Faith has always been part of Coventry’s story. Yet how we experience faith, both as individuals and as communities manifests itself in different ways. Look beyond the spires of Coventry’s iconic Cathedral and you’ll uncover a rich and interconnected sacred architecture of Gurdwaras, Mosques, Temples and Churches of all denominations where those of different faiths and none, live side by side.
A major series of events took place from the 10-11th September. Around Coventry, audiences experienced faith in many forms through food, discussions, open houses, and promenade theatrical performances facilitated by the RSC. This blog recounts my experiences of the day with some reflections on what it means to be a person of faith in Coventry.
The Messenger – RSC performance
I started the day with Chris O’Connell’s performance of “The Messenger”, a very different and moving type of theatre. The piece started on Stoney Stanton Road, where I was introduced to Baani, a girl who found herself facing the imminent death of her mother. Tasked with getting a message to her father, she agrees to meet him at Pool Meadow bus station. The performance involved the audience journeying with her to the bus station. As we followed her through the streets, we become immersed in the reality of the traffic, the unfamiliar people walking by and the danger out on the streets during covid lockdown. Camera men and traffic stewards helped direct us on our journey and the performance was streamed live (follow this link). The importance of hope, human goodness and the support of faith communities ran through the performance which felt all the more pertinent as it was experienced in real time.
Open House – Shared Hospitality
For the second half of my day, I participated in the Open House event. Theatre designer Tom Piper created an evocative visual representation of the existing ties and connections between the different faith groups. Faith communities across Coventry were joined together physically with Coventry blue ribbons - a nod to the city’s silk industry - creating a beautiful temporary tapestry through the city.
I started at Coventry Cathedral with its history of reconciliation and beautiful artwork. I was reminded afresh as I looked at the baptistry window, just how rich and complimentary the colours were, and it reminded me of the power of diversity. (More information can be found at this link)
My next stop was at the Shree Krishna Temple, a well-attended Hindu temple in the centre of Coventry. There I learnt about Ganesh Chaturthi, a Hindu festival celebrating the arrival of Lord Ganesh, the Hindu god of wisdom, prosperity and fortune. I was then treated to an exhibition all about the Hindu faith and how it relates to science. (More information can be found at this link)
I continued my exploration of faith as I walked over to the Guru Nanak Parkash Gurdwara. I took part in a tour of the building which ended in the Langar Hall. I experienced such a warm welcome and delicious food and was excited to hear about the community-based work that was such an integral part of the Sikh faith. (Information can be found at this link)
My afternoon ended at Noor-ul Islam Jamia Masjid Mosque. The mosque was established in the early to mid- 1960s about the same time as the Cathedral and was one of the earliest, purpose-built Masjids in the country. Here I was invited to observe midday prayers, enjoyed a cup of tea, and found myself talking with a couple of the young Muslim women who were so keen to talk to me about their experiences of faith, I felt truly humbled to be invited into their world. (More information can be found at this link)
Chenine Bhathena, Creative Director of Coventry, City of Culture, said:
“We are delighted to have developed this extraordinary collaboration between locally based creatives, representatives of the many faith communities of Coventry, City Voices and the Royal Shakespeare Company. We can’t wait for visitors to immerse themselves in the rich cultural heritage of Coventry, a proud interfaith city of peace and reconciliation.”
The whole day was such a rich and varied experience, demonstrating the very best of multicultural and multifaith Coventry. I felt immersed in something very beautiful and good. The blue ribbons linking the different open houses demonstrated to me how we can be joined together, full of our own identity, whilst still celebrating our differences. Each activity wove a piece of the tapestry as participants worked collaboratively to showcase the diversity across the city. I hope that as the year continues, we will continue to build on the connections formed and explore what it means to live side by side together in strong and cohesive communities.