Women, faith and the community

Women, faith and the community Flickr: Tavis Ford

For our last installment of Community Month, we decided to talk to three women of different religions who play key parts in their communities. They’re the experts, so we asked them what they think makes a strong community. Read on to see their wise words on faith, womanhood and community...

Ruth Balinsky Friedman was ordained by Yeshivat Maharat, the first institution to ordain Jewish Orthodox women as clergy. She now serves as a Maharat at Ohev Sholom: The National Synagogue.

Before I joined my congregation last summer, people who knew about the synagogue all told me that it is the most amazing community. ‘You’ll love it’, they said. ‘Everyone is so nice, and so welcoming.’ I quickly learned that this was true. From the moment we arrived, everyone showered us with meal invitations and many offers to help in any way that they could. They are always there to help others, no matter how busy they are already. Their dedication is truly inspiring.

But how do you create such a strong community?

I have thought about this a lot over the past year as I serve as clergy for this congregation. I believe that it all boils down to one important rule: you show people that they matter. In our synagogue, we don’t take anything for granted. Just because our membership grows significantly doesn’t mean that we scale back our programming because ‘we’ve made it.’ Success isn’t an excuse to stop working; it is the motivation to do more. And the more that we invest in the camp that we offer for the children at our synagogue, the more that we offer programming for the Young Professionals community, and the more that the synagogue invests in our community, the more we all invest in each other.

When I look in the mirror... I see myself. It took a while to get to that point. As girls and young women, we are trained to look in the mirror and see ways that our body fails to live up to the standard of perfection. I feel that I’ve finally reached the point where I just see myself for who I am.

Angela Berners-Wilson was one of the first women to be ordained as a priest by the Church of England in 1994. She is now a Chaplain at the University of Bath.

In my role as University Chaplain, within the Chaplaincy Team we create a strong community by always having a listening presence during term time week days. We provide hospitality – coffee, tea and biscuits are always on offer and we have many other feeding events such as the Oxfam lunch, Globe café, Big Breakfast in Freshers' Week and the Chinese Students' Tea Party. We also have regular services and prayer groups, and five different Christian groups meet on a weekly basis for their respective student societies.

Having a daily pastoral presence is really important: to listen, give pastoral counselling (and advice if asked), and just ‘to be there’ for those who need us.  Confidentiality is a vital part of our work, as well as collaborating with other agencies within the institution, such as Student Health & Wellbeing.

Students and staff need to know that they can trust us, and that we are a safe and confidential place where they can turn when they’re stressed. We operate an open door policy, and try to always be welcoming.

When I look in the mirror... I see someone who smiles back at me, who is caring and compassionate with a sense of humour. That double chin isn't really mine is it?

Raheema Caratella is an interfaith, youth and community activist. She is an outreach worker for the Christian Muslim Forum and has been working in the community for over 10 years.

The way to create a stronger community is by empowering and enabling individuals, and giving people a sense of belonging. In Leicester we have people of many faiths, we have new communities and old, but we have a balanced and harmonious community.

A strong community needs the support of good public and voluntary sector organisations that provide appropriate services: by having information available in different languages, and reacting to the needs of various groups who are dealing with social issues from domestic violence and economic deprivation to sexual grooming.

Our local council has a Faith and Community Forum which brings together all sectors of our diverse community to tackle issues that affect people at grassroots level. The last one focused on health and wellbeing – each group was asked how the local authority can support them within their communities to raise awareness and engage people.

A strong community is created from strong leaders who have their communities' interests at heart. The members of strong communities are open to new thinking, new ideas and new faces – to move things forward and get a fresh perspective we have to listen to younger generations.

When I look in the mirror...

Raheema who am I? who could I be?
Discovering my inner self I am now free!
Removing my internal prejudices about people I see
To serve, protect, and preserve this is the key
I am no longer drifting through the land, I am focused on a greater plan.

Thanks to all three for their contributions. Tell us what a strong community means to you @whatiseeproject.


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