In a private garden, hidden away behind the church under the towers of the City, you will find a remarkable Bedouin Tent. It is a new kind of place where people of different faiths can meet as equals, rather than as guests in each other spaces. This is the latest stage in the development of St Ethelburga's as a new space for new types of conversation.
The Tent is an experimental meeting space where people of different faiths can explore together, sitting as equals sitting in a circle, how to understanding their differences, transform conflicts, and develop shared values and strategies for collaboration in chainging the world. We run our own programme of multi-faith events, and it is also used for our private meetings and by many other like-minded agencies.
Designing a desert in the city
The Tent is the biblical opposite of the Temple, with its formal rituals and priests. It is a place of hospitality, pitched in the desert, where people seek refreshment and companionship, welcoming friend and stranger alike. Our Tent is an unusual 16-sided structure covered in woven goat’s hair (which smells in the rain!). It was designed by Professor Keith Critchlow, a world expert in sacred geometry, who was charged to create a "sacred" space without using the symbols of any specific religion. He has used the universal languages of geometry, algebra, astronomy and harmony to create a perfectly proportioned space which draws on the traditions of Al-Andalus - Southern Spain during the middle ages, where Jews, Christians and Muslims shared the space in relative peace for 300 years. The interior is carpeted with rugs woven in places of conflict throughout the world and it sits in a tranquil peace garden with a Lebanese fountain and an olive tree.
How The tent works
The Tent is hidden away from the main thoroughfare of Bishopsgate down a passage. To arrive in The Tent is to find yourself in an expected place, welcoming and beautiful, but outside most people's experience. This slight disorientation can often be a helpful starting point for difficult conversation.
- It is a liminal space - a place beyond and between borders, where unusual things might happen
- It is a mutual space - where people find it easer to meet as equals, taking off their shoes and sitting in a circle, where what happens emerges from the relationships betwen the people present.
- It is a safe place - where careful attention to facilitation makes difficult conversations more feasible
The rich visual enviroment is dignified and enjoyable, redolent of the generous middle Eastern culture of hospitality. There are no obvious religious symbols. The windows carry the word peace in each of the seven primary language traditions, together with beautiful universal symbols of reconciliation (sun and moon) and growth (seed, tree, fruit) universal symbol.
Hardware and software:
As important as the physical structure ("hardware") are the processes we have developed for structuring and facilitating the many types of encounters that are possible in The Tent ("software"). We are gradually publishing a range of practical resource to share our learning and experience. The first of these is The Spectrum- a guide to building inter-religious relationships. During 2010 we will publish further resources on facilitation and dialogue techniques and on using narrative and story-telling approaches.
During 2010 we will hope to create a mobile version of the Tent that local inter-religious networks can use to extend their work. For further details contact Simon