A couple of weeks ago, my good friend and long standing soul mate Lynne Sedgmore was awarded a doctorate in Winchester Cathedral for her work on spiritual leadership – a subject she has championed passionately and openly for the last 20 years. I am sure it was a proud and moving occasion for her and her family. It was certainly a moment of celebration for those of us who know her and who appreciate how much effort she put in to her thesis.
Lynne, who is also an interfaith Minister, is a woman with a genuine interest in, and knowledge of, all religions, faiths and beliefs. She has not been afraid to use the authority of her educational roles, formerly as a College Principal and then CEO of the Centre for Excellence in Leadership, and now as Executive Director of the 157 Group of Further Education Colleges to lead others along a route of greater awareness of the intangible (and therefore frequently unacknowledged) part played by the spirit in our lives and work places1.
I was particularly reminded of this last week by the coincidence of two other seemingly unrelated events – a discussion on Monday evening on Religion, Media and International Relations organised by the Three Faiths Forum – 3FF - (www.3ff.org.uk) in which I took part, and later this week, my own award of an honorary doctorate at the Church of Christ the Cornerstone, Milton Keynes, (www.cornerstonemk.co.uk) given by the University of Bedfordshire (www.beds.ac.uk) at a ceremony presided over by Bill Rammell, former Minister of State for Further and Higher Education and now the University’s Vice Chancellor.
Lynne and Bill were driving forces behind the publication in July 2007 of Making space for faith, the report of the national commission of enquiry into spiritual and moral development in further education, which I chaired.
Former Principal of the College of North East London, Paul Head, to whom this piece is dedicated, was also hugely supportive of our collective endeavour. His introduction to the publication, alongside forewords by Lynne and Bill, is a reminder of his effective and pragmatic approach to spiritual leadership of organisations - ‘the lived faith’ - although I think he would not have referred to it in such terms.
Paul’s recent untimely death was a significant loss, not just to his family and friends, but also to all of us who worked with him. Paul, who I suspect would not have defined his identity by religion, firmly believed that faith issues play an important part in the debate on how we create educational institutions based on respect, tolerance and understanding of each other’s views, the foundation of a democratic society. Paul’s vision is also at the very heart of the work of the 3FF – an organisation which builds understanding and lasting relationships between people of all faiths and beliefs through programmes of education, engagement and action that bring diverse communities together both here in the UK and internationally.
Lynne Bill and Paul would all, I think, have been inspired, as was I, by the discussion and examples of strategic spiritual leadership in action that I witnessed in the discussion last Monday night – not least from our host at the Embassy of the State of Kuwait, the Kuwaiti Ambassador himself, His Excellency Khaled Al-Duwaisan.
Career diplomat, Anglophile and moderate Muslim, Khaled Al-Duwaisan is steeped in the cultures of East and West. Two or three times a month, he hosts dinners at his residence to discuss the main issues of the day – in particular, those that affect the Middle East. MPs, academics, broadcasters, journalists, overseas visitors and civil servants meet over a Middle Eastern buffet for a structured and extraordinarily frank debate on world affairs.
In this way, he set the tone for our debate on Religion, Media and International Relations with warmth, grace and insightful anecdotes relating back to the founding of the Three Faiths Forum in 1997 by Sir Sigmund Sternberg, the late Sheikh Dr Zaki Badawi and Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke who wished to encourage friendship, goodwill and understanding between people of different faiths, especially between Muslims, Christians and Jews.
It would be impossible to try to synthesize the essence of our two-hour long debate. Highlights for me however included the powerful and erudite words from Professor Manuel Hassassian, Palestine’s ambassador to the UK, and the honest and articulate contribution by the Times journalist and foreign correspondent Michael Binyon.
Manuel Hassassian was born in Jerusalem, and educated in Beirut and the USA. He revealed just how complex and multi faceted our lives can be when he spoke of himself as ‘Palestinian by birth, Armenian by culture, American by education and Muslim by religion’
Michael Binyon is an English journalist and eminent Arabist, educated at the Quaker school Leighton Park. He underlined for me what was the overriding theme of the discussion - that fear and hatred of ‘the other’, or mistrust of another person’s religion, stem from ignorance and lack of imagination fuelled not by differences in religious belief per se but by the politicization of religion - an act in which all forms of the media frequently play both a critical complicit and catalytic role.
1 Talking to leaders about spiritual leadership: seeing it through to the shadows – a think piece by 157 group and fbfe July 2014 and THE ‘S’ WORD Spirituality in the Learning and Skills Sector John Wise and Mary Myatt fbfe and Culham St Gabriel’s August 2014