Sheela-na-Gig aka Jeanne Rathbone

Three Faiths Forum – 3FF and Humanists

Posted in 3FF reject me as a Humanist speaker by sheelanagigcomedienne on March 4, 2014

I was turned down as a volunteer to be a speaker with 3FF ENCOUNTERING FAITH AND BELIEFS after I attended their training day.

The difficulty with the 3 Faiths Forum is quite evident in their title alone. They evidently realise that they have to somehow incorporate Humanism into their programme as it is now part of the curriculum for RE. The review of the Religious Education Council for England and Wales (REC) has published a new subject framework for Religious Education (RE), which, for the first time, puts non-religious worldviews such as Humanism on an equal footing in terms of curriculum time with religious beliefs. This is why 3FF are attempting to squeeze Humanists onto their format. Therein lies the problem with their ECB set-up which claims its  ‘ young speakers’ explain their beliefs and how they came to hold them.

They state that: 3FF’s flagship workshop gives students the chance to meet our young speakers from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Humanist, Muslim, Jewish or Sikh backgrounds, who are role models in interfaith dialogue and co-operation. Evidently, I didn’t fit the bill in terms of age and am not considered to be a role model in interfaith dialogue and cooperation!!

I first encountered the 3FF at our British Humanist Association meeting of SACRE (Standing Advisory Committee on Religious Education) members annual meeting the invited speaker was the director Stephen Shashoua of 3FF –  Three Faiths Forum and later that month I attended an event at Alleyn’s school in Novemeber 2013 based on the format of the 3FF.

Alleyn’s is an independent co-ed christian school in Dulwich.  Their website states:  The six aspects of Alleyn’s Vision are underpinned by the values of Alleyn’s Christian Foundation, whose motto is ‘God’s Gift’, and further enriched by those of other faiths which are all respected and valued at Alleyn’s.Alleyn'sIt was an evening event and the audience was a mix of adults and pupils with their parents. It was instigated by one of my fellow Humanist celebrants who was keen to set it up with Alom Shaha as the Humanist speaker. Alom is an ex-pupil of the school and author of The Young Atheist’s Handbook. It followed the usual format of the 3FF of a facilitator and speakers telling their personal story of how they came to their beliefs. The usual format is, of course, three speakers but this had four!

Here is the for that event

Encountering Faiths and Beliefs

Whatever our own backgrounds, the opportunity to hear from people with different faiths or beliefs from our own is rare. Based on a programme developed by 3FF (Three Faiths Forum), on 28th November you can come and hear four speakers – Christian, Jew, Humanist and Muslim – explain their beliefs and how they came to hold them. And afterwards, there will be a question and answer session.

The panellists are :

• Abigail Kay: graduate charity management trainee
• Alom Shaha: author of The Young Atheist’s Handbook and a trustee of the British Humanist Association
• Rev. Paul Collier: Copleston Centre Church, Peckham
• Themina Kazi: Director, British Muslims for Secular Democracy


It was quite interesting and I thought I would inquire further about volunteering as I reckoned that it sounded like a good way to volunteer to speak in schools about Humanism. As so many young people are NOT religious believers I think it is very important that this is acknowledged and that they get an opportunity to have their natural beliefs validated. Most importantly, I think that any forum should be INCLUSIVE. However, it is apparent that the very title 3FF is PROBLEMATIC and  I had reservations about it.

I checked out their website.     Three Faiths Forum | 3FF

It was the Encountering Faiths and Beliefs that interested me as this seemed to be the only section that even mentioned Humanist! So I applied and was invited to the training day which happened to coincide with the Wednesday of the Tube strike but I did manage to get to it via the overgorund to Kentish Town West from Clapham Junction without getting strike crowd Clpham Junction

Encountering Faiths and Beliefs

3FF’s flagship workshop gives students the chance to meet our young speakers from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Humanist, Muslim, Jewish or Sikh backgrounds, who are role models in interfaith dialogue and co-operation. Speakers share short personal narratives side by side, and students have the chance to have their burning questions answered.

Through this workshop students will:

  • Deepen their learning about different faiths and beliefs by engaging directly with people from various belief traditions and communities.
  • Identify key similarities and differences, within faith/belief traditions as well as between them
  • Have the opportunity to ask (often controversial!) questions in a safe space
  • Practice skills for  creating positive relations between people of different beliefs

Inspire young people. Share your story in our interfaith workshops.3ff photo

Are you based near London? Do you want to promote understanding of your faith or belief?

We are looking for confident and enthusiastic volunteers from a variety of religious and non-religious backgrounds to speak with us in schools across London and occasionally further afield. Help us tackle misconceptions and inspire young people by sharing your experiences and beliefs. 

You don’t need to be an expert – you just need some knowledge about your tradition in order to answer the students’ questions, a passion for discussing issues of faith and identity, and a willingness to engage constructively with others.

We’ll provide you with training to help you share your story in an exciting way, and tips to improve your knowledge. You’ll become part of the 3FF speaker network, with regular meetings, opportunities for personal development and interfaith events. All your expenses will be covered (including the necessary DBS check) and you can pick the sessions which match your availability.



Here is the response that I got from  3FF.

Dear Jeanne,

 Thank you so much for applying to become a Speaker with 3FF, and attending Speaker Training on Wednesday.

We much enjoyed meeting you, and would like to thank you for sharing your many interesting ideas and contributions throughout the day.  However, we do not feel that becoming a speaker with 3FF is the right volunteering opportunity for you at the moment.  We have to be very careful at 3FF that we retain a positive interfaith message during our workshops.  Whilst we aim to be as inclusive as possible of all faith and non-faith perspectives, we also have to ensure that we do not send speakers into schools who give negative or critical views of religion.  Although we have no wish to ‘police’ our speakers’ use of language and we encourage them to express their experiences honestly, we are also conscious that some of the vocabulary which appeared in your story on Wednesday could cause offence in some contexts; and we have to tread very carefully to ensure that we are respectful of other people’s beliefs and ideologies.

We are grateful for your interest in 3FF and hope that you will continue to be involved with our work through other capacities.  Please sign up to our mailing list to be kept informed of different opportunities and our ongoing work.  Do also feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss the points in this email further.

With thanks again for your interest, and all good wishes,


At the training session I said what my early experience of being brought up by nuns in the very Catholic Ireland of the 1950s which included the the early preparation , aged seven, for making confession to and having to go to tell our to a priest in a dark confessional box like a wardrobe and how we had to learn by rote the dogma of the church using the questions and  answer format of the cathecism in preparation for receiving Holy Communion which is supposed to be the body and blood of Jesus Christ in the form of a little white wafer whilst dressed as minature brides in white, dress, veil and matching accessories. I said how it was strange and spooky but how a seven yearold couldn’t question it.  I said that I came to realise later the role of women in Catholicism  and religon was repressive and that the ethos and influence of the church in Ireland was one of the main reasons why I emigrated.

I responded and attached my revised bland personal story.

Thanks for email letting me know that you do not want me to become a 3FF volunteer based on my story presentation at Wednesdays training. As this was something I had written before coming on the training I went ahead and delivered it on the basis that it would have to be altered according to the feedback and training. I, like many BHA members, have rejected religious beliefs as we search for knowledge and answers.

I thought that part of this training was to share with others my particular story and journey to becoming an atheist/Humanist Celebrant from my early experiences of the religious schooling and repressive Catholic culture of Ireland in the 50s and 60s which was one of the main reasons that I emigrated. I would have thought that many personal stories representing non-religious beliefs would have come from people who had some awareness of religious cultures and been reared in nominally Christian countries like Britain who then reject them. As a non-believer I am acutely aware that school assemblies have to be of a ‘mainly Christian character’ and that is something that the BHA challenges.

Most members of the British Humanist Association would have been brought up in some sort of religious environment and are therefore predominantly C of E atheists. People from an Irish Catholic or Muslim background are very rare!  I also did notice that the three Humanist stories that we were presented with at the training were male and I recognised who they were!

I have attached my revised story based on this feedback and the requirements of 3FF. I found this to be a useful exercise for myself, given the brief. As a Humanist Celebrant and member of my local SACRE I do get invited to schools and groups as a speaker to represent the atheist/Humanist perspective. Uually this does not include my personal story but more a presentation of Humanism, using our questionnaire as starters to help people see where they lie on the religious/humanist spectrum.
I was a little suprised that I was rejected as someone unsuitable to reperesent a Humanist perspective with the 3FF without being able to my submit my revised personal story as to how I became a Humanist. I accept your decision and I found the training session useful and interesting and will use my revised personal story.

My personal story of how I became a Humanist.

My name is Jeanne Rathbone and I am a Humanist. I was born in Ireland and left as a teenager and came to London and I have lived here for 52 years since 1962. I have three children and a grandchild. I have had a varied career from being a laboratory technician, childminder, youth worker, Women’s Officer in local government, trainer, adult education tutor, counsellor, comedy performer and now Humanist ceremony celebrant.

Ireland was a very Catholic country in the 50s and most schools were run by nuns and priests.  At the age of seven I was beingprepared, like all the other children, for the religious rituals  of confession and first communion. I had to learn by rote the teachings and rules of the church from the catechism which was done in a questions and answers format. I felt uneasy about a lot of this but I felt that I couldn’t question it and went along with it and the compulsory attendance at church every Sunday after that.  By the time I was a teenager I knew that I didn’t believe in gods and I had resolved that as soon as I could that I would stop going to church.

I went to University in my home city of Galway. I was the first in my family of seven to go to University and, as my father was paying for it, he would only fund me if I studied science rather than arts subjects. I failed my examinations and felt I had to leave home and so I came to London and stayed for a short time with one of my sisters who was married with a family.  I ended up working in a laboratory because of my qualifications but didn’t like it.

Soon afterwards I met my husband and we actually got married in a church in Ireland, where my uncle was the priest, because there were no registry offices in Ireland then. However, to get married in the church we had to attend a pre-marital course run by a priest. It did feel hypocritical but my husband thought it was funny as I always seem to argue with the priest. After that I had nothing to do with the church.

After I had two of my three children I went to study philosophy at University. I enjoyed it. One of the subjects was epistemology and metaphysics which is examines truth, belief and the supernatural. By then it was obvious that I would be described as an  atheist.

At the same time I got interested in feminism and attended groups and classes which focused on why women were treated differently to men and what the origins of this might be.  Again I concluded that many of the misogynistic attitudes towards women came from religious thought and that men were predominantly the leaders and the writers of the holy books and women had  a secondary place.    

I became involved in the Labour party, in local politics, in feminist and Irish groups and campaigns.  I was a school governor for decades and believe that all children should be educated together.  I feel strongly that inequality in wealth, power and  opportunity is bad for us all and society. I believe in democracy, free-speech and challenging privilege and unfairness. 

About twenty years ago I went to a few funerals here and in Ireland which were all conducted by a religious minister although the people who died were not religious believers. I knew there had to be an alternative and when I looked into it I found that there were organisations representing the non-religious but it was the British Humanist Association that reflected most what I felt and believed.

I joined and when I got the welcome pack it mentioned that they did provide people who conducted the rite-of- passage ceremonies of funerals, weddings and namings sometimes called hatchings, matchings and dispatchings. They were called ‘officiants’ then but now we are called ceremony celebrants. All our ceremonies are personal and different. It is the most rewarding and interesting work that I have ever done. The funerals are the most important as we are helping people to say goodbye to someone they loved. I help people to say what needs to be said at this time and encourage them to share their thoughts and memories of their loved one. Namings and weddings also include family and friends speaking and wedding couples write their own vows to each other and there is a section called the ‘Story so far’ which is all about the couple, how theymet and the dynamics of their relationship.. There is usually humour as I believe that it is essential to life.   

My first feeling after joining the BHA was ‘at home, at last‘. I applied to train as a celebrant. It felt like all my knowledge, experience and skills came together and that I had finally found out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

I describe myself as Humanist. Although I don’t believe in gods or the supernatural I do not want to be described only as an atheist as it says nothing about what I do believe. Humanism is a philosophy of life and ethics that is based on human nature and the natural world. I believe that we have to take responsibility for each other, for solving the problems of humanity and for keeping a balance between our needs and nature. 

I have served on faith and belief groups as I believe that there should be a humanist perspective included but also because it is crucial that we come together as an inclusive group of religious and non-religious. I am a member of my local SACRE which decides on Religious Education syllabus and I am invited into schools as a humanist speaker.

I think that the 3FF format is one of the best ways of introducing children to different religions and beliefs with a facilitator and three different faith/beliefs represented with their personal stories followed by a Q&A session. I think young people relate to it very well and as they become more informed they can pass it on to their parents.

Jeanne Rathbone

11th February 2014


I was so delighted when I recently read the poem by Paula Meehan who is Ireland’s National poet. The poet Laureate and the other four national poets are ALL women. Hurrah.   (from left) Liz Lochhead, Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke and Paula Meehan Photograph: Southbank Centre where they are performing this Saturday for International Women’s day.
Composite image showing (from left) Liz Lochhead, Carol Ann Duffy, Gillian Clarke and Paula Meehan
Paula’s poem reflects what I said in my piece for the 3FF and in my Sheela-na-Gig show about CONFESSION, God and the priests made in his image.     DIRTY OUL FECKERS  she said.
Hannah, Grandmother

   Coldest day yet of November
   her voice close in my ear--

   tell them priests nothing.

   Was I twelve? Thirteen?

   Filthy minded.

   Keep your sins to yourself.

   Don't be giving them a thrill.

   Dirty oul feckers.

   As close as she came to the birds and the bees.
   on her knees in front of the Madonna,

   Our Lady of the Facts of Life
   beside the confessional--
   oak door closing like a coffin lid

   neatly carpentered
   waxed and buffed.

   In the well made box of this poem
   her voice dies.

   She closes her eyes

   and lowers her brow to her joined hands.
   Prays hard:

   woman to woman.
Here is Paula reciting it.         Cúirt 2013: Paula MeehanHannah, Grandmother – YouTube
Happy Women’s Day –  La na mna faoi shona duit.
Int nat womenA woman is like a tea bag – you never know how strong she is until she gets in hot water. – Eleanor Roosevelt

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