To New York: Wednesday 2nd – Friday 4th December 2015
I got up early in order to catch the mid-morning flight from Heathrow to New York (two changes on the underground) to catch the Heathrow Express from Paddington. I arrived in New York in the early afternoon and caught the Air Train and subway into Manhattan to the hotel. Having seen Elf the previous night, I paid a quick visit to Macy’s to see the Christmas decorations and stretch my legs following the flight before meeting fellow delegates for tomorrow’s U.N. workshop for dinner: Shaikh Abdulla, Undersecretary for International Affairs in Bahrain’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Nancy Khedouri, a Jewish Member of the Shura Council, who has written a history of the Jewish community in Bahrain and Dr Al Khalafalla, who has initiated tomorrow’s workshop, believing that Bahrain has a model attitude to different faith communities.
UN workshop on Religious Pluralism and Tolerance: The Bahrain Model: Thursday 3rd December 2015
The workshop has been sponsored by the intriguingly named Humpty Dumpty Institute (putting the pieces together again in a broken world) and working closely with the U.N. The delegates were mostly religious leaders from different faith traditions: Christian, Jewish, (a female rabbi working in Italy) Islamic, Buddhist and Hindu, as well as people connected with the Humpty Dumpty Institute. Sadly, neither Nancy Khedouri nor I were able to use the powerpoint presentations that we’d prepared. Apparently union rules require three people to operate the projector! The presentations were well received, despite this, and there were some interesting responses. I was particularly impressed by Daisy Khan from WISE (the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality) whose organization is addressing, very publicly, Islamic extremism. I had a good conversation with Major Jim Betts from the Salvation Army, who was delighted to hear that the Salvation Army meet in the Cathedral compound and also with a thoughtful Buddhist nun, originally from Taiwan but who had studied marketing in Perth, Australia.
In the evening we went to dinner in the home of Mark Epstein, on the board of the Humpty Dumpty Institute and met a great variety of people: Congressional representatives, Ambassadors to the UN and others connected to the HDI. The home was the roof space on the top floor of an apartment block with an amazing view of the lit up Empire State Building, a large room with collections of grand pianos, hats, paintings and hunting trophies (moose and deer).
Humpty Dumpty Institute’s 50th Congressional Delegation: Friday 4th December 2015
Once again the Bahrain delegation was picked up by the faithful Bahrain Embassy driver, who was from Kinkiizi in south-west Uganda. He was delighted to see photos on my camera of his home area and of Bishop Dan Zoreka, whom he knew. We returned as observers this time of a meeting of representatives of Congress, all Democrats I think, and their legislative assistants, most of whom had
been at last night’s dinner. Talking to Ralph Cwerman, the President and Chief Executive Officer of HDI, many Republicans regard the UN with deep distrust, despite its headquarters being in New York, because they believe it undermines US sovereignty. We began by visiting the memorial to the slave trade, opened earlier this year. A number of presentations were given on conflict resolution by Christopher Coleman, and peace keeping by Herve Ladsous, the Head of Peacekeeping Operations, and a wide ranging and very impressive presentation was given by the Deputy Secretary General, Jan Eliasson, a former Swedish Foreign Minister, highlighting the importance of addressing so many issues with an international perspective: climate change, the refugee crisis, and organized crime – just three examples.
We were given a tour of the UN: where the General Assembly meet and the Security Council chamber both the private room behind closed doors, where issues are hammered out, and the public chamber, where statements for public consumption are made. We finally had lunch with the group before returning to the hotel and for me, a quick change, final pack and heading to the airport to return to Bahrain, via London.
To Elf, the musical: Tuesday 1st December, 2015
Philippa, our youngest daughter, had organized a family and friends party -eighteen of us – for an outing to see the musical Elf at the Dominion Theatre. It is the story of Buddy, whose mother had died, who’d found his way into Santa’s sack and taken back to the North Pole, where he grew up thinking that he was an elf, but soon outgrowing his fellow elves and not nearly as nimble in Santa’s workshop. Eventually he returns to New York to find his father, who has remarried, is a workaholic and doesn’t spend any time with his new family. He refuses to accept Buddy into his home. But Buddy brings the true spirit of Christmas, not least into Macy’s, the New York department store, and in the end even his father’s heart is warmed and he is welcomed back into his home.
Commissioning of Youthscape: Sunday 29th December, 2015
It was a very proud moment to be present for the commissioning of Youthscape in a special service at St Mary’s Church, Luton for the
newly converted, and not quite completed, flour mill, Bute Mills, in the heart of the town centre. Luton is often in the news for all the the wrong reasons. Only a couple of days after, the news headlines were full of the arrests in Luton of a number of people connected with plans for a Paris-style terrorist attack in the UK. But this makes the work of Youthscape all the more important, creative youth work responding to the needs of many alienated young people and to bring some good news about Luton to national attention. So it was wonderful that the Archbishop of Canterbury,
Justin Welby, came to be interviewed and to preach at the commissioning, to affirm his support and encouragement for this imaginative and visionary project. About five hundred people were at the service, the orchestra of All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, under the evergreen Noel Tredinnick, led the worship and our daughter Alex, who is Director of Youthscape, spoke about the
significance of the work and how the building would be used. After the service I was able to give a three fish plate, created by the Bahraini artist Wahab Taqi, and based on the design of his consecration robes, to the Archbishop as a gift from St Christopher’s Cathedral.
The following day Tricia and I returned to Luton on the bus to see Bute Mills for ourselves, a personal tour from Alex and Chris Curtis, the Chief Executive of Youthscape, whose vision has really brought the project to fruition. The place was a hive of building activity but,trying not to get in the way, we could see what an imaginative conversion it is. The brick creates a very warm environment, the lighting is very sympathetic for the varieties of uses that the rooms will be used for, and the huge portraits of some of the young people are very striking.
I am so glad that we made the effort to go back for this special occasion.