How do Christians keep their faith in the 21st century, living as they do in an increasingly secular world? This is the question that the London-based Awareness Foundation aims to address.
The recently released findings of the 2011 census for England and Wales confirm the increasing secularism of this once highly Christian country where the monarch is still head of the State Church. While the total population has increased by 7 per cent in a decade to 56 million, the people who call themselves Christians declined by 12 per cent from 37.3 million to 33.2 million, and the number of those who claim no religion almost doubled from 7.7 million to 14.1 million. Secularism, however, does not seem to affect Muslims whose number rose by 80 per cent from 1.5 million to 2.7 million over the same period.
This situation is not limited to England, but replicated in other countries in Europe. The rapidity of cultural and demographic changes exacerbated by immigration and globalisation have caused confusion among Christians, many of whom feel pressured to abandon their culture and faith – in the name of tolerance, diversity or political correctness. As a result, they find it difficult to deal with the consequences of their loss of identity and spiritual vacuum.
The Awareness Foundation was established in 2003 as an education institute to help Christians live their faith in this new environment. Its founders are two Anglican clergymen – Bishop Michael Marshall and Father Nadim Nassar – and Charles Longbottom, a business leader and philanthropist. It was first established in the name of the Foundation for Christianity and Culture, and as its role evolved the name was changed to the Awareness Foundation. The charismatic Father Nadim (see picture), the only Syrian priest in the Church of England, is the full time Director and inspirational leader of the foundation. I am privileged to have served as one of its trustees.
Activities of Awareness of Foundation
The Awareness Foundation is primarily an education institute and as such it creates learning programs which are now used in churches in England, USA, the Middle East and Hong Kong, and also in home groups. It offers a variety of courses to suit different needs, ranging from the highly popular half-day introductory course, “Speak out: how to articulate your faith and why”, to a five-session course specially designed for Lent, and to more intensive courses spreading over eight weeks. These are highly interactive courses and open to peoples of all cultures and religions.
Regardless of the length of the courses, the essence of the message is the same – it is only by understanding and embracing their own cultural and religious identities that Christians will be able to cultivate healthy relationships with others. Once Christians are comfortable with who they are, then they can build bridges with their neighbors. To be a Christian means to be a disciple of Christ and to live in a culture of God – the culture of love, which is universal and respectful of differences.
The Foundation’s education program is supported and enhanced by other activities. These include forums and dialogues with individuals and other Christian groups as well as with members of other monotheistic faiths, especially Islam and Judaism. Through Father Nadim, the foundation maintains a high public profile by providing Christian perspectives on such key global issues as inter-faith relationships and the future of Syria, a cradle of Christianity – St Paul’s conversion happened on the road to Damascus, the capital of today’s Syria.
When I come across something in nature that is truly beautiful I would be reminded that such beauty could only have been created by a Divine Being. A flower is one such creation. To really “see” a flower is to believe in God – for how else could such exquisite elegance come into being? God’s beautiful creation also reminds me that it is my duty and indeed my joy to support those, like the Awareness Foundation, who do God’s work and carry His message of love to one and all.