The café is full with all the usual sounds; chairs are dragged across the floor as people settle into their seats, and conversation is interrupted by the deafening noise of the steamer which marks the preparation of countless cups of coffee. However, there is something different about this otherwise ordinary scene.
A barista takes a rare pause between their orders to survey the room. Amidst the usual crowd of regular customers is a gathering of hijabs and the occasional clerical collar. The barista, recognising this collision of difference, speaks out: “What’s going on!? What are all these people doing together?
In 2017 Methodist congregations in and around Walsall opted to take part in a twinning initiative, and committed to meeting regularly with their Muslim neighbours, namely those of the local Minhaj-ul-Quran International Mosque. Gathering together in this town centre café marked the beginning of a relationship which would prove to be both exciting and enriching.
“Wonderful! This is exactly what our town needs, more of this!” was the response of the barista when the reason for all these people of difference meeting together was explained; here to share in the common and everyday things of life - recognising that we are not so different after all - and stepping beyond the barriers many would like to see divide us.
Since this first encounter, the twinning of Walsall Methodists and Muslims has continued with picnics in the arboretum, explorations of one another’s places of worship, playing host to a national book tour, breaking fast together during Ramadan, but most importantly growing together in friendship; sharing our joys and hurts over more cups of coffee, and no doubt causing more baristas to ask searching questions.
In the spring of 2019 the Christian Muslim Forum and Near Neighbours invited those involved in the twinning project, alongside others exploring similar interfaith relationships, to Lambeth Palace where this group of Walsall Methodists and Muslims received a national award in recognition of their efforts.
These Muslim and Christian neighbours now call themselves friends, and these friendships have become strengthened where commonalities have been celebrated and differences have been met with graceful curiosity. Our town is beautifully diverse, and this beauty is only enhanced when we commit to living and learning at one another’s side – our experience has shown this to be true!
Rev Liam Dacre-Davis
Methodist Minister in Walsall