Faith and Connection

Published December 17, 2019 by Amy Rhys-Davies

It's nearly Christmas, the decorations are up, gift buying is well underway, and the children are excited. For me, this time of year always seems to bring on deeper contemplations about childhood, religious tradition and beliefs.

Before joining the Institute 20 months ago, I felt a deep-seated need to do something of meaning, with individuals who respected, listened and positively engaged with one another. Where human interaction and understanding was more important than that of ego and material gain. My commercial experiences were filled with expectations of self-promotion, career progression and demonstrable success.

Whilst I have always been driven to better myself and provide for my family, these priorities never aligned with the way I perceived life and I wanted to focus my energy on making a positive difference.

Having worked in the commercial sector for most of my adult life, a move to the Woolf Institute was daunting to say the least. It was an academic environment, with a prestigious Board of Trustees, an entrepreneurial Founder and a Royal Patron - a far cry from my modest beginnings! What could I possibly bring to the table and what on Earth do I know about religion (I said to myself)? Still, I was joining an organisation with a passion for bringing people together, something to which I could finally relate.

Over the last few months I have grappled with a lack of religious identity and wider faith knowledge. I had a loose Christian upbringing having attended a C of E primary school and brought up by a 'born again Christian' father in my early teens. My mother was, and still is, an atheist. How could these experiences possibly prepare me to connect with colleagues, specialists in their fields, within a religious context? How would I navigate the extensive knowledge base and diverse faith backgrounds of the individuals I was to work with?

As it happens, months on, I have found 'faith' in a religious context has nothing to do with the success of these relationships. Yet paradoxically 'faith' has everything to do with it. Faith is clearly an integral part of peoples lives at the Institute, but it takes many forms. What I have found is that the strongest collective faith is that which individuals have in one another, and in those they connect with outside of the Institute. Through their open-mindedness, their quiet but attentive ears, their ability to find commonality in a sea of digital and political noise, they persistently pursue that which connects us all in a quest to eliminate conflict.

Whilst I still scramble for Wikipedia to explain in laymen's terms, the difference between groups of Shia Muslims, or the significance of Jewish traditions; I am truly grateful to be surrounded by such an honest, funny and engaging group of individuals who remind me everyday that faith in people is arguably the greatest faith of them all.

Amy Rhys-Davies joined the Woolf Institute in March 2018 as Director of Services and Administration and Company Secretary.

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