2020's Freedom & Tolerance Forum

Saturday 7th March 2020, 10am – 1pm – free admission, all welcome

The Well, Hospital Road, Retford, DN22 7BD

Freedom and Tolerance is as important today as it was 400 years ago – in the anniversary year of the Mayflower Pilgrims, let’s see what history can teach us about journeys, rebellion, and things we take for granted.

Speakers include:

Lord Beith – Member of the House of Lords Constitution Committee and the Lord Speaker’s Committee on the size of the House. MP for Berwick upon Tweed, 1973-2015

Lord Beith

Subject: Methodist Heritage and its significance today

Lord Beith will refer to the heritage of one of the three elements that make up the Methodist church, the United Methodists, who were the most independent-minded and authority-challenging of Methodists, relating this to the significance of religious freedom and toleration.

Professor Elizabeth Tingle – Professor of Early Modern European History at De Montfort University, Leicester. Previously she taught at Plymouth University and the University of Northampton.

Elizabeth Tingle

Subject: Irish Catholic Refugees in Europe in the early 1600s

Professor Tingle specialises in the history of the French Wars of Religion and in the European Catholic/Counter Reformations. She has just completed a project on long-distance pilgrimage in north-west Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Professor Tingle is a fellow of the Royal Historical Society, a member of the Royal Archaeological Institute and an officer of the Ecclesiastical History Society of Great Britain.

Rev’d Dr Stuart Jennings – Certificate coordinator for Historical Studies at the Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Warwick, where he had also served across the university as a chaplain from 2006-2017. Specialist in Nottinghamshire history, Warwick University

Stuart Jennings

Subject: Faith and Fighting in Nottinghamshire during the Civil War

Rev’d Dr Jennings received his doctorate from Nottingham Trent University for his work on Puritanism and Protestant Nonconformity in Nottinghamshire, 1600-1700. His book on Newark in the Civil War won the Alan Ball national prize for Local history and he is also the author of 2 books, 17 academic articles and a chapter in three collaborative volumes. He continues to serve as an academic advisor to the National Civil War centre at Newark.

Mr John Pontiflex – Head of Press & Information for Aid to the Church in Need (UK).

John Pontiflex

Subject: Has Religious Freedom become an Orphaned Right?

In his 17 years with the Catholic charity for persecuted and other suffering Christians, John has travelled widely in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. He has investigated human rights violations relating to Christians and other faith minorities. He has visited locations where persecution has taken place, interviewing survivors and Church leaders.

John has acted as Editor-in-Chief of ACN’s Religious Freedom in the World, (latest report launched in the House of Lords in November 2018). The report examines the degree to which religious freedom is upheld in 196 countries around the globe. John is a regular media contributor, internationally, on the topic of persecuted Christians.

The first Retford Religious Tolerance Forum was held in 2016 to commemorate the death, in 1616, of Thomas Helwys, the first Baptist martyr, and co-founder, and original advocate of religious tolerance between Christians, Jews, Muslims, and those with no faith. Thomas Helwys was born in Gainsborough, but his family moved to Broxtowe Hall in Bilborough parish, which later became a centre for radical dissenting activism.

This event has been renamed “Freedom & Tolerance” to broaden the scope and better reflect issues of today. This will be the fifth annual Tolerance Forum to be held in Retford. It provides a unique opportunity for the subject to be discussed in an open forum.

Previous speakers have included Baroness Elizabeth Berridge (International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief), John Mann MP, Prof. John Coffey (University of Leicester), Rev Tony Peck (General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation), Imam Bakhtyar Pirzada (Eaton Hall), Dr David Appleby (University of Nottingham), Mr Phil Lyons (CEO National Holocaust Centre) Prof. Larry Kreitzer (Oxford University), Dr Martin Parsons (Barnabas Fund), and Dr Calum Miller (Oxford University).

Focuses on the people and their stories based on faith heritage, with their roots established in and around Bassetlaw, North Nottinghamshire. The region covered is centred on Retford, with a radius of around 30 miles, including parts of Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire.

Christian Heritage Conference & Religious Tolerance Forum

Coming up in March 2019:

CHRISTIAN HERITAGE CONFERENCE – Retford, Friday 8th March 2019

RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE FORUM – Retford, Saturday 9th March 2019

Following the success of previous events attended by those involved in Christian heritage from across the UK, we are holding our fourth free conference on 8th March 2019 in Retford at The Well. This year we plan to have a mixed programme covering themes and issues from our work, and we hope to have some overseas guests as well. A detailed programme will follow.

Call for topics and presentations:

It would be great if you could let us know if you can speak on a specific topic or development that would be of interest to other group members, for example holding public lectures, events for children/families, marketing, lottery and grant applications etc. Please also let me know if you know of others who might be interested in attending.

Please also feel free to suggest topics for wider discussion or that you would like help with.

Religious Tolerance Forum

On the following morning, a Saturday, we will hold the fourth event marking the contribution of Christians to the development of religious tolerance worldwide. Speakers already booked include Prof Larry Kreitzer talking about the early Baptists and their contribution to religious freedom and Masoud Abadi, an Iranian refugee and campaigner. We are also in discussion with the US Embassy about a speaker from Washington which would be very exciting.

As before, there is NO CHARGE for either of these events but you are asked to pay for lunch on the Friday. Retford has good rail and road links, and we are also arranging low price B & B at Mattersey Bible College.

For further information or to book please contact:

adriangray@pilgrimsandprophets.co.uk

If you want to stay at Mattersey, please let us know soon as space is limited. Please advise on what accommodation you would like and for which nights. Please also indicate if you will be using your own transport or not.

Costs to stay at Mattersey are approximately:

  • Cooked Breakfast £3.00
  • Bed & Breakfast single room £20.00 per night
  • Bed & Breakfast double en-suite room £40.00 for 2 people. £30.00 for 1 person (only 3 rooms available)
  • Bed & Breakfast twin en-suite room £40.00 for 2 people. £30.00 for 1 person (only 1 room available)

Helwys commemoration event highlights the need for religious tolerance as much today as in 1616

Religious intolerance and state oppression pose real dangers to personal freedom. And some 77% of the world’s population live under government restrictions on their beliefs.

DSCN2119

Cllr Jo White, Baroness Berridge, Rev Tony Peck and Adrian Gray

These were among the key messages at an event at The Well in Retford last week (Saturday 12 March), commemorating the 400th anniversary of the death of local Separatist, Thomas Helwys, who first advocated universal religious freedom.

Addressing an audience from across the UK, Baroness Elizabeth Berridge, member of the House of Lords and Co-Chair of the All-Party Group on International Freedom of Religion and Belief, outlined examples from history – and today – of religious intolerance and state oppression.

She cited the reigns of Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth I when, to be a loyal subject to the Crown, religious allegiance to Catholicism and Protestantism respectively was required, and the penalty for failure to conform was severe.

More recent history from the Balkan conflict showed the aligning of loyalty to the Serbian state with belief in the Serbian Orthodox Church. The Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church are forming the same relationship with Russian identity.

In Burma, the Buddhist majority is suspicious of Christian and Muslim minorities, translating into persecution. Iran and Saudi Arabia both practice similar forms of theocracy from opposite sides of Islam. The most extreme current example is that of the so-called Islamic State where religious persecution is being used to attempt to impose a form of government.

Baroness Berridge went on to say that the Pew Research Centre (US)* had estimated that 77% of the world’s population live under governmental restrictions on their beliefs. She explained that an all- party group in Parliament with support from both houses and all parties was trying to raise the profile of the need to stand together to defend the rights of religious freedom for all.

She ended by highlighting that we are today benefitting from the fruits of the sacrifice of Thomas Helwys, who died for his belief in universal religious freedom – for all faiths, and none.

Rev Tony Peck
Rev Tony Peck

Rev Tony Peck, General Secretary of the European Baptist Federation, described the life of Thomas Helwys, including his time spent in Gainsborough with John Smyth, from Sturton. They left for Amsterdam in 1608 and established a Baptist principle of belief in A Declaration of Faith of English People Remaining at Amsterdam in Holland (1611). Helwys returned to England and set up the first English Baptist Church at Spitalfields, London.

He then published A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity, containing the first English language plea for universal religious freedom – for all faiths, and none. He denied the King’s right to impose laws requiring religious conformity and the King responded by imprisoning him in Newgate prison, where he died in around 1616.

Deputy Leader of Bassetlaw District Council and Portfolio Lead for Regeneration, Cllr Jo White, opened the event to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the death of Thomas Helwys. She acknowledged the importance of the area around Retford where the founders of the Baptist, Quaker and Methodist denominations had originated, together with leaders of the Mayflower Pilgrims.

Bassetlaw District Council is proud of this unique aspect of our heritage, she said, and has created an annual Festival of Stories leading up to 2020, the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Pilgrims reaching America. This weekend (Friday 11 and Saturday 12 March) was the start of the Rebels and Religion Festival, with the first national Christian Heritage Conference held at The Well on Friday, which was a great success. She also looked forward to this becoming an annual event.

Local historian, Adrian Gray’s book was launched at this event, entitled From Here We Changed the World. Cllr White commented that this is “a bold statement, but it is a fact, and one we are very proud of”. She thanked people for attending and encouraged everyone to “work together to make positive changes for our future and the future of our children”.

A Release International representative and an Open Doors representative were interviewed by Richard Warren (Assistant Pastor, The Well). They confirmed that 200 million Christians around the world today suffer some form of persecution. The Christian church has become a target for people wishing to express their disapproval of the actions of Western democracies, especially where Christian peoples form minority groups in other cultures.

The event was brought to a close by Adrian Gray. Forty-five visitors joined him for a guided tour of churches relevant to the Helwys story in Askham, Sturton, Saundby and Glentworth; and Gainsborough Old Hall.

Music was provided during the event by Dan Bailey and Lynn Clapperton.

*The Pew Research Centre (US) Latest Trends in Religious Restrictions and Hostilities:

“Looking at the overall level of restrictions – whether resulting from government policies or from hostile acts by private individuals, organizations and social groups – the study finds that restrictions on religion were high or very high in 39% of countries. Because some of these countries (like China and India) are very populous, about 5.5 billion people (77% of the world’s population) were living in countries with a high or very high overall level of restrictions on religion in 2013, up from 76% in 2012 and 68% as of 2007.”