Working to improve mutual understanding between the Middle East and the West


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2020 Fellowship Retreat

The 2020 Retreat

Collaborative initiatives encouraged at Gingko’s Third Interfaith Fellowship “Retreat”, held virtually

 Collaboration was the emphasis of this year’s Gingko Interfaith Fellowship Retreat, which was held online the afternoon of Thursday 16th April 2020, due to the global lockdown imposed as a result of Covid-19. The “Retreat” was facilitated by Gingko’s Founder Dr Barbara Schwepcke and Dr Joshua Ralston, co-founder of the Christian-Muslim Studies Network at the University of Edinburgh.

In a special session, former British Ambassador to Cairo John Casson launched the Gingko Fellowship Collaborations Prize. He will be one of three judges assessing submissions to the prize, along with Professor Mona Siddiqui (University of Edinburgh) and Canon Anthony Ball (Westminster Abbey). A sum of £1,000 will be awarded to a group of fellows who can put forward the best collaborative and innovative initiative with potential for wide-reaching impact. The judges are open-minded as to what the winning initiative could look like, but will particularly welcome projects that cross boundaries between countries and faiths, and from scholarship to wider leadership.

John Casson, who founded the Al-Azhar UK Scholarship Programme during his tenure in Cairo, explained: “Rare seeds of future global leadership have been planted in the last 3 years through the Gingko Fellowship and by bringing brilliant scholars from Cairo’s Al Azhar University to Britain.  Now we want to feed and water the innovation and insight in this unique group into new fruit.  With this new prize we challenge our brightest and best to use the deep resources of faith and learning to transform our global challenges.  We are excited to see what this new generation can do.”

The launch of the Gingko Fellowship Collaborations Prize was followed by a session facilitated by Dr Joshua Ralston on collaboration in the field of Christian-Muslim Studies. The Fellows also took part in a session designed to help them practise pitching their work and research, led by Gingko trustee Harry Hall.

In a concluding session, which focused on the future and the Retreat going to Cairo in 2021, the current UK Ambassador to Egypt Sir Geoffrey Adams said: “The Al-Azhar UK scholarship scheme is something we value very highly, and this scheme is an unbelievably impactful way to create the kind of connections we’ve been hearing about, between religions and people, that last a lifetime. We’re grateful to everyone involved in devising and running this brilliant series of seminars and retreats that complement the Al-Azhar UK Scholarship scheme.”

The Rt Revd Bishop Mouneer, Bishop in Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa, Cairo, said: “It’s a great joy to hear about this fellowship and how Al-Azhar and UK PhD scholars are communicating and working together for mutual understanding. […] We would be delighted and honoured to host you at our small conference centre in Cairo.”

Wen-Pin Leow, former student at the University of Oxford now working in Singapore as Director of the Centre for Disability Ministry in Asia and Lecturer in Biblical and Interdisciplinary Studies at the Biblical Graduate School of Theology in Singapore, said: “Although we could not meet face-to-face in 2020, the virtual retreat was a great effort allowing the Gingko Fellows to renew our friendships and think about the opportunities available for collaboration even amid the difficult times of Covid-19.”

Dr Barbara Haus Schwepcke, Founder of Gingko, said: “We are thrilled that we were able to hold the Retreat despite the challenging circumstances, albeit virtually. It remains our conviction that never has the Gingko Fellowship Programme been more important and relevant than it is today, and we look forward to seeing what collaborations develop as a result of the seeds we have sown thus far. The virtual “Retreat”, which in previous years has taken place over three days in a secluded countryside venue and offered recreational time including a now traditional football match, was Gingko’s reaction to the challenging circumstances in which the world still finds itself while the global lockdown due to Covid-19 continues. But this only serves to strengthen our anticipation for next year’s retreat, which is planned to take place in Cairo in April 2021, when we will all meet again in the flesh. The 2021 Gingko Fellowship Retreat will be extra special as it will not only be the culmination of the first cycle, but also a new chapter which will see an expansion of the Fellowship.”