Yesterday evening I was privileged to attend the London Youth Interfaith Ifar supported by the Naz Legacy Foundation. I was invited along with the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, His Eminence Cardinal Vincent Nichols, and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
It was a privilege to be there during this special time of Ramadan.
Fasting is an essential spiritual practice for many of faith – it helps us move away from our usual obsessions with the immediate and the short-term. It allows us to dedicate ourselves to God and to God’s eternal concerns for the world.
Being invited to break the fast gave me the opportunity to assure the Muslim community here in London of my prayers – they are a vital part of this city and there commitment to God and to this city and its faith relationships is inspiring
Inter faith engagement seeks both to find common ground and to respect difference. One of the wonderful characteristic of London is its diversity; it is multi faith and multiracial. It is a city where we live, study and work with people of different and different backgrounds. That diversity is a reflection of God’s diverse creation.
In London, we celebrate diversity and the integrity of one another’s beliefs. We won’t always agree but we can commit to always love and even in the times we disagree, to do so lovingly and graciously and with respect for each other.
Living with people who are different from ourselves, and learning to cooperate together and collaborate together, whilst accepting our differences, is not always straight forward. But it can be fun and we will grow to be richer individuals through the experience. I believe that we have more in common than divides us.
Inter faith dialogue makes it possible for the church to be part of building community cohesion and resilience. Interfaith dialogue begins when people meet each other and when they are able to build mutual understanding and respect.
As people of faith, we actively seek the flourishing of each other. We are called to love our neighbours as ourselves and that means we care about each other’s welfare and ability to thrive as whole people: physically, mentally, emotionally, economically, environmentally and spiritually. If we take that call seriously, then we need to commit ourselves to transform the city in which we live, to make it a city of welcome and acceptance for all: friend and stranger alike.
The Iftar was attended by young people who had the ability to re imagine the world and see possibilities and not obstacles – if is from them we should learn.
I reflected that this type of grand vision begins by taking simple steps towards each other.
Simple steps such as the Iftar which provided an opportunity to celebrate that diversity, and to discover new things about each other. Our conversations planted seeds which will build community bonds and friendships. It will also helped us to learn to value each other and these simple steps help to build the peaceful and just society that all our religions seek.
Simple steps such as the Near Neighbours programme – a joint government and Church of England initiative which has released millions of pounds spent on hundreds of grassroots social transformation projects here in London, begun by people of faith working together. And they all begin by the simple act of meeting together. And for that to happen, somebody needs to take the initiative. Faith gives us the inspiration and the courage to take the first step towards others- it’s both the simplest thing in the world and the hardest, but without somebody taking the initiative, nothing happens.
In Southall in West London, recently, I met a group of women who identified the need for a safe place where women could meet and speak confidentially. With Near Neighbours seed funding, a small group of women from a church, a mosque and a mandir, got together and arranged counselling training and then opened a weekly coffee morning which they advertised in the community. The project called The Listening Space has taken off and has provided a vital voluntary service in the local community. It has also led to deepening relationships of trust being established between different faith communities and more projects being planned. But it began with simple steps and the willingness to turn a vision into reality by sharing the idea with others.
As a Christian I believe in a God who does not compel but who offers unconditional love and we are called to love our neighbours unconditionally. This must mean caring for the whole person, who may have a completely different understanding of God and God’s will to us or, dare I say it, who may not believe in God at all.
It begins with simple steps….