Diversity is a “positive gift” to be welcomed, delegates at a Christians Aware conference on the issue were told.
Ecumenical charity Christians Aware resumed its annual January conference in person last weekend after last year’s online AGM due to Covid restrictions.
Transcending Divisions in a World of Diversity, held 14-16 January at Swanwick in Derbyshire, attracted around 50 Christians Aware members and around 20 joined on Zoom from as far away as Australia. The educational and religious charity – under the leadership of executive secretary Barbara Butler – works with other faiths and the secular world on the promotion of Justice and Peace.
Conference chair, Bishop John Perumbalath of Bradwell in the Church of England Diocese of Chelmsford, who hails from South India’s Christian community in Kerala, called for humility in engagement with other faiths in order to transcend religious divisions.
“We live in a world where diversity is a problem to be solved rather than an issue to embrace as a positive gift,” he said. He called for a move beyond dialogue and to work together on issues of the common good. As chair of the Churches Refugee Network of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, he highlighted refugee support, where local initiatives are often ecumenical and interfaith. He stressed the commitment of the Churches to welcome strangers and to highlight that asylum is a human right, recognising diversity “as a positive gift”. He felt Churches have a role in the public square and “we must transcend man-made boundaries”.
Professor Anthony Reddie, director of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Culture at Regent’s Park College, University of Oxford and a leading black theology scholar, addressed transcending cultural divisions and called on the gathering to face the issue of Racism in Britain. He recalled that as the only black child in his reception class at school in Bradford he felt teachers “assumed I was a problem to be solved”. He welcomed new dialogues such as the Black Lives Matter movement and greater acknowledgement of the rights of First Nations’ communities.
A workshop on “Transcending Divisions: the Climate Crisis” highlighted the collaboration between Christian Churches and other religions at November’s COP26 UN Climate Conference in Glasgow. Images from the faiths bloc of the 6 November march through Glasgow showed consensus on such issues as fossil fuels and funding for loss and damage.
There was a call to support ecumenical, interfaith and secular initiatives to challenge destructive extractive industries and to support a just energy transition. An early Christians Aware Action Card of 2022 focuses on follow-up to COP26, including further divestment from fossil fuels and signing the Healthy People, Healthy Planet petition.
Columban missionaries ran a stall of resources, part of the Catholic presence at the conference. Their study programme for the Laudato Si’ encyclical of Pope Francis remains popular with all the Churches.
Saturday morning’s Bible Study, led by Barbara Butler, used the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well as an example of a meeting across cultural and gender barriers. She urged reflection on where there are hostilities between peoples today and how we can bring healing. Her book Just Food. Food and Farming for a Sustainable Future was available.
Also, new Christians Aware publications: Timothy Biles’s It's the Journey reflecting his experiences of life in lands dominated by the Muslims of Pakistan, the Hindus of India, the Buddhists of Sri Lanka and the Jews of Israel-Palestine; and Brian Macdonald-Milne’s Seeking Peace in the Pacific, the story of conflict and Christianity in the Central Solomon Islands.
Musician Geoff Weaver led a participatory Saturday evening session on worship music on the conference theme. Leading from the piano, Geoff led the singing of hymns such as Marty Haugen’s Let us build a house where love can dwell, God of freedom, God of Justice by Shirley Erana Murray and international songs from Bolivia and Korea. The final prayer of the conference said: “As God’s forgiven and renewed people, we are sent out in the power of the Holy Spirit, ready to work for our world and its people every day.”
Events organised by Leicester-based Christians Aware in 2022 include a May Pilgrimage in Somerset to sites associated with Abbot Aldhelm (c.640-709) and a summer school in North Yorkshire.
Christians Aware is a membership organisation.
For more information see: www.christiansaware.co.uk