Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Faith, Hope & Love

I have been asked to submit an article for this years Methodist Conference Handbook. The Conference is being hosted this year by Birmingham, Chester and Stoke on Trent, and Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury Districts of the Methodist Church at Wolverhampton Civic Hall from 2nd - 9th July. Here is my contribution that I sent to the editor today.

Methodists have been and are central to inter faith work in the West Midlands. Ivy Gutteridge, who received an OBE in honour of decades of activism, was a pioneer of inter faith work in Wolverhampton in the 1960s and contemporary Methodists are at the heart of West Midlands Faiths Forum, with Revd Gareth Jones as the Inter Faith Development Officer operating out of the forums Birmingham base.

But it is not only or even primarily in local inter faith groups and politically inspired Faith Forums that inter faith work goes on, but in the ordinary lives of Christians living in a multi-faith society. Everyday dialogue and encounter between Christians and people of other faith traditions is taking place and developing throughout the area covered by the three districts hosting this conference, as neighbourhood and workplace develop into places of opportunity to learn and share our different understandings of God and the life of faith.

Barbara, an 85 year old woman who attends a church in an area where 80% of the population are Muslim, regularly talks about her faith and in turn learns about the faith of her Muslim Taxi Drivers. She finds that they often ask her to pray for a personal or family need, as they take her to the weekly bible study class she attends at her local Methodist church in inner city Birmingham.

Siperire a Methodist minister in Coventry remembers when she worked for a Nursing agency being assigned to a ‘live in’ post with an elderly Orthodox Jewish woman suffering from dementia and having to learn about Kosher practices and finding herself entering into the rhythms of Jewish life.

Roy, who works for a small engineering firm in Solihull, developed a friendship over 12 years with a Muslim colleague Ahmed – they often talked together about God, prayer and family life. Recently the firm made a number of people redundant. Ahmed lost his job and Roy kept his; this was a difficult experience for them both.

Roberta, a Primary School Teacher in Wolverhampton tells a story of being challenged by Sikh children in her class because she had placed a Bible on the floor. One of the 10 year old children in the class left her seat, came forward, picked up the book and placed it on her desk. This incident led to a class discussion on how different faith communities treat their ‘holy books’. Roberta further reflected on the role of Scripture in Christian tradition and how it differs to that of other faiths.

Mandy, an NHS manager and an Anglican ordinand preparing for a curacy in Stafford, is a member of a reading group of ‘professionals’ that includes amongst its members three Hindus and three Christians. Recently, as part of a project for her training, Mandy asked the group if they would be willing to read the Book of Daniel. The generosity and interest with which her Hindu friends approached the book and the insights they gave caused Mandy to reflect upon how open she would be to reading the scriptures of other faith traditions.

A church in Walsall that has had a ministry to night clubbers for some time - including serving tea, coffee and water - found themselves approached by local Muslims during Ramadan, who wanted to join with them and offer food to revellers.

The world of Christian engagement with other faith traditions has changed considerably since those early pioneering days of the likes of Ivy Gutteridge. The ministry of welcome and hospitality of a ‘host’ Christianity to the ‘stranger’ of another faith tradition has changed into Christian engagement with a truly multi-faith society of increasingly confident other faith communities, in the midst of an often seemingly Christian decline. It is important for us to grasp the reality of this change and develop as a church to equip ourselves as disciples in this changing context.

We need to resist defensive or reductionist strategies and should instead see our current context as an opportunity for renewal as we seek to cultivate more deeply, through creative engagement with our neighbours, the Christian virtues of Faith, Hope and Love. Faithfully we root ourselves in the story and practice of Jesus witnessing to its wisdom and truth ; hopefully we trust that God has a future for all humanity beyond our imaging despite our destructiveness and violence whilst lovingly and with discernment, we open our hearts and minds to the wisdom of the faith of our neighbours. Thus we can work together to bring glimpses in the here and now of God’s Kingdom to come….

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

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