St Mary’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation seeks to promote peace and reconciliation, while empowering people to live positively in multicultural and diverse communities. We respond to needs in communities by developing creative and innovative programmes that build peace, develop understanding and train people in the required skills and the aptitudes to live a peaceable life.

The centre is based at St Mary’s Church, the 900 year old parish church in Luton’s town centre. It works closely with churches of all denominations across Luton, with the Muslim community and mosques as well as other faith groups in Luton, with Luton Borough Council and Bedfordshire Police.

The Centre has evolved out of our experience of the past eight years working for the peace of Luton, as well as work in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world. You can read about the team, and the experience they bring to the centre below, and a short outline of the Centre’s story here.

At the heart of all we do is our strong belief that as Christians we are called to work for peace in our world. We do that confidently, yet with a desire to work with all people of goodwill for the good of our town, nation and world. You can find out more about our aims and objectives below.

The centre of our activity is Luton, but we seek to make the experience, understanding and programmes developed available to others in the UK and beyond

As you investigate the website we trust you will want to get involved in our peace-building work or take some of our training. If you are interested inour recent work then check out our blog section.  We welcome you to follow us on social media and join in the conversation.  If we can help you please contact us.   

 

Meet the Team

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Cathy Nobles

Cathy was born in Nevada and grew up mainly in Amarillo, Texas. She studied at the University of Texas-Austin and earned a BA in English/History and a M.Ed as a Reading Specialist. She taught for 18 years teaching mainly middle school children and in 1989 was Austin’s Teacher of the Year.

 

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Ian Rowlands

Ian is originally from Wales and is married to Jessica. They have 3 children – Sam, Megan and Jacob and an adorable Old English Sheepdog!

Ian has done many things including; starting and leading a church, developing and delivering training, consulting, running a creative agency and co-working space.

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Peter Adams

Peter is English and married to Anne, they have three grown up and married children, and one grandson! He has been working out his calling to peacemaking and reconciliation for the past fifteen years, and has been based at St Mary's, the town centre Parish Church of Luton since 2007. 

 

 

Our Aims and Objectives

St Mary’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation seeks to be:

A Prophetic Voice

We will promote peace and calls for reconciliation, while highlighting and addressing the issues and challenges of a multicultural and diverse community.

A Focus for Activism

We will seek to be proactive in respond to challenges to communities by developing creative, relevant and appropriate programmes, so facilitating the practice of peace building and reconciliation.

A Centre for Training 

We will seek to develop a reputation for excellence in training and equipping people in being peaceable, and in the skills of mediation, peace-building and reconciliation.

 

Dimensions to Our Work

Training

We aim to develop taster sessions, seminars, workshops and short courses; as well as longer training programmes and internships that link both knowledge and practice.

Skill Development

We will offer opportunities for trainees to develop and apply specific skills in real situations.


Research

We will seek to understand emerging causes of conflict locally and in conjunction with partners, through engagement among communities and on social media, and respond by developing new projects and programmes in response to emerging social needs.

Social Activism

We aim to work with the community and other partners to develop projects and ongoing work in response to specific situations.


Social Media

In today’s social media rich world we will seek to develop an online presence for peace, confronting widespread online hatred and abuse, challenging conflict situations, catalyzing peace, and offering accessible resources for peace-building. 


Consultancy

We will seek to serve others by offering our expertise and developing customized training.

Partnership Development

We will seek to multiply our work through developing partnerships both for social activism and training.


Reflective practice

We will continually seek to learn from our practice so refining our training and programmes.


Spirituality of Peacemaking

In particular we wish to see the St Mary's Centre become a place where all our work is under-girded by a Christian spirituality and ethos of peacemaking and reconciliation, where the disciplines of a peacemaker are clearly lived, and where skills in ministering in a multicultural society are practiced.

 

Equipping You Whatever Your Context

We will work to equip people at three levels:

  • Equipping individuals to live peaceable and reconciled lives in the ferment of challenging lives and situations wherever they live.
  • Equipping groups to live as communities that intentionally practice principles of peace and reconciliation so as to impact wider society.
  • Equipping people who have a call to bring peace and reconciliation in conflicted areas whether that be within the family, specific communities or the wider world.

Our Story

Over the past seven years St Mary’s, the town centre Parish Church of Luton, has played a leading part in working for peace in our town. A central part of that has been in working to understand, engage with and challenge the activity of street based far right movements within the town and coming into the town. We have been committed to reaching out in care and protection for all, to clearly opposing all extremes in close cooperation with the Muslim community in particular but with other faith groups as well. We have worked with them, the local government and police to provide effective community mediation when demonstrations or local disturbances have disrupted the life of our town.

For two decades Luton has been a focus for extremists who have sought to root their divisive ideas in the town. Islamic extremism emerged as a result of various London based preachers working here in the 1990s, and Luton became home to a significant (but relatively small) branch of al-Muhajiroun, the now proscribed extremist group led by Anjem Choudary and locally by Sayful Islam. It was as a result of a protest by this group against a homecoming parade of the East Anglian regiment on 10 March 2009 that the English Defence League (EDL) emerged in Luton in mid-2009. Since then Luton has experienced many far right demonstrations, the largest of which numbered several thousand people. Additionally, as home to the leadership of EDL, Stephen Lennon aka “Tommy Robinson” and his uncle Kevin Carroll, Luton experienced their regular rabble rousing around community issues.

From March 2009 St Mary’s along with other churches in the town have challenged this movement. The largest mobilizations by the churchwere during a large EDL demonstrations in February 2011 and May 2012. On the latter occasion some 60 Christian clergy and lay leaders were on the streets mediating, stewarding, directing traffic, and serving tea to the 1nearly 2000 police in town. Teams were also among the EDL demonstration, the counter-demonstration, and with the large numbers of Muslims nervously gathered . In each case the teams were challenging untruths, helping instill calming behaviour, making friends, praying for the sick and counselling the bereaved. In the weeks leading up to demonstration day, Christian leaders sat on community-cohesion groups, spent considerable time in the Muslim community,  spoke at community meetings, and talked to both the EDL and counter-demonstrators.  The policing of the event —  “fair, firm, and friendly” — was a great success, in part because of our own and Muslim colleague's involvement in the police Gold Commander’s community-reference group, both supporting and challenging police strategy.

“Our hope is that our experiences in one of the UK’s most diverse communities and the Middle East will contribute to peace in many places.”

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A Britain First (BF) demonstration in June 2015 brought similar mobilisation by the churches. On that occasion church leaders first wrote an open letter and then formally met BF leaders to ask them not to come to Luton. Subsequently as the demonstration went ahead similar work took place to earlier EDL events. Britain First came back to the town unannounced in early 2016, and on both occasions we acted both to negate their claims to represent a Christian voice, and to strengthen community relations.  

Our activity has also extended to serving when the town has been troubled by other sources of possible unrest - deaths in police custody, gang member funerals, the riots of summer 2011 – and when large crowds have gathered, for example during Luton Carnival.

It’s fair to say that our work has won us many friends in the town and across the community. This has enabled us to begin proactive work in a number of aspects of Luton’s life that are challenged in the context of a multicultural and multi-faith community. Honest talking within a place of trust produces results.

The people involved in the St Mary’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation did not start their journey here but the work has been strengthened and enriched by their experience elsewhere. They have been involved in initiatives to bring peace, reconciliation and comfort during various wars and conflicts including the Balkan wars during the '90s, the aftermath of the Rwandan tragedy, in Northern Ireland, in Columbia, and more recently in Northern Iraq. Team members have also played a part in addressing the wounds of history through empire building and colonialism, and particularly the crusades.

We have particularly learnt much from the work in the Middle East of the Reconciliation Walk (RW) which was an historical movement of Christians who travelled to the Middle East to apologize on the 900th anniversary of the First Crusades.  The RW invited Western Christians to come and meet Turks, Syrians, Lebanese, Israelis and Palestinians from 1996 to 1999. Each team after training went with the written apology to share with people they met in tea gardens, in markets or schools, or in mosques, churches or synagogues. Teams, also, met with local police, religious leaders, and city officials and those conversations often centered on building healthy communities. These ordinary people found themselves involved in person to person diplomacy that changes perspectives and breaks down stereotypes, and this can help build a wider push for reconciliation between governments.

“ … ordinary people found themselves involved in person to person diplomacy that changes perspectives and breaks down stereotypes …”

Through the media’s excellent coverage in these countries and beyond, a message of reconciliation opened doors of friendship and discussion throughout the region. Starting in Turkey, the media covered the RW with positive stories of engagement. These stories then opened doors to government leaders who wanted to thank the RW participants for travelling from their countries to their country with a message that encouraged Westerners and Easterners to meet and to deepen their understanding of how to build bridges of peace.

At the end of 3 years of walking and travelling along the Crusade Route, the RW had gathered endless stories from the roughly 2,500 participants that showed clearly how much was learned and unlearned by their coming to meet with people face to face. In apologizing for the way that the Crusades had betrayed the reality of God’s love for all people by killing in the name of Jesus, participants said they realized that they had been carrying prejudice and fear in their hearts towards the Middle East. In facing those fears by coming on the RW to meet Muslims, Christians, and Jews, those perceptions changed when they got to know one another.  With the dividing walls breaking, participants and others said they felt they needed to learn to build stronger friendships with “the other”. Everyone affirmed that the Abrahamic Faiths share a common heritage of believing that “Loving God” means to “Love your neighbour” and that struggle was worth the effort to build healthier communities.

Over these years we have learned much. We wish now to strengthen that work in the context of St Mary’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, to widen it, draw others in and offer training and consultancy. Our areas of training will range from courses that teach the personal skills of learning to be an everyday reconciler with family and friends to training in community peace building, nonviolence and various forms of mediation. Our hope is that our experiences in one of the UK’s most diverse communities and the Middle East will contribute to peace in many other places.

 

“Honest talking within a place of trust produces results.”