The Joy of Faith - the journey goes on
The joy of faith and friendship was apparent at the public lecture for Inter Faith Week held at Leeds Trinity University on 20th November. An excellent lecture on “Jews, Christians and Muslims: Minority Transformations and the Crossing of Boundaries” was given by Dr Ed Kessler Director of the Woolf Institute, Cambridge, with responses by Sister Teresa Brittain of the Sisters of Sion in Manchester and Qari Muhammad Asim from the award winning Makkah Mosque in Headingley. It transpired that the three were already friends or colleagues. Teresa and Ed through long standing connection with the Council of Christians and Jews, and Christian Jewish relations in general; Muhammad and Ed through collaboration with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Advisory Group on Freedom of Religion and Belief and Muhammad’s contribution to the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life convened by the Woolf Institute.
The photo reflects the atmosphere of warmth, honesty, understanding and mutual enrichment that was created and in which all participated. Sister Teresa spoke of inter faith encounter, entering into the world and perspectives of the other, as like falling in love. “You can’t emerge from the experience the same. You are different, you have acquired something of the other, you have grown; you are not what you were before. Your own faith is illuminated and deepened by encountering the faith of the other, and you take this new dimension of faith and life with you as you journey on”.
Earlier in the autumn an event on Christian Mission and Muslim Dawah (invitation to faith) was held in Leeds. Before we started the organisers agreed to ask the Lord that the evening be a joyful one. It was. Far from being a doleful exposition of incompatible truths, it was a reflection on our capacity to be together and understand one another even when doctrines and profoundly held beliefs might in some ways separate us. In fact, that evening the possibility of shared witness by believers to a world so sceptical about God also came to the fore. It was evident too at the Inter Faith Week event through the ‘witness’ given by our three speakers. Much more was achieved by the three together than could have been by one alone. Many left the event with a new and deep awareness of the importance of inter faith dialogue and collaboration.
What we actually believe as Christians, the very nature of our faith, means that the commitment to dialogue and not stopping in the face of difficulties are embedded in our spiritual DNA. So it behoves us to recognise and celebrate love for God in all those who seek to live according to the Golden Rule, shared by all religions, “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (cf Luke 6:31). We can recognise that ‘God-dimension’ when we ourselves are people who love, who believe in love and who are ready to serve and help our neighbours. Then the presence, sometimes hidden, of God, in us or in the other, can suddenly become an experience of the presence of God among his children, true joy.
As an ecumenical officer working for CTE I have experienced great joy in being with and working with Christians of other traditions and perspectives; with the CTE and FCG staff in the same building, and with others in the Churches or ecumenical instruments. There is a naturalness about being together as well as very positive outcomes. My inter faith role has been largely focused on intra-Christian collaboration, considering how much expertise, knowledge and resources could be shared across the churches; and in encouraging more Christians to get involved.
Towards the end of February I will be moving to Italy to work with the Focolare at its Centre south of Rome. I will relinquish my post at CTE with sadness and joy. Sadness at leaving colleagues and a job I love, joy to think that the work will continue with new levels of collaboration among the churches, new ideas and new opportunities.
Celia Blackden 01.12.14