Running an Event – Practical Issues

Make It Appealing
You might think that a day to discuss comparative religion and eschatology (study of the ‘Last Days’) is what all young people are waiting for. However our experience is that most are looking for something a little bit more dynamic. Our basic principle is that we combine the best of youth work practice with the best of dialogue practice. But we never forget that we are doing youth work first and foremost. So make sure your day has elements in it that are going to attract young people. These can also be things that build on your aims for the day.

Big or Small?
It can be really tempting to think that this issue is so important and exciting that it'd be great to get everyone together for a mega-event, and these can be great. Our experience, having run a few of those, is that whilst they can create a buzz and excitement they are much, much harder to recruit for. More significantly, all the feedback we've had from several events is that the smaller events have a bigger impact on the young people who come along. Even if you break a big group down into smaller groups, the impact seems to be greater at smaller events. We now tend to run events where one church group meets up with one school, each bringing maybe six young people. Not only does this help with recruitment but it also helps to ensure that you get equal numbers of Christians and Muslims (see the next paragraph).

Creating a Safe Space
For many young people, meeting people of a different faith can be an intimidating experience if they are unused to it. They can be anxious that they'll be asked difficult questions or have to participate in activities that compromise their own faith. One of the key factors of an MYX event is the creation of a "safe space". This is a space which everyone comes to as an equal and discovers that their needs are catered for as fully as everyone else's, and where they can avoid confrontation if they want to.

Some young people are at school with people of different faiths and are used to discussing (or arguing) about their beliefs. For some that environment feels anything but safe. Part of the reason for creating a safe space is to provide a place where they can come and learn how to speak about their faith and in order to equip them better for the rough and tumble of discussion at school.

There are a number of elements required to create a safe space and they are all linked by the concept of equality: creating a space where everyone is equal.

A safe space will be one where everyone is a visitor. As appealing as it might be to ask a Christian group to visit your mosque or a Muslim group to come to your church, immediately it is not a meeting of equals. One group are the hosts and the others are visitors. One group is in familiar surroundings, the others are in new and possibly confusing surroundings. When you visit someone for the first time you are (hopefully) on your best behaviour and need to find your way round their home. You don't meet on equal terms. Well it's the same with this. Meeting as equals works best if you chose a venue where everyone is a visitor. This will therefore be neither a mosque nor a church but a hall that can be hired from a third party. This could be a village hall, school room or the  function room of a restaurant which makes a great venue and means you can share a meal together at the end.

Lots of people ask why we don't have a session where we all bring our favourite food along to share. After all, eating together is a tried and tested way of building friendships. The trouble with bringing and sharing food is that it's very hard to maintain equality. What happens if a Christian turns up with a bacon sandwich, as it's quite legitimately his favourite food? Either he has to be told in advance that he can't bring it as pork is haram (forbidden) for Muslims, therefore they can't eat it. Or he brings it and the Muslims are unable to join with him in sharing something he enjoys.

Either way it's unequal and people, potentially, feel awkward and "unsafe". Or a Muslim brings a chicken dish made with halal meat. This is meat which has been killed according to Islamic law, and at the killing of the animal a prayer is said. Some Christians would see this as being equivalent to eating food sacrificed to idols which some Christians are unhappy about. So again people feel awkward and "unsafe".

One solution is to ask people to bring their own food. In reality this means that all the leaders head to the local baker's whilst the young people all end up in a take away ordering a variety of meat, fish or vegetarian meals.

Meeting in a curry house where people had a choice of a halal meat dish or vegetarian food proved popular as did pizza and chips from the local takeaway!

Should you play background music as folk are arriving at an event? My natural inclination is always to have music playing to create a good atmosphere. However, apart from the challenge of finding music that everyone will at least sort-of like, some Muslims consider all music to be haram (forbidden), so to have any playing is offensive. Others don't mind or enjoy music.

Some advice I was given by a Muslim friend is that music with a very distinct beat is liable to be more problematic for Muslims than more ambient music. As with many of these issues it's worth checking out beforehand, if possible, what people's views are to help you get it right.

Muslims have set times of day when they need to pray, and it's important to make sure that these are catered for in your meetings. However it's also important to make provision for Christians to pray together. In our experience when this doesn't happen the Christians can feel left out and that their spiritual needs have not been considered as carefully as those of the Muslims.

Some groups have had the prayer at different times and invited members of the other faith to observe the prayer and worship if they want to. Although some found being observed uncomfortable, for many people seeing others at worship gave a new and deeper understanding of them and their faith.

Should We All Pray Together?
For some people this crosses a line into multi-faith worship which they feel uncomfortable with. Our experience is that many young people come willing to meet others but wanting to remain very close and faithful to their own faith. What we have done is to have a time of silence where people can pray as they want to. This might be to thank God for food that's coming up or to commit the day to him. This, we've found, takes the fact that we're meeting as people of faith seriously but also takes seriously the notion of the "safe space" where the young people feel safe to pray in a way which doesn't compromise themselves or their faith.

Keeping Going
A lot of people find that running one event is fairly easy once they’ve worked through all the issues above. A bigger challenge is to set something up that keeps going so that the young people meet each other regularly and start to really live out the ideas and lessons they are getting through the events.

One way to create on-going work is to set out with this aim from the start. Share this vision with your co-leaders so they know they are getting involved in something more than just one event. Plan a series of events even before the first one so that you have a coherent plan and a number of events that you can invite young people to. Why not consider running a course which includes some of the MYX sessions (link to programme ideas pages). If you don’t want to meet for a day each time either use just a few of the ideas or run each session over two meetings. Have a mix of discussion events, social activities (such as 10 pin bowling, night hikes, trips to the sea etc) and social action events (such as litter picks, raising money for charities, putting on a meal for the homeless or elderly).

When you recruit the young people make sure they, and their parents know that this is an on-going commitment. Whilst they might not be able to come to all the sessions encourage them to commit to come to as many as possible - and then make sure the sessions are interesting and fun so that the young people want to come back.

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