High-level WCC delegation visits Ireland
A delegation of three senior staff members of the World Council of Churches visited Belfast and Dublin last week.
The members of the delegation were Dr Clare Amos (Programme Executive for Interreligious Dialogue and Co-operation), the Revd Garland Pierce (Senior Assistant to the General Secretary), and Marianne Edjersten (Director of Communications).
In an interview with the Gazette editor, they outlined the current priorities of the WCC (see box below).
Ms Edjersten explained that visiting the member-Churches of the Council had been made a priority at the 2013 Assembly in Busan, South Korea.
She said the delegation had come to Ireland to “meet and listen and learn from our member-Churches”.
RELIGION, PEACE AND VIOLENCE
The World Council of Churches has reported on what was a recent and very significant international Christian- Muslim meeting at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva on the theme of ‘Religion, Peace and Violence’. It was held from 16th-17th November, only days after the terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris, and was part of an ongoing dialogue that has been continuing since 1995.
The report, by Peter Kenny, indicated that participants had spent the two days “candidly and honestly speaking about their faiths”, in what was a dialogue between Shia Muslims from the Islamic Republic of Iran associated with the Centre for Interreligious Dialogue and Christians involved in the World Council of Churches. One participant was quoted as observing: “There was a profound discussion about the fact that, though the means of violence and killing have become increasingly sophisticated in our world, the means for working for peace are still very simple and straightforward, namely the meeting with and openness towards those who are different to ourselves.”
Also, Dr Shomali, founding director of the International Institute for Islamic Studies in Qum and Director of the Islamic Centre of England, spoke about the misuse of religion in order to justify violence and injustice. Later, in an interview, he controversially suggested looking at the “different manifestations of Abrahamic traditions, not as different religions but as different branches of the tradition of Abraham”.
Dr Heidi Hadsell, President and Professor of Social Ethics at Hartford Seminary in Hartford, Connecticut, stressed that trust was a fruit of dialogue, as it enabled those involved to speak honestly with each other, while the Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills, interfaith adviser in the Diocese of St Albans, said she would probably disagree with the notion that was discussed, that young people are fleeing from religion because they are bombarded with a secular, materialistic world. Rather, Ms Evans- Hills said: “I would say young people tend to leave organised religions because they are fleeing from the exclusivist positions some of our leaders take. We need to work with all faiths.”
A joint communiqué after the meeting indicated that there had been “a real feeling of warmth and openness among the delegates”, also stating that “given the heightened global tension at the current time” it was especially relevant to be discussing the topic. In particular, detailed consideration was given at the meeting to the role of rationality in Shia Islam, the joint communiqué stating: “In order to guard against the abuse of religion, it is important that people of faith observe three characteristics: spirituality, rationality, and the quest for social justice. These act as a balance enabling extremism and violence to be avoided.”
Consideration was also given to specific difficult contexts, such as the minority situation of Christians in the Middle East, and that of Muslims in Europe, with the need for equality before the law being voiced. Then again, there was a recognition of the particular difficulties that women experience in relation to religious violence, the joint communiqué stating: “Religiously motivated violence is often targeted directly or indirectly against women, and they are disproportionately victims.”
There clearly is a huge agenda in terms of interfaith dialogue. It is important that this is carried out at every level where possible – local, national and international, as at the Geneva meeting. There are different ways of tackling the international terrorism of the group calling itself Islamic State and one important contribution is the promoting of greater mutual understanding among the different faith traditions.
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Letters to the Editor
More paying than praying in the run-up to Christmas
NOW THAT the Christmas season is approaching, many people will find a lot of the mundane things of life affected by the upcoming celebration.
Even simple medical or dental appointments get conveniently shelved until ‘after Christmas’, as the staff, management or company try to grapple with the almost compulsory celebration of Christmas, or the ‘Mass of Christ’.
What once was a one-day holiday (25th December) has morphed into what now is manufactured to appear like a glittering ‘magical’ festive experience, or ‘Yule’ – named, ironically, after a pagan god called ‘Yul’ or ‘Jul’ and which lasts for weeks.
Whilst the predominant organisation of the Church, mainly in the West, promoted the attendance on 25th December for ‘Christ’s Mass’, it has now grown more akin to its former secular or pagan origin with most people celebrating it for themselves indulgently, rather than allowing anything to do with reverence for Jesus Christ.
The question is: would Jesus himself approve of this now decadent overspending and merrymaking each year, that results more in paying rather than praying?
We shouldn’t be pressured in anything by human tradition alone, but should follow only what Jesus asked us to do – to share the Gospel all year round, which is a lot simpler, humbler and a good bit less expensive.
The choice is ours; we should not be afraid to swim upstream in regard to standing back from the now semi-pagan mishmash we still name after the Saviour of the World.
Of course, many of the firms and businesses involved in the promotion of the ‘festive season’ have a new god now – money.
Bangor Co. Down BT19
Where has Evensong gone?
IN 1946, my father was one of the first priests in the Church of England to be afflicted by the multi-parish set up. From one church he became responsible for three, so services had to be arranged for the spiritual needs of people living in a mountainous part of Staffordshire.
As cars were not affordable for many clergy, he walked a total of four miles to the annexed parish where on Sundays at 3.30pm an Evensong service was conducted, and Holy Communion every month, to conform with canon law.
The first parish had Holy Communion celebrated on Sundays at 8.00am with Matins at 11.00am and Evensong at 6.30pm. My father performed this duty by using the village bus.
In Ireland, the beautiful liturgy of sung Evening Prayer seems to be neglected although it can be held easily in the home church of the union or team incumbent.
I can look back to the days when most people worked a six-day week, so that the largest congregation would be at eventide except at Easter when the Lord’s Supper was paramount.
Pensioners were the core at morning services.
John Graves Ballyhaunis
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