The Bishop’s Committee on Interfaith Ministry hosted an educational event online on Jan. 30. The gathering, Exploring Interfaith Ministry, included small group discussions and a panel of speakers from the Buddhist, Islamic and Sikh traditions.
The 2021 census identified more than 100 religions practiced by Canadians. More than half of Canadians identified as Christian while more than one third reported having no religion. The proportion who identified as Muslim, Hindu or Sikh and others has doubled in the last 20 years.
The Rev. Roshni Jayawardena, the committee’s co-coordinator and one of the evening’s facilitators, said interfaith ministry can take many forms, from reaching out to neighbours of different faiths to partnering together to facilitate peace and hope.
“There are so many things that you can do,” she said. “It’s important to remember that those moments of interfaith connection shouldn’t be left to our bishops or clergy or a committee – they are things that we can all do, and I think things we’re called to do as Christians.”
The event preceded World Interfaith Harmony Week, held Feb. 1-7. The aim of the week is to promote harmony between all people regardless of their faith.
The panel discussion, moderated by the Rev. Canon John Hill, featured Dr. Jennifer Bright, a Buddhist, Imam Abdul Hai Patal, a Muslim, and Guru Fatha Singh Khalsa, a Sikh. Canon Hill, a member of the committee, asked the panel three questions and also asked questions sent in from the audience.
In answer to the question, “What is interfaith engagement and what are its goals?” Dr. Bright answered, “It’s a way of being together, of finding our commonality. There can be a lot of religious strife in the world, so I think it’s important for us to model what cooperation looks like, and that we can get along and we do great things together.”
Imam Patal said, “Interfaith dialogue is a way of engaging. It’s about exploring common ground and coming to an understanding, not to change one another but to share about other faiths so that we can respect each other and maintain harmony, peace and civility. We can enrich ourselves through knowledge of other faiths.”
Guru Khalsa added, “Interfaith dialogue hopefully is a place where we can drop our defences and agendas.”
The panelists were asked to identify the challenges and obstacles to interfaith engagement within their own faith tradition. Imam Patel said people of all faiths have been brought up to believe that certain actions will dilute their faith, or they will lose their own belief. “That is the fear that prevents many people from engaging in dialogue, and that’s what we need to overcome,” he said. “We need to learn about each other so that we can work together to solve problems in the community.” He said Canada is far ahead of many other countries when it comes to interfaith dialogue and is “a model for the world.”
Canon Hill asked the panelists to share their experiences of interfaith dialogue. Dr. Bright said it is important to talk about differences as well as areas in common. “Part of growing together means sometimes we need to be uncomfortable, sometimes we need to be challenged. Sometimes being uncomfortable can lead us into deeper relationship. We need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. If we’re going to solve the problems we have in common, we need to have deeper trust.”
In a question from the audience, the panelists were asked how a visitor could attend a place of worship without feeling like a trespasser and in a way that was respectful. Dr. Bright said people of faith were generally hospitable and want to share their religions. “I think any healthy congregation of any spiritual tradition is going to be welcoming and will accept you as you are. I can appreciate the fear and anxiety, but I think most of the time you’ll be okay. I think sometimes people are afraid to move out of their comfort zones. And we sometimes fear the unknown and are afraid of causing offence. But in my experience, people are quite forgiving.”
Due to terrorist and violent attacks on synagogues and mosques, Imam Patel said some places of worship have security measures in place and should be contacted ahead of time. Once arrangements have been made, visits are warm and friendly, he said.
Before the panel discussion, the audience was divided into small groups and asked to discuss the following questions: Why do interfaith ministry? What challenges present themselves? What have been your experiences of interfaith ministry, as an individual or in a group?
In answer to the first question, a participant said, “We won’t have peace in the world unless we have peace among the religions.” In answer to the second question, a person said, “Many hold different attitudes toward gender and it’s difficult to connect with groups that have restrictions.” In answer to the third question, a participant wished for an “exchange program” between a church and a mosque on a specific day. “This would make it less scary to visit out of the blue,” said the person.
At the end of the two-hour forum, the Rev. Jeff Nowers, the committee’s co-coordinator, thanked all those who participated. He said the event had “just scratched the tip of the iceberg” and indicated that another similar event would be held in the future.
For more information about interfaith ministry in the diocese, contact the Rev. Roshni Jayawardena and the Rev. Jeff Nowers at [email protected].