnership in our multi faith society”.  The framework aims to create more opportunities for face to face dialogue along with side by side collaborative social action.  It’s about increasing our understanding of each other and coming together to share time, energy and skills to improve local neighbourhoods.

The Walk/Talk initiative is one very good example of what we can all do.  Gill says she is doing the most difficult thing for her, walk, to bring neighbours together.  In one day her walk brought people together in Parks, Streets, a Football Club and a Worship Centre.  In different environments she is creating opportunities for people who do not normally meet and talk with each other to do so.  It is possible to challenge political and religious extremism.  We can build a better and shared future together through conversation with each other. 

July 2008                

What if?

What if?  by poet laureate Andrew Motion adorns the side of a Hallam University building. Written for the 2007 ‘Off The Shelf ‘literature festival.

From the Sheffield Telegraph 01 November 2007:

Travellers to and from Sheffield rail station took a longer look than normal at the side of Hallam University’s Owen Building on Wednesday afternoon.

A light show playing on the wall revealed a 131 feet tall poem, What If?, by Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, who was in Sheffield for the unveiling.

In the past, the royal poet has written several poems to mark events ranging from Prince William’s 21st birthday to the Paddington rail disaster.

He has also written poems displayed on the Underground in London, and in several parks. However, the poem now on the wall of the Owen Building, part of Hallam’s central campus overlooking Howard Street, is the most conspicuous he has been commissioned to do, he said.

It was part of the Off the Shelf’s literary festival’s Text and the City project, which has already unveiled public art poems around Sheffield.

Andrew Motion was commissioned to write something to attract travellers on their way to and coming back from the station.

He said he was never in doubt that he should take on the project.

“I have honorary degrees from both Hallam University and the University of Sheffield. This was my chance to give something back to Sheffield,” he said.

The poem reflects arrival in a new city and the surprises and opportunities it can offer. “I wanted to say something about what someone arriving in this city would feel.

Paul Swales, the public arts consultant who has coordinated all of Text and the City’s public art projects in Sheffield, said it took two weeks and two teams of workers to put the large poem on the wall.

Listen to the poem whatif