It’s Sunday night and I’ve just returned from a reasonably interesting evening at the Pitt Street Uniting Church.
I saw the sign a couple of weeks ago advertising an evening featuring a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew, talking about issues of diversity and belief and quickly jotted it in my diary as an interesting Sunday night excursion.
I’ve never been to a Uniting Church before. Well, actually as a child I used to go to Sunday School at a Presbyterian Church (with my cousins), but never as an adult. The venue was actually a former Congretational Church, one of the three churches (along with Methodist and Presbyterian) which formed the Uniting Church. On entering I noticed the lack of traditional iconography (I’m a Catholic, after all) but did notice patchwork quilts and other symbols noting the notion of a church made up of diversity. There wasn’t a crucifix in sight, the alter was hardly visible and the organ was replaced by a piano. The congregation consisted of mostly older people and (clearly, at question time) people with a commitment to those values of diversity, including a couple of transexuals.
The evening consisted of three people involved in the Goodness & Kindness Project (a Christian, a Muslim and a Jew) talking about their experiences of life and belief, and how they related those issues to people in primary schools, high schools and in the broader community, though it was their interest in primary schools that was strongest, because they believe it’s between the ages of 9 and 12 that you can have the most effect.
They, and a team, have travelled all over the countryside speaking to 25,000 people (85% primary school, 14% secondary school, 1% adult) about shared values.
Although they conceded their points of difference (especially on the issue of Israel/Palestine), they were most interested in their points of commonality. They emphasised, for example, the commonality of Bible stories, including Jonah and the Whale and Moses crossing the Red Sea. I was also surprised to hear about how Islam recognises Jesus and the Mother of Christ, Mary, in its teaching. I also learned that, except on one day each year, Jewish people do not use the name or word God. In fact, the word is unpronouncable in the Torah, leaving our vowels. They also, for example, spoke about their trepidation, sometimes, in going into “faith schools”. The Jewish man, for example, spoke of the fear he felt the first time he went into a Muslim school (he wears traditiona clothing, bit hat, beard etc_, though now goes into those schools as a “regular face”
The Christian man spoke the least, the Jew spoke a little more, but mostly it was the Muslim man who spoke the most, reflecting I guess, the underlying interests of the audience to know more about Islam. Audience members raised issues such as the lack of female representation (they DO have women doing the program) and the lack of involvement of other religious traditions such as Buddhism (there’s a common interest in these three religions which believe in just one God) which challenged the notion of what they are doing, but mostly people were supportive of this initiative.
Overall it was an interesting evening, though not earth shattering. My favourite moment, however, was when the Jewish man spoke of going to the World Trade Centre, and upon seeing some graffiti which said “death to all Muslims” came to a conclusion. He said, at that point he realised the world could go in two directions, one of division or one of unity. Upon making this realisation he said he made a promise to God to work for unity. A very touching moment that led to a round of applause.
If you want to know more, here’s a link to a program about them, as featured on ABC TV.