A contemporary Danish Christian paper ‘Christian Light’, wrote an article about the rise of quiet and prayer rooms in the UK. They site our work as an example, here is the translated piece:
Interfaith space is growing
Bjarne Nørum written from the United Kingdom | 24 October 2012
“the church it is an old house”
(from a old Christian church song, that almost everybody knows) as it is said in one of Grundtvigs hymns.
A: I just read this old song through, to get an impression of its message, and it seems to be, that it is the honest/true Christian spirit that makes the church, not the physical shape, meaning not the body but the spirit counts, and where people gather in the Christian spirit, there is a church.
But, when it comes to new religious houses, then it is no longer the church that is leading the way. It is instead multi-faith spaces, that are taking the lead, which can be seen clearly in Great Britain. For Professor Linda Woodhead from Lancaster University, who headed the research project “Religion and Society”, the figure was so surprising that she started to ask how many have been established in recent decades. A first weak guess (that those multi-faith spaces would be found) at airports and hospitals are met with an indulgent smile “Over 1500th. It’s really fascinating. They are at service stations on motorways, they are in shopping centres, schools, hospitals and airports. They are the religious spaces of our time,” concludes Linda Woodhead, who also sees the many interfaith spaces, as something that are almost established in defiance.
“They are in a way a failure. It is almost always ugly buildings and spaces in which maybe the trunk from a toilet drains into a corner, and where there is video surveillance. And they have candles without wick for safety considerations. They are soulless, opposite to beautiful churches or other religious buildings which are meant to be lifting one’s mood. But they show that we are in a changing time where we do not know what to do with religion and spirituality. But we are trying to do something new, “she says.
But the dull spaces and buildings that are made available out of duty, belong to the past, evaluates Helen Sanderson, head of interior design company Quiet Room Designs. “When I started seven years ago, the trend was that companies would neither finance or make rooms available. The desire for multi-faith space was more seen as an inconvenience or an annoyance, that they had to deal with, “says Helen Sanderson, who among others know examples where Muslim employees had to pray Friday prayers on the back stairs, because there was not anywhere else. Management of a large accounting firm acknowledged, therefore, that it was not a phenomenon that would disappear, and then they wanted something that was a more appropriate framework. “Now the trend is that companies no longer see these kind of spaces as an unnecessary waste of space, but as evidence that management also appreciates spirituality in the workplace,” emphasizes Helen Sanderson. It usually requires that all clearly religious symbols are removed. But that does not mean that there can be no decoration and Helen Sanderson sees a shift away from rooms that were completely sterile and neutral out of the fear to insult someone. One of her recent projects has been to transform a former chapel for the organization Marie Curie, who provide care for cancer patients. “Some were outraged that the chapel was to be changed. But because the space was not used very much, they wanted to change it into something that could be used by any religion and those with no faith. The wish was a neutral room, which had a wow-factor” highlights Helen Sanderson, who indicates that the wow is also a corresponding feeling many have when they go into a beautiful church.
If there are many Muslim users of an interfaith space, then there are other requirements, but still without putting religious symbols in it. The neutral space, which is a haven for all – regardless of religion, dominates the growth of new religious spaces. Experts estimate that the UK has created over 1500 in the last decade. “So it must be a more open space, because especially at Friday prayers it is preferable to pray in long rows. Therefore there must be something that shows the direction of Mecca. It may be a discrete line of the floor, but can be done in a stylish way ” explains Helen Sanderson.
Linda Woodhead points out that research shows that the new places /spaces are being used, but/yet in very different ways. “In airports, they are used a lot, and people traveling, ask for them. They are used by the individual or people of the same faith. But these spaces are not particularly good at getting people to mix across religion. And if there is a group of evangelical Christians who sing hymns, then others do not enter,” explains Linda Woodhead. The solution that universities have employed has been to use a schedule plan for when the different groups use the space/room. But despite the separation, the researchers also found that the interfaith space helps to titillate ones curiosity. “A university chaplain told me about a Hindu student who was interested in Christianity. ‘I am Hindu, but I am interested in Christianity, and I would like to be confirmed ‘. So we see the beginning of a mixture of religion. And it is an indication of our confusion. The rooms shows our confusion in stone [A: plays on the saying: to write something in stone, means, making it very clear for everyone, and also for the generations to come].
We do not know where we are, but we try, “summarises Linda Woodhead, who also says that the conservative religious voices most loudly warn against any mixing of religion.
NB. if you are a Danish speaker, find the full Danish version on our website here.