At Summer School, Sally Anne Wheadon developed an understanding of the Islamic faith and Muslim people, which she now uses in her work as a pastor in Cornwall.
As soon as I heard about Summer School, I just felt led by God to apply. There had been some other opportunities on offer at my college for travelling abroad over the summer break but I didn't have any strong convictions about for them. As soon as the email about the Summer School came through, I knew I had to apply. And I am so glad I did!
Living in Cornwall meant I had not really come into contact with any Muslims before and felt quite nervous about meeting the Muslim students at the Summer School. It sounds ridiculous now, but I wasn't sure we would have anything in common. However, by the end of the week, it felt like we had known each other all our lives, everyone got on so well and there was so much camaraderie between us.
I will never forget travelling back to the railway station at Reading after the event with a Muslim lady close to my own age. We had so much in common in our life experiences and we had such a laugh together, to me it felt as if we were best friends. The experience helped to dispel many misconceptions that I had. For example, I learnt that, certainly the Muslim ladies present were not obliged or forced to wear the hijab as I had wrongly assumed. They were happy to explain that they chose to wear it and now, being properly informed, I totally respect their reasons for doing so.
After Summer School a young Muslim lady from the course and myself arranged an exchange visit. She came to a ladies meeting at my church in Cornwall and I interviewed her, posing some of the questions I thought the ladies might have, we then had a time of discussion. There was such an air of excitement and we had a most wonderful afternoon with a cream tea to round off the visit. Many barriers were broken down and there was such a sense of goodness, it just felt right. I then met some of her college friends in a café in London and again we had the same experience, barriers broken down, misconceptions dispelled and lots of hugs goodbye when it was time to go home.
I now feel more relaxed about meeting people of not just Islamic faith, but other faiths too. Last year I took some people from my church to an open day at the only Islamic community centre in Cornwall and again, it was a very positive experience where many barriers came tumbling down.
Summer School has enriched my resources for leading worship. I am able to draw on my experiences in my reflections. Having studied our respective scriptures together, I have on a very few occasions used wisdom from the Qur'an when it more clearly illustrates what I want to say. I am also more mindful of including people of other faiths in my intercessory prayers and feel better equipped to help my congregations understand more about Islam.
Based on my experiences at Summer School, I am optimistic about the future. I now know people of different faiths can get along very well together as long as every keeps an open mind and is respectful of other opinions and ways of approaching things. Summer School was a wonderful opportunity that has enriched my life in many ways.
Interested in Attending Summer School?
The programme is designed for men and women who are currently, or have recently finished, studying at Christian or Islamic theological colleges training for vocational, faith-based careers in the UK, and who hope one day to be leaders within their local communities.
You can find out more about Summer School and register your interest here.