This was the matter of discussion around the table at Clare College, Cambridge on the Co-exist training course. The other members of the group were seven Jews, seven Muslims and seven Christians, including me. But we were not going to answer the question from our own personal experience but by reference to our sacred texts, through the process of Scriptural Reasoning.
Scriptural Reasoning is an engagement with texts that each traditions considers Holy, in this case, the New Testament, the Koran and the Hebrew Bible. Having chosen the theme, each community member is asked to read or recite the text, in Hebrew or Arabic, or in our case an English translation. And then it is read again by someone of a different tradition, always in English. Then the ‘reasoning’ begins!
I wonder what text you would pick to exemplify leadership in the Christian tradition? We chose Luke 9:47 in which Jesus dispels an argument about who should be the greatest by showing a small child. The familiar imperative that the first shall be last and the last first ...
From the Hebrew Bible the text was concerning Moses, handing over to Joshua before entry into the land of Promise. And the Muslims chose a passage in which Mohammed (peace be upon him) was enjoined to stay up through the night to pray.
Very contrasting texts, with many overlaps and resonances. We each dipped into our ‘inner libraries’ for resources, we spoke of how these words were interpreted within our own faith traditions, we nodded and sometimes disagreed.
What did I learn? Firstly, that my Christian heritage has formed me, that I have made decisions in my own life and in my relationships with others in which I have taken for granted that the first will be last. But I also heard echoes of Wesley’s life, studying through the night, in the life of Mohammed. And I thought about ‘succession’ of leadership and how we address it within our own tradition. Moses, appointed Joshua, handing over leadership in a conscious act whereas we get the impression that the Disciples rather had it given to them as an unlikely surprise!
What I learned mostly is that interfaith engagement of this sort does not diminish my Christian faith, but rather encourages me to re-visit my beliefs amongst others, and in doing so, we are all given tools for greater understanding and peace.
To find out more about Co-exist and the Cambridge Interfaith Programme then visit:
Despite the challenging times that we found ourselves in during our stay, there were good things too. Jim and I really loved going around the farm and sitting with the women as they picked and processed the cotton. We also found we had some musical talent!
Despite being asked three times at Manchester airport whether we were in the wrong queue, Jim Hope and I managed to get to Islamabad and from there to Multan in the South of Pakistan. Here we were due to lead seminars for the clergy on setting up and managing small projects. Jim is from Skipton and has experience in farming and teaching Agriculture.
On the second day I preached in Multan Cathedral, and at lunchtime we heard of the devastating bomblasts in Peshawar, in which 125 worshippers had been killed by a suicide attack. After this, there were many interfaith gatherings, candlelight vigils and prayers for peace. The Christian community were on strike for three days and there were protests to encourage heightened security measures for all religious minorities.
It was a privelege to be asked to represent the British Methodist Church at the Methodist Conference of Sri Lanka. It was also good to learn about the great strides being taken to restore peace in the country and the many challenges that face this nation post-conflict. The Methodist Church in Sri Lanka is celebrating its 200 year Jubilee this year and it was an opportunity to take a big photo too! Although we can't see everyone's faces here, the picture includes some really impressive people who have lead the Church through some really tough times. The Church in Sri Lanka is the only organisation that is inclusive of both Tamil and Singhala people, and although the Conference is in three languages, which makes it a bit slow at times, the desire to be inclusive and to bring peace through understanding is a most remarkable thing.
As we explore what it means for us to be a 'listening community' it is important that we listen and learn from others who share wisdom and experience. So, a visit to the Corrymeela Community was in order, and there was much to learn!
The vision of the 'peace wall' in Belfast, which continues to separate Protestants and Catholics, is still a chastening reminder of what happens when communities do not find a safe space to address differrences. I was amused however by the intrepid bird that has made its nest at the top of this tree, thus getting a good view of both communities. If only we all had the eyes (and courage) of birds!
The competition was tight at Skipton for the Table tennis Challenge. But a great afternoon was had trying to outwit Roger Walton, the Methodist District Chair, who is on tour challenging people to raise funds for Touchstone.
How many names of God can you think of? A group of women from different faith traditions gathered at Touchstone on Saturday to create a wall hanging depicting our favourite names of God. 'Remover of obstacles', 'The Giver of all', 'Bread of Life' to name but a few. Artist, Shaeron Caton-Rose, will bring the finished hanging to a celebration meal in the new year... watch this space.
Ok, so here's a great idea. Make a load of Christmas decorations
Book a stall on Bakewell Market to sell them ... make sure that it is the windiest day of the year with plenty of flood warnings about ...
enlist the help of a man who can walk in the air ...
and put on 263 layers of warm clothing!
Result? £100 Touchstone didn't have before
and a team leader with permafrost ...
Liz and Ruth went ‘prayer weaving’ to Bradford College as part of Interfaith week. Stood in the busy atrium of the Westbrook building, we were humbled and moved by the response of students and staff to our invitation to ‘say a little prayer’. And what an insight into the prayers and concerns of that diverse community... prayers of thanksgiving for mums, dads and chocolate, prayers for family members, prayers in Arabic, prayers for those undergoing medical treatment,... and time and again, prayers for peace in Palestine. We join our prayers to theirs.