Todmorden is a market town near to the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire. Then the county border ran down the centre of the Town Hall, so the Mayor would sit in Lancashire with the rest in Yorkshire; the cricket pitch was also divided across the wicket. It was only since 1888 that the border was moved from dividing the town to a few miles to the south and west.
There are many different Christian denominations in the town: two Baptists, an Anglican, Methodist - now with only one chapel whereas there used to eight, Roman Catholic, and independent free churches. The links to the Quaker past are also evident. The building which was the retreat centre for the Buddhists, Dobroyd Castle, is still visible to the south of the town. The Mosque, bringing together Sunnis and Shi’ites, has a significant following.
When the concept of a chaplaincy to walk alongside those in the retail economy was initially considered it was felt that we could replicate the great work of the Calderdale Chaplains, who then operated from the Piece Hall in Halifax. We set up as an off-shoot of their work in Todmorden, regaled in their burgundy hoodies. Three of us were walking alongside those in the Indoor and outdoor markets, and after an invitation, to the shoppers within Morrison’s cafe. All was going well.
Then we heard of the tragedy, the travesty which occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand, where so many people were mercilessly shot dead in a Mosque. We received an invitation to attend a Mosque in Halifax, to stand alongside our Muslim brothers and sisters. But what did that mean in reality?
Soon after, we heard of the bombing and shooting of various churches on Easter Day 2019 in Sri Lanka. We gathered yet again, Muslims and Christians, in Halifax Minster to show our solidarity. So what next?
As a group of Chaplains in Todmorden we had received a request for a Muslim to join us but we were a Christian chaplaincy. The disasters from across the world gave us that opportunity to reconsider. Hence we discussed this plight with those in Halifax, and we elected to move off on our own as Todmorden Interfaith Chaplains.
It wasn’t easy, with all of the necessary paperwork, the fund raising, the uniforms, but it was worth it. Soon we were operating in the indoor and outdoor markets, now with the Morrison’s staff, the Medical centre - being with those who needed someone to tell their story. We also were accepted into the betting shop, coming into contact with those who weren’t expecting a faith based group to walk alongside them. We were asked for a tip for that evening, so suggested that they look out for Jesus…well he does play for Manchester City! One lady, through that being a chaplain was for a minister, but now is more than content to take a seat in one of the local hostelries and listen.
We are now a team of 7 chaplains, Muslim and Christian. People question how two ‘different’ faiths can work alongside each other. Our own faith sustains us, but we listen, care, support and love the person in front of us. We are part of the town’s ‘One Community’ approach. Like denominations, which might suggest separation or difference, our Interfaith Chaplaincy can, does, show that we can overcome perceived barriers, and help and support our community.
We Muslims see this event as a reminder from Allah to us all: we human beings think we are invincible and in charge of our destiny but a tiny little virus has brought the whole world to its knees. The enormity of the situation struck me last week, when I was doing my weekly shop and I heard the message on the tannoy to keep my distance from others at the tills. All of a sudden I felt like I was stuck in a disaster movie, I had to steady myself and hold back the tears. It is going to take all of our intelligence, strength, resilience and patience to deal with this virus. And we must put our trust in God.
So as we turn to God, I thought we could share the prayers from all our different faith traditions.
From our sister Margaret and the St. Andrew Methodist Church
With all who are in darkness and weariness, Stand among us in your risen power.
With all who are in doubt or despair. Stand among us in your risen power.
With all who are in trouble or fearfulness. Stand among us in your risen power.
Will all who are in sickness or weakness. Stand among us in your risen power.
With all who are frail and at the point of death. Stand among us in your risen power.
Christ as a light, illumine and guide us. Christ as a shield, overshadow and cover us.
Christ be under us. Christ be over us. Christ be beside us, on left and on right.
Christ be before us. Christ be behind us. Christ be within us. Christ be without us.
Christ as a light, illumine and guide us.
From our Bahai sister, Claire
‘Armed with the power of Thy Name nothing can ever harm me, and with Thy Love in my heart, all the world’s afflictions can in no wise alarm me.’
‘When faced with the irrevocable decree of the Almighty, the vesture that best befits us in this world is the vesture of patience and submission, and the most meritorious of all deeds is to commit our affairs into His hands and to surrender ourselves to His Will.’
Extracts from “Illumine My Spirit”, Bahai Prayers and Meditations for Women
From our sister Linda and the Roman Catholic Church
Knowing that perfect love drives out all fear, we pray for that love to strengthen and unite our human family, as we fight to overcome the Coronavirus. Grant to all who are now most at risk, those gifts of courage and serenity and care for one another that will overcome this trial and also strengthen our love for You, our God, the source of all healing.
From our Buddhist sister, Anne
‘Prayer is an attempt to merge the inner workings of our life with the rhythm of the universe. When we pray in such a way, all the workings of the universe will function to protect us and the endless cycle of painful reality will be transformed into a cycle of victory and happiness. Prayer is the key to open the door to unleash that infinite human potential within our lives.’
Daisaku Ikeda, President Soka Gakkai International.
From our sister Aditri, this beautiful Hindu chant
The English translation is:
Oh God! Thou art the Giver of Life, Remover of pain and sorrow, The Bestower of happiness, Oh! Creator of the Universe, May we receive thy supreme sin-destroying light, May Thou guide our intellect in the right direction.
From the Muslim faith
This Durood shareef is recited in Arabic (many times over) by Muslims all around the world, at times of trouble. It is narrated that a pious man Shaykh Moosa Jarir (RA) was taught this darood shareef by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in his dream while he was on a sinking ship.
It was great today to meet up at Honest John's Bar, to talk about what is good, what drives us forward as Chaplains, how our work is progressing in the various places around Todmorden. It was also good to consider where we have come from since May 2019, when we reformed from Calderdale Chaplains. We would also welcome Rita who has joined us, and will support those in the William Hill betting shop on the High Street as well as some pubs. She will not just replace Deacon Bob, but excel! It is also interesting to note that, following International Women's Day, all our chaplains (bar Deacon Bob) are women.
It was just wonderful to share the good news of chaplaincy, the blessing of Muslims and Christians working alongside each other, supporting others.
The Marks of ChaplaincyThe chaplain:
(adapted from the Methodist Church website)
We welcome back Pat Dale who has rejoined us, and also Myra Bairstow who will bring her youthful exuberance to the team.