Perspective: Pulling out All the Stops to Improve Harmony; Taking Religion to the Toughest Streets of Birmingham Can Be Hugely Effective. in the Third and Final Part of Our Faith in the City Series, Religious Affairs Reporter Helen Bruce Takes a Look at Interfaith Relations in Action
Byline: Helen Bruce
Deep in the heart of Birmingham's inner city, a diminutive Indian woman priest is practising bus-stop theology with remarkable results.
Despite just having had her vicarage garage sprayed with racist graffiti, she is tireless in her support of the people of her parish.
She knows them so well - the Christians, Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus - that she can pinpoint exactly who committed the crime and where they live.
But, she says, troublemakers are a tiny minority compared with the hundreds of honest people who share a passion for religion and for the future of the community in which they find themselves.
The Rev Jemima Prasadam was ordained in 1987, the only black woman among the first women priests in the Church of England.
After a stint in middle-of-the-road St Albans, Hertfordshire, she found herself transported five years ago to the cultural melting pot that is Lozells.
Faced with a microcosm of Birmingham's multiple-faith communities, she did not hide herself away in St Paul and St Silas' Church but did what any selfrespecting priest would do. She took to the bus stops.
Dressed in a sari, dog collar and fleece, Mrs Prasadam explains: 'The first thing is building bridges and putting people at ease. You don't do it by discussing and arguing but by conversation and by meeting people in their homes, at bus stops and at the shops. These are our main channels for establishing trust, understanding and, basically, friendship.
'We are a parish with bus-stop theology. We have 12 bus stops and I walk past six on my way between the vicarage and church. It is a glorious opportunity to meet people of all faiths and none. People are often eager to speak because it is not in their house or in a threatening meeting place - they feel free. 'At first they can have a rather frosty look, but once they come to see it's just a friendly talk, they open up. It's a refreshing change. Also, being a parish priest, I can recognise newcomers to the area - we have a lot of refugees - and put people at ease. 'Then, once you get to know people, it's wonderful. Because I love people for the sake of people, I respect their faith and I join in with what they are doing. Theology flows in without asking, because some people, in fact most people from a lot of the subcontinent, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims, are God-centred without even realising it.
'Also many are either going to a place of worship or from it, so that makes the connection. I also show respect. What matters most to them and what strikes a chord is when they realise you are people of faith, and while our names for God may be different we all celebrate God. That brings people together.'
Mrs Prasadam admits there is 'never a dull moment' in Lozells, one of Birmingham's most deprived areas.
Drug-pushing and burglary are rife and alternative entertainment for children is scant, to say the least. What passes for a park does not even possess a swing.
To help pass the long summer break fromschool, the determined priest has spearheaded a series of outreach projects and day trips.
It is in these practical measures that the interfaith community has united. …