Interfaith in Plymouth
Today in my role as Interfaith Officer of the Plymouth and Exeter District of the Methodist Church I visited Plymouth Centre for Faiths and Cultural Diversity for a seasonal lunch attended by interfaith enthusiasts of many faiths and graced by the Mayor of Plymouth and his mayoress.
I encourage you to explore the website of the centre as it shows an exciting portrayal of interfaith work in Plymouth. Set up by Jonathan Marshall MBE it is a hive of activity and an example for any community which seeks to erect bridges rather than walls. It is both a centre of activity in itself as well as providing educational provision and experiences to help people in the less than multicultural South West to understand the faiths of others and their cultural expression.
I enjoyed the opportunity for networking especially with a young Muslim woman and a retired Hindu academic. As always it was good to know people for whom they are as well as to share our stories and experiences.
For some time I have felt that there needs to be a simple process in interfaith relations that takes on three stages.
The first stage is to share meals with one another. Christians ought to know that Jesus often built the most unlikely relationships by first sharing in table fellowship. There is something in sharing a meal that symbolises acceptance of the other person.
The second stage is to share the things we have in common. The three Abrahamic faiths for example have much in common. I personally love some of the writings of Sufis such as Rumi and find the Prophet to be an inspiring figure whilst there is much about Jewish community living and creative theology which I find uplifting.
The third stage is necessary for honest relationships but can only be addressed after the first stages have been well and truly developed. This is the honest entering into dialogue about the things which trouble us and on which we differ. the fact is that all faiths are not the same but the areas that itch can only be faced when positive relationship building has taken place.
Too often some people want to race to the third stage. To hurry this process is a recipe for misunderstandings and animosity. It also gets in the way of that which we should all be committed to which is the buildings of healthy communities characterised not by tension or mere tolerance but instead communities which exhibit respect.