MW: You’re listening to BBC Radio Leicester. It’s eleven minutes to eight. And it’s a little while since we heard from the local organisation, Christians Aware. This is a network of individuals and groups of various denominations dedicated to working for justice and peace. They’ve just started a series of talks with the title, “Going On Beyond (Meditation and Mysticism in the World Faiths)”. Some very distinguished speakers from various faiths and denominations will be appearing, including George Ballentyne, who works for Christians Aware and I’m delighted to say he joins us now. George, good morning.
GMB: Good morning Monica.
MW: Now the last thing I want to do is ask you to give the game away of what you’ll actually be talking about, but you’re looking at this from a Baha’i perspective, aren’t you?
GMB: Yes, I’m one of the speakers. We’re going to have a nine-week course, it starts tomorrow evening at 7:30 and it’s based in Christchurch which is in Clarendon Park. And these courses have been running for quite some time now and, really, the purpose of this set is to not just talk about meditation and mysticism in the different faiths of the world but to actually give a little taster of how it’s practised in each of these faiths and religions and beliefs. So there’s quite a wide variety of speakers. I usually do one session out of the course, but we’ve also got a Muslim speaker, we have a Jewish speaker, we have a Sikh speaker and, for the first time, we have a Pagan speaker as well and we’ll have a Hindu and at least one Christian tradition represented.
MW: That sounds absolutely fantastic. And the title is “Going on Beyond” and I assume each of your speakers will have a different idea of what that means.
GMB: I do hope so, or else it’s going to be very dull [MW laughs] to be honest if they all say exactly the same thing. But it really is part of the interest of the course that they are so different. And when you experience this not just in, you know, the one evening, but over the whole length of the course, it’s amazing both the variety but then again the similarity between them and that’s the purpose of it – you know, it’s like going into a beautiful garden: the flowers are all lovely but they’re all different.
MW: Do you know that’s one of the main things that’s come home to me presenting this programme on a Sunday morning? That there’s a lot of similarities but, as you say, a lot of differences as well. Who do you think would get the most out of this series?
GMB: Well it’s for people really, who are interested in finding out some – it’s a basic level introduction to how the different faiths approach this. It’s not academic and no one would have to feel that oh, you know, because they’ve missed previous courses that they can’t join in this one. It’s a very entry-level one for people who are really interested in getting that experience from the different faiths, learning something about different faiths, meeting people from different faiths, sharing some kind of inter-faith fellowship. Well, you’ve had me on the show so many times before, you know that’s the dimension that interests me so much. So we’re always talking about the diversity in Leicester but there are actually very few opportunities for people to experience it, especially for people who are not professionally involved in the religious life of the city. So this one will work for – you know, we’ve had students, retired people, people, you know, who’ll pop in after work. It’s a very straightforward but really quite interesting and stimulating kind of course.
MW: And is there a bit of audience participation required?
GMB: Well there will be, because we’re going to be getting a little taster, ten minutes or so of how, you know, how does this brand of Hinduism meditate or how does a Jewish person experience that kind of mystical dimension. Now, nobody is going to be enlightened in ten minutes on a Monday evening in Clarendon Park, but it will just – it’s a way of showing that there’s nothing alien, nothing strange, nothing threatening about the way people do these things. And everybody can find one out of these little pieces of practice that will that work for them and that they might want to take further – they might want to go on beyond with, as it were.
MW: Absolutely. And do we need to sign up for all of them all in one go or can we come and go?
GMB: No, it’s very variable. The biggest number of people I‘ve seen turn up for one of these sessions on a Monday evening was 52 – we had to find another room to be in the church – and the smallest number was three. I should say that, that evening I was the speaker [MW: Oh George! You –] It coincided with Half Term, that was the thing – but no, people are just able to – if folk want to make contact with the Christians Aware office or they can even do it through me, it’s very easy to find my contact details on the net – but there’s no pressure to do that. People really can just turn up for one or skip a few or pick the ones that interest them most.
MW: It sounds fascinating, it really does. Just tell me a little bit more about Christians Aware; what do you do the rest of the time?
GMB: Well, Christians Aware is an organisation that really works to present a united front of Christians from different denominations, who are looking particularly at social issues. One of the big ones on their calendar this year is food security. So there’s a number of – there’s a talk coming up at the end of February (you might want someone to come into the studio and talk about that) that Christians Aware is hosting, from the World Development Movement on that issue. And then there’s a summer school that they’re sponsoring later in the year which will take a whole week to look at it. It’s very practical, very down to earth, very grounded. There’s nothing airy-fairy about what they’re discussing. It’s not about theological niceties or the structure of the church, it’s about how do people of faith – and that’s people of different faiths – work with the issues and the problems of the world to make life better for all.
MW: What higher aim can there be [GMB laughs], to be quite honest with you? You know, I think you’ve got to aim high because that way you’ll achieve what you want to. Just give us the rundown again on the course we’re talking about here, these Going On Beyond talks.
GMB: Right so it’s “Going On Beyond (Meditation and Mysticism in the World’s Faiths)”. It’s going to start tomorrow evening and it’s every Monday for nine weeks at Christchurch, Clarendon Park, And that will start at 7:30 and it finishes at 9. And if anyone would like more details, contact Christians Aware on 254 0770.
MW: Lovely, 0116 [GMB: Yes] 254 0770.
MW: Brilliant. George, great to talk to you today, enjoy the rest of your Sunday.
GMB: Thank you.
MW: Thanks for being with us.
GMB: Thanks, bye.
MW: Take care, bye bye. That’s George Ballentyne there, from Christians Aware. Sounds brilliant, doesn’t it? If you go along and you go to that first one and you want to let me know what it was like and what went on, I would love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me next week here at BBC Radio Leicester.
Follow Monica Winfield on Twitter: @MonWRL