November: Andrew’s Story
Canon Dr Andrew Smith – or as he is more widely known, Smeeee, is the Founder and Chair of Trustees of The Feast
So it seemed only fitting for this, our last ‘10 Years & 10 Stories’ reflections, to ask Andrew how The Feast has personally impacted him.
How has The Feast personally impacted me? This feels like a rather strange question to answer as The Feast was set up to impact young people, and that still remains our focus. What has become apparent over the years is that the act of working to help young people of different faiths and cultures make friends and talk about their faiths transforms all of us involved in the work.
Although I set The Feast up based on the youth projects I had been running since 2000, chairing the charity has required me to step back from the day-to-day youth work and focus on recruiting, training and supporting our amazing team of volunteers and staff, so most of the impact on me has come through the adults rather than the young people.
However, there have been a couple of notable exceptions. When The Feast was just a year or two old our staff team of Natasha, Jenny and Tim ran a talent show and during the evening they interviewed the young people about their involvement with The Feast. What struck me was that, apart from the new friendships and understanding, they talked about how The Feast had helped them be more confident in their lessons, they were now more engaged with the wider life of school and participating in activities they would normally have shied away from. I realised that what we were doing had a far bigger impact than we expected, the benefits spilled out into different areas of life, I realised that the work was more vital and more beneficial than we first believed.
As I said at the start the biggest impact has come through the adults I’ve had the privilege to work with and call friends. I have learnt so much about Islam, Sikhism and different expressions of Christianity. I’ve been taught about Pakistani culture, different Caribbean cultures, American Culture, Indian Culture and so many more that impact the way we understand the world and express our faiths.
I’ve been really humbled by people’s enthusiasm for an idea I tried out in 2000 not knowing whether anyone else would think it was worth trying. Over the years, people from different countries have taken the idea of The Feast and developed it in their own contexts, I’ve had the amazing privilege of meeting young people and leaders in a number of different countries who’s lives have been transformed as they’ve taken the Guidelines for Dialogue and our core principles and tried them out in their situations.
In the last couple of years, we’ve begun to realise that the Guidelines for Dialogue have uses beyond the youth work we’ve been doing. People have been saying to us that this way of talking is useful in other areas of life with people of no faith and with adults as well as young people, that they would have use in the workplace. I’m sure you’ll have seen that this year we’ve had the Guidelines for Dialogue translated into ten different languages as we come to the end of that project we have also decided to have then written in a slightly different way. We’ve taken out the references to young people and have changed the word of belief and faith to ideas and culture. This has been done to make them useful and accessible for adults, and especially where there are people of no faith in the discussions. Our hope is that the example of The Feast and particularly the way that young people have been changed through using these guidelines will go on to have an impact in wider society, in organisations, businesses and dare we even hope to influence political discussion.
Our core work will always remain bringing together young people of different faiths, but the impact that seeing these guidelines in action has had on me is to see that a simple idea, I believe God helped me develop many years ago is now having an influence way beyond where we imagined it could go.