In May 2021, the Bishop’s Committee on Interfaith Ministry had its first meeting over Zoom. The committee is made up of lay and ordained people and is co-chaired by the Rev. Jeff Nowers and myself. In a recent video on our new webpage, www.toronto.anglican.ca/interfaith, Jeff and I described interfaith ministry as reaching out to neighbours of different faith traditions in order to find ways to learn from one another, partner together and build friendships. The ultimate goal of this ministry is to facilitate peace and hope in the world.
As a bishop’s committee, we have a mandate, but still as we gathered, we wondered how to ensure that we were best serving the people and parishes of the diocese. We believed a good starting point was conversation. Since last May, Jeff and I have been visiting every clericus in the diocese ± and we are still working our way through! Clericus is a regularly scheduled meeting of clergy in a deanery where information is shared, and clergy are able to gather to support one another and stay connected. During the pandemic, most clericuses were meeting online, so our visits were done without leaving our offices! At each clericus, we shared information about the committee, but we also asked clergy to share their interfaith experiences and hopes for this new bishop’s committee.
Through these conversations, Jeff and I have been able to hear about the successes, challenges and questions clergy have related to interfaith ministry. Many shared memories of partnerships parishes have made with local mosques, synagogues, temples and more. These partnerships resulted in conversations, children’s camps, educational events, pulpit swaps, refugee sponsorships and gatherings for holy celebrations such as Yom Kippur. In addition, clergy shared with us times where they have reached out to other faith leaders and had been turned away. Some clergy noted that they and parish leaders struggled to find time in the midst of all of their other ministries to reach out to other faith groups and build relationships. Sometimes parishes were also unaware of interfaith events going on in their community and so unintentionally missed opportunities to connect. We have heard questions about how to initiate contact with other faith groups: What should be said? What groups are best to reach out to? How can we make sure that we are being respectful and don’t say the wrong thing? Other big questions included how to approach differences between faith groups: Can we stay true to our belief in Jesus as our saviour while still learning about what others believe?
Our visits to clericus have also led to brainstorming sessions about resources that would be helpful for interfaith ministry. The most requested resources were focussed on prayer. Particularly when acts of hate and violence happen against people of other faiths, how we can hold them in prayer? Are there specific prayers that can be said, or specific ways to host or be part of prayer vigils? Other requested resources included background information about different faiths that would share their key belief, practices and more. While our committee works to gather some of these resources there is a lot of great information on the national church website, www.anglican.ca/faith/interfaith-dialogue.
Most importantly, during our visits to clericus we have learned how different the interfaith landscape looks for different areas in our diocese. Parishes located in Toronto, Brampton or similarly diverse areas would likely find other faith groups just down the street or around the corner. On the other hand, clergy in some of the rural areas of our diocese described how it can be harder to find groups of other faiths to connect with because the demographics of their areas are not as diverse. Some cities have interfaith councils where faith leaders come together for conversation. In other areas, it is the post-secondary schools and hospitals that are hubs for interfaith ministry. Clergy also noted that families or extended families in parishes are becoming more diverse and include people of other faith traditions who may join in for services at Christmas and Easter. Finally, many clergy spoke about how the pandemic has united people of different faiths: just like our churches, other faith groups are having to learn how to worship online, adapt their services to new safety protocols, celebrate holy days apart and remain faithful in difficult times.
These clericus conversations have been very meaningful to the Bishop’s Committee on Interfaith Ministry. I realize that this reflection brings to light a lot of big questions, without answers. But sometimes answers to the big questions take time and there is no article that can provide an answer, let alone an answer that would fit everyone. To explore our big questions, we must intentionally take the time to pray, to listen, to read and to have conversations within our parishes and beyond our walls. Jeff and I continue to meet with clericuses and reflect on how the Bishop’s Committee on Interfaith Ministry can provide the best resources and support to all people and parishes that are well experienced, new to, or curious about interfaith ministry. So far, our interfaith conversations have been with clergy, but interfaith ministry is not just about what our priests, deacons and bishops can do. Interfaith ministry involves the whole Church, lay and ordained people with different backgrounds, experiences and gifts to offer. If you would like to have a conversation with a member of the interfaith committee to share your experience, or if you have questions or ideas, please contact us at [email protected]. We look forward to learning from you and alongside you as we continue on this journey together.